Can Yu Darvish Return to All-Star Form This Season?

Darvish's numbers were ridiculous before surgery, but at 29-years-old, can he really be an ace again?

In 2013, Yu Darvish was one of the top 15 starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, just two years into his MLB career after coming over from Japan.

The righty posted a 2.38 ERA, 2.55 FIP and 2.80 xFIP with 11.89 K/9, 3.43 BB/9 and a 4.5 fWAR in 209.2 innings. His ERA was top 10 in the Majors, and his stuff was electric, helping him strike out 32.9 percent of the batters he faced. 

Darvish also had the highest swinging strike percentage in all of baseball, with batters swinging and missing at 12.9 percent of his pitches. 

And again for most of 2014, Darvish was incredible, posting a 3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP and 2.96 xFIP with 11.35 K/9, 3.06 BB/9 and a 3.8 fWAR. But Darvish missed the last seven weeks of the season with elbow inflammation -- never a good sign for a starting pitcher -- and then before the 2015 season even began, the Texas Rangers announced Darvish would undergo Tommy John surgery after making just one start in spring training. 

Now, almost a full year later, Darvish is targeting a comeback in early-May, about 14 months after he had the surgery in March 2015. He hopes to return to his All-Star form from two years ago, but having come over from Japan in 2013, Darvish isn't your typical Tommy John pitcher.

At 29-years-old, Darvish is older than most pitchers who have had Tommy John, so it's a bit of unknown how quickly, if at all, he'll be able to return to his elite form. 

Upwards of 70 to 80 percent of pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery do return to form, so there's a good shot that Darvish not only pitches again but also that he pitches well, though likely not on the same trajectory as he was prior to surgery.

And with Darvish's plan to return in May, expectations are already high. Our own John Stolnis mentioned Darvish as a possible candidate for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award

So then the question is what should the Rangers -- and fantasy owners -- expect from Darvish? Obviously, he won't return to form right away, but still, he put up such ridiculously good numbers before his Tommy John surgery that he'll still be expected to pitch very well this year. 

Conservatively, one would expect him to take a step back, pitching closer to that of a 2 to 3 WAR player for most of the season, probably hitting his stride near the end of the year and struggling early on.

ZiPS and Steamer projections both agree with this assumption. Both project Darvish to post 2.9 WAR next season and pitch around 140.0 innings.

Steamer projections project Darvish to have a 3.48 ERA and 3.51 FIP with 9.90 K/9 and 2.94 BB/9. While definitely a step back from his numbers in 2013 and 2014, these projections would still put Darvish among the top 40 starters in baseball, even with only 140 or so innings pitched.

On the other hand, ZiPS projections are a little more bullish on strikeout numbers, projecting a 3.41 ERA, and 3.45 FIP with 10.64 K/9 and 3.48 BB/9, again putting him among the top 40 or 50 starters in the MLB.

ZiPS projections also pick his top comparable as another former-Japanese starter, Hideo Nomo. While Nomo never had Tommy John, he was able to pitch 180-plus innings well into his 30's, so that bodes well for Darvish. 

Though with an average draft position of 118.3, or the 34th starting pitcher selected, according to Fantasy Pros, Darvish might be going a bit too high for someone coming off Tommy John and certainly isn't great value as the 34th pitcher off the board.

Even if he does reach his projections, he'll still only pitch at most five out of the six months of the season and could even be on an innings limit his first year back from Tommy John. 

But if you can snag him later in some drafts, Darvish could hold great value as your fourth or fifth fantasy starter because when he returns to form, he could, and probably should, produce like an ace.