So the Texas Rangers have decided that the next six years of Yu Darvish's pitching career are worth something like $111.7 million, a remarkable number for a player with no major league experience. The Rangers submitted a record $51.7 posting bid, then inked Darvish to a six-year deal worth $60 million ($56 million guaranteed). You'll find a year-by-year contract breakdown right here, if you care about such things.
Darvish's price tag isn't much of a concern in the fantasy community, except as an indication of the team's expectations. When a club invests nine figures in a pitcher, they generally expect an ace. Darvish has been almost impossibly good over the past five seasons in Japan — in fact, each year has been better than Daisuke Matsuzaka's best, better than Hiroki Kuroda, better than Colby Lewis.
Just check the stats, 2007-'11:
2007, age 20 — 15-5, 1.82 ERA, 0.828 WHIP, 207.2 IP, 210 Ks, 49 BB, 9 HR
2008, age 21 — 16-4, 1.88 ERA, 0.897 WHIP, 200.2 IP, 208 Ks, 44 BB, 11 HR
2009, age 22 — 15-5, 1.73 ERA, 0.896 WHIP, 182.0 IP, 167 Ks, 45 BB, 9 HR
2010, age 23 — 12-8, 1.78 ERA, 1.015 WHIP, 202.0 IP, 222 Ks, 47 BB, 5 HR
2011, age 24 —18-6, 1.44 ERA, 0.828 WHIP, 232.0 IP, 276 Ks, 36 BB, 5 HR
Ridiculous. That's absolute mastery by any standard. Darvish posted a sub-2.00 ERA in back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back years, a Walter Johnson-level feat. Of course the hitting talent Darvish faced during that five-year stretch was nothing like what he'll find in MLB, but, well ... he destroyed the league. Exactly how much better do you think anyone else could have pitched? Matsuzaka never delivered a sub-2.00 ERA in Japan, nor did Lewis (2.68 in 2008, 2.96 in '09). Kuroda did it once, then posted a 3.56 ERA and 1.213 WHIP in 2007, his final season with Hiroshima.
So, just to be clear: Yu Darvish is very good.
Still, this is not the simplest player to rank for fantasy purposes, because he's making an enormous leap in terms of quality of competition. Darvish was excellent at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, closing out the final two games against the U.S. and Korea, but he only tossed 13.0 innings in the tournament (2.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 20 Ks). In 2012, he'll pitch in an extremely hitter-friendly home park, in the DH league. That streak of 1.00-something ERAs is about to end.
Most of us have only seen Darvish's work on video — here's an impressive clip, complete with Tuffy Rhodes cameo — or perhaps you caught a few innings of the WBC. But it's tough to forecast a player's performance based only on snapshots and highlights. I recently discussed Darvish's potential with an international MLB scout who's seen the 6-foot-5 right-hander pitch a few times, over multiple seasons. These were his thoughts (paraphrased, because my man is a little paranoid)...
On Darvish's pitching arsenal: He leans on the fastball, slider and fork, plus he'll mix in a slow, MLB-quality curve. And he'll change speeds. And his cutter was described as "filthy." It's a deep repertoire, and every pitch should transition reasonably well to the big leagues.
On his mental/physical readiness: Darvish made legit strides in 2011, adding strength, taking a more aggressive approach with hitters. (Note the jump in K-rate and the decline in walks). In the past he's been criticized for nibbling, for throwing too many pitches. In 2011, he was clearly focused on making the leap to the next level. There's risk associated with any change in routine, plus he'll be pitching on less rest, but there are no significant known injuries here.
[Fantasy Freak Show: Brandon Funston and Brad Evans discuss Yu Darvish's fantasy value for 2012]
On the quality of play in NPB: The scout noted that players who bat in the bottom-third of lineups in Japan are essentially automatic outs for the league's best pitchers. No hitter in the league is accustomed to seeing great movement or high velocity. (Darvish's fastball typically sits in the low-to-mid-90s). There's been some talk about the low home run totals allowed by Darvish — only five in 232.0 innings last season — but it's important to recognize that NPB actually changed its baseball in 2011, killing power numbers. Chiba Lotte, as a team, hit only 46 homers last season in 144 games. No team hit less than 91 the previous season, and Chiba Lotte hit 126.
On comps for Darvish: The two names he offered were Zack Greinke and Matt Garza, so that's plenty encouraging. When I tossed out a fairly aggressive projection — 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 — he basically signed off on the numbers, though he put Darvish's strikeout rate in the 7.0-8.0 range.
Bottom line: Based on everything I've read and seen, and after hearing from a guy who's scouted him, I'm prepared to take Darvish ahead of his current ADP (124.6 at Mock Draft Central). He could be particularly useful in the early months of the season, while the league writes and rewrites his scouting report. Darvish fell to Round 11 in the FSTA draft last week, the 36th starter off the board — one pick after Ian Kennedy, one ahead of Wandy Rodriguez. To me, that seems like a steal. The home park won't do Darvish many favors, but run support shouldn't be an issue, and he'll see plenty of Seattle and Oakland. When it's time to rank the starters, I'll slot Darvish somewhere in the high-teens, which apparently means I'll own him everywhere.
Too high? Too low? Recklessly irresponsible?
Feel free to offer a forecast in comments. Let's please try to have all Yu issues resolved before the first draft room is launched...