Height: 6’5″ Weight: 220
Yu Darvish, also known as Sefat Farid Yu Darvishsefad, is an Iranian-Japanese Right-handed starting pitcher for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. Darvish was born in Osaka to his Iranian father, Farasad Darvishsefad, and his Japanese mother, Ikuyo, who met in the United States while attending Eckerd College in Tampa-St. Pete, FL.
While Darvish was scouted by MLB teams while in High School for the 2004 Draft, he didn’t make himself readily available, deciding instead to stay in Japan where he was drafted by the Ham Fighters in the first round to a 15 million yen salary and a 100 million yen performance incentive bonus. Darvish began his career in 2005 straight out of Tohoku High School and hit the ground running. Or mound pitching, I guess.
Let’s take a look at some of the historical performance before we jump into a scouting report and what we might be able to expect from him if he’s able to come to a deal with the high bidder in the posting system later this week.
In 2005 he went 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA in 91.1 innings with 52 K and 48 walks. Not an impressive line, but he had a CG Shutout on 9/18 as a teenager. He was effectively wild and just beginning to grow into his frame.
In 2006, he jumped to 12-5 with 115 K’s and 64 walks in 149.2 innings. The dominance began to show and the walk rate moved in the right direction leading to a 2.89 ERA which was almost a full point better than league average despite being just 19 years old.
Let’s jump through time and take a look at the numbers from 2005 to 2011:
93 wins to 38 losses good for a .710 winning percentage. 1259 strikeouts in 1268.1 innings with 333 walks. A 1.99 ERA including sub 2.00 ERA’s in 07, 08, 09, 10 and 11. 55 complete games including 18 Shutout victories. He’s one of, if not the best pitcher in Japanese Baseball history.
- Twice Pacific League MVP 2007, 2009
- 2007 Eiji Sawamura Award
- Three time PC K King 07, 10, 11
- Twice ERA leader 09, 10
- Twice Best Nine Award winner
- Twice Mitsui Gold Glove winner 07, 08
- 2006 Asia Series MVP
- 5 time NPB All-Star 07-11
- 2007 Pacific League Climax Series MVP
His list of career accomplishments and accolades is long, but distinguished. And as a wise man once said, “Yeah, well… so is my Johnson.” I think that was Slider in Top Gun (1986). Well, maybe not a “wise man” but certainly a “wise-guy”. Good movie. Moving on.
So, Darvish a highly coveted player and according to rumor, he will be posted by the Ham Fighters and MLB teams have until 12/14/2011 to place blind posting bids for the exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with Yu Darvish and his representation of Don Nomura and Arn Tellem.
Let’s take a look at Yu Darvish as if he was a minor league prospect and see where he would fall into the mix because being a great japanese player and great major league player are two different animals. All respect due for what Darvish has accomplished, let’s take a look.
Like many Japanese pitchers, Darvish has a wide mix of pitches. Starting with his two-seam fastball which sits in the 92-94 range with above average command and hard late movement. Darvish likes to keep the ball moving and oft times uses different finger pressures making his two-seam more of a cut fastball. The use of spotting the fastball makes game planning very important. We’ll get into why that’s important in just a minute.
The Shuuto – widely and incorrectly referred to as the “gyroball” in the United States is another offering that Darvish uses. The shuuto is a another two-seamer used by Darvish. And to be clear, it is not a reverse slider although it will break in on right-handed hitters. It is closer to a reverse cut fastball. The pressure is applied to the index finger and forces the ball to spin hard but with reverse action that bring it in and down on righties. Again, it is not a primary weapon for him, but is an offering.
He does use a four-seam fastball at times and can on occasion get the velocity into the 95-97 range, but the ball tends to flatten out and is better used to change the batters eye level and try and get batters to chase upstairs.
A reported slurve is considered his best off speed pitch, but there are actually 3 forms of this off speed pitch with a hard slider being his most effective strikeout pitch based on his arm angle and the release point in relation to his fastball. The slider has hard late break and he has the ability to bury the pitch for strikeouts and get in hard on the hands of lefties and throw it for strikes to lead off and at-bat or when behind in the count.
He throws the breaking pitch as a true curve at times with 11-5 break in the 80s. Darvish also throws this as a slow breaking curve as an extreme change of velocity but it’s not a very used offering. Neither pitch is a primary weapon.
There is a changeup, but with as many variations of fastball and slider, the changeup isn’t used often. I think he’ll need to use the changeup more often in the US as a way to simplify his pitch selection while working with US catchers and pitching coaches. A more traditional attack will make it easier for the battery to work together.
Darvish throws from a 3/4 arm slot with excellent leg extension and good foot plant coordination. His drop and drive is a little lower than one would like to see from a pitcher of 6’5″ stature. The lower drop causes him to have the elbow higher than the shoulder and at 3/4 slot it puts stress on the elbow.
Videos by Shuuto150
So with the extra stress there is some concern with high innings levels like the one he had in 2011. But it’s the weakest link in his mechanics and not an overall red flag. You’ll see in the second video the tempo and timing are good and there is little to no recoil by Darvish.
Overall, the mechanics are clean, he’s young, with a big frame. He hasn’t been abused and the innings level has been built up year over year without many extreme pitch count violations.
As I mentioned, Darvish is just 25 and entering his prime. His innings pitched has built from 94.1 in his rookie year to 149.2 in 2006 and then cracking 200 each season since then with the 182 in 2009 the outlier.
So in theory he should have plenty of mileage left on the arm and with a pitch mix as deep as his, he has the weapons to be successful. Many will pin the recent struggles of Diasuke Matsuzaka as a reason to be leery of Darvish and there is some truth to the matter. But you also need to remember that Dice-K was successful in his two debut seasons before wearing down due to injury.
Darvish will need to find a good fit with the pitching coaches and catcher to get full use of his arsenal the way he was able to in Japan. If he’s able to maximize his full pitch mix I would expend similar numbers to what Matsuzaka was able to put together in his rookie season. Darvish should be able to hold an ERA somehwere in the 3’s depending on his landing spot being the AL East or not. Expectations of astrikeout per inning may be a little lofty, but a strong 7 per 9 average wouldn’t surprise me with an elevated groundball rate so he can pitch to his strength inside the strikezone.
Unlike Matsuzaka, Darvish has a workhorse frame and shouldn’t find himself wearing down once the season enters it’s final month. His 232 innings pitched in 2011 should be taken into consideration and have him limited to around 200 for the 2012 season regardless of where he ends up. But he should be an innings eater #2 starter.
If the team posting Ace dollars is expecting an Ace for their rotation then someone is going to be disappointed. But if we’re looking for a ready now #2 starter with innings eating ability just entering his prime, not to mention a huge following fan base, then Darvish is the guy to go after.
Check back soon as we profile more Top 10 Lists for each MLB team and also get our baseball geek on and take a look at some of the later draft picks from the 2011 draft that we think could be big names on the prospect radars in the near future. While you’re here, take a look at a recent article in this series: Milwaukee Brewers Top 10 List and be a step ahead of the game. Also, check out a friend of ours for all of your fantasy sports needs. Fantasy Rundown is updated religiously and is truly an awesome resource. Thanks for checking Baseball Instinct. We’re working hard to bring you the best of the minor leagues and make the site the best experience it can be. So don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to read about. Email us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.