In 201, Yu Darvish became 1st NPB pitcher (since the start of the 2 league system) to pitch 5 straight seasons with an ERA under 2.

Yu Darvish: Dollars and Doubts

Everyone is now aware that the AL’s Texas Rangers won the bidding to negotiate with Yu Darvish for a mega-bucks contract. Yes, it appears that, barring a surprise, the Nippon Ham Fighters’ star pitcher will join the Rangers rotation for the foreseeable future.

In 2011, Yu Darvish became the 1st NPB pitcher (since the start of the 2 league system) to pitch 5 straight seasons with an ERA under 2.

In 2011, Yu Darvish became the 1st NPB pitcher (since the start of the 2 league system) to pitch 5 straight seasons with an ERA under 2.

Total cost to the Rangers? In the neighborhood of $125 million. Of course, nearly 52 million of that amount goes to the “posting fee,” the draconian system designed by Nippon Professional Baseball, and amazingly agreed to by our Major League Baseball brass.

What were we thinking? Is Darvish perceived as the second coming of Bob Feller? Or, Tom Seaver? Or, John Smoltz? Not likely. Did not the Boston Red Sox’ experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka prove cautionary enough? To be sure, a 3 year contract for approximately $30 million for “Dice-K” might have seemed reasonable… even if expectations were not exactly realized.

Hideo Nomo pitched for 8 different MLB teams, before retiring in 2008. He twice led the league in strikeouts and is one of only 5 players that have ever pitched at least one no-hitter in both the National League and American League in MLB history.

Hideo Nomo pitched for 8 different MLB teams, before retiring in 2008. He twice led the league in strikeouts and is one of only 5 players that have ever pitched at least one no-hitter in both the National League and American League in MLB history.

Let us examine the record. Thus far, the best starting pitcher from Japan has been Hideo Nomo. Nomo, of course, was not subject to the ridiculous “posting fee” protocols, because at that time his agent discovered a loophole in his contract, and he (Nomo) was able to officially “retire,” thus, allowing him to immediately sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was certainly considered a success by Major League standards. Relievers Kazuhiro Sasaki and Takashi Saito, neither of whom were “posted” would certainly be judged a success at the Major League level.

Did the Rangers ever consider offering C. J. Wilson a few more dollars to keep their best pitcher with the club? They would still have had plenty of money left over to sign “Big Game James” Shields, for example, and still be in an excellent position to retain some of their soon-to-be free agents. Oh, well…

C.J. Wilson agreed to a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels worth $77.5 million. Wilson was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA with Texas last season, helping the Rangers reach their second straight World Series. The Angels finished 10 games behind Texas in the AL West.

C.J. Wilson agreed to a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels worth $77.5 million. Wilson was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA with Texas last season, helping the Rangers reach their second straight World Series. The Angels finished 10 games behind Texas in the AL West.

Now, here comes Yu Darvish, a star pitcher in Japan, who may well become a star here, too. I certainly hope so–at that kind of money. He definitely has the credentials. He has wowed scouts ever since he first entered high school. As a junior, he was the driving force behind his team winning the Northern Sectional of Japan’s National Invitational Tournament in the Spring of 2003. He no-hit Kumamoto Technical High School in the opening round of the 2004 National Championship High School Tournament (his senior year). These are the most competitive high school-level baseball tournaments in the world.

Darvish, who was born in Habikino (southeastern Osaka Prefecture), Japan, on August 16, 1986, was recruited to play high school ball at Tohoku High school in northern Sendai (an area since devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in the Spring of 2011). This particular school is widely known as a highly-touted “baseball factory,” having also produced such Major League luminaries as the above-mentioned Kazuhiro Sasaki and Takashi Saito.

Darvish pitched three games in 2011 with 15 or more strikeouts, breaking the previous high of 2, set by Koji Noda in '93 and Masahiro Takana in '11.

Darvish pitched three games in 2011 with 15 or more strikeouts, breaking the previous high of 2, set by Koji Noda in '93 and Masahiro Takana in '11.

His father, Farsad Darvishsefad (also, Yu’s actual last name), is of Iranian ancestry, whose father sent him to Berkshire County, Massachusetts, in 1977, to learn English and get a more well-rounded education. Yu’s father was a fine athlete, competing in high-level moto-cross competitions and playing soccer. He later attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he met Ikuyo, a young lady and fellow student from Japan. They married and moved to the Kansai (in the Osaka area), and Yu and his siblings were all born there.

Darvish, upon high school graduation, signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Sapporo (on the northernmost of the main Japanese islands). The Fighters are a Pacific League franchise that evolved from the Toei Flyers. In 2006, Darvish helped lead the Fighters to a Japan Series Championship over Nagoya’s Central League Chunichi Dragons, rarefied air for the Fighters, whose history did not include a wealth of winning seasons.

Darvish has become the best starting pitcher in Japan, having now secured a Sawamura Award (equivalent to our Cy Young Award) and 2 MVPs. He is one of only four players in Japanese professional history to win 2 MVPs in his first 5 seasons, the others being the great Victor Starffin, the legendary pitcher, Kazuhisa Inao, and the amazing Ichiro Suzuki (well known in our country, too).

Yu Darvish is over 6’4″ and weighs about 215 pounds–the right size–and has plenty of physical talent to succeed in the U. S. Major Leagues.

The question may be… does he have the emotional maturity to adapt to a different (American) culture? Hopefully, yes. And, does he have the necessary self-discipline to establish the focus he will need in order to realize his full potential? We will see.

In 2008, Darvish became the youngest player in Japanese pro baseball history to earn JPY 200,000,000 per year.

In 2008, Darvish became the youngest player in Japanese pro baseball history to earn JPY 200,000,000 per year.

While he is hugely popular in Japan, and has acquitted himself well in the Olympics, the Asian Series, the Japan Series and the World Baseball Cup, there are occasional whispers regarding his level of maturity. Of course, he is still young, and his maturity will, no doubt, evolve in a positive manner. Also, remember that social views of maturity can seem, in some respects, to be more restrictive in Japanese culture than in ours.

Of more concern could be a spate of minor injuries that have beset him over the last couple of years. It has also been noted by at least 2 American scouts that he tends to “telegraph” a couple of his pitches–a point that can be addressed. And, there is the matter of his high pitch count-per-inning stats–which results in his below-average strikes-to-balls ratio–and that must be tended to immediately.

That said, he will soon be under the expert tutelage of the best pitching coach in the game, Mike Maddux. If Darvish will take to heart what Maddux teaches, he could be on his way to a stellar career in the U. S. Major Leagues.

Stay tuned for more!

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  • kentucky55

    Your point about maturity is well taken.  Even very well-adjusted folks can suffer some degree of culture shock when moving to a different country.  The Rangers had better recruit a couple of bi-lingual aids while they are spending all their money on Darvish.  Some well-placed personnel could mean the difference between a happy Darvish and a lost one, pitching talent notwithstanding.

    • Chris

      With two Japanese pitchers on the roster already, the Rangers have had a translator/guide in place since early last year.

      • http://fromdeeprightfield.com/ Paul Gillespie

        Having an expert tsuyakusha / honyakusha (interpreter / translator) on hand is always important, but it is equally important to address acculturation needs for most people.

        It has always been a source of amusement to me that most people hired for these jobs are not truly bilingual… and are even less bi-cultural.

        Maybe the Rangers will get this hire right. We will see…