Eric P. Mull-US PRESSWIRE
He definitely strikes out enough people. Can Darvish cut his walks enough to be a top-ten fantasy starting pitcher?
I'll start by quoting a tweet from @lonestarball:
I mean, that's enough for me. But that makes for a short post, and I'll feel like I haven't done my due diligence. So...more words!
Yu Darvish is going 47th in average ESPN.com fantasy draft position, 12th among starting pitchers. That is just behind Gio Gonzalez and Zack Greinke, just ahead of CC Sabathia and Adam Wainwright. Yet he can be safely assumed to throw 200-ish innings, have a low-3's ERA, and easily north of 200 strikeouts.
The only starter (now that it looks like Aroldis Chapman will be back in the bullpen) with a ZiPS projection of a higher K/9 than Darvish is Stephen Strasburg, and there are genuine questions of how good Strasburg might actually be in his first "Hey, I can pitch all the innings I want" season.
Wins are unpredictable. A good pitcher pitching in front of a good offense can usually be assumed to tally a fair number of wins, but you can't really know how many you're going to be getting. Not when Cliff Lee only got 6 last year.
That said, Darvish is a good starting pitcher. He is pitching in front of a good offense. Worse than its peak? Sure, but the Rangers offense is still upper-tier. A good defense is behind him. It feels safe to project Darvish for 15-18 wins without much risk.
If there's a knock on Darvish for 2013 - and I'll admit, it is a knock - it's his WHIP. With Strasburg (and other high-strikeout pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer), the walk rates are lower, in the mid-to-high 2's. Darvish, in 2012, walked 4.19 per 9 innings. A lot of strikeouts are great, but if you get those K's by destroying your WHIP, it's something of a zero-sum game.
While, in general, subscribing to arbitrary endpoints and small in-season samples is a great way to draw false conclusions, a player's first year at any level tends to be an exception to that. Charting a difference in performance over the course of a season can be indicative of future value. That in mind, Darvish, through August 16 of last year, had a BB/9 of 5.05. Over his final seven starts, something appeared to click, and he walked only 1.78 per 9 in that time.
Is that decisive? No. Heck no. I'm sure even Jonathan Sanchez has had a seven-appearance stretch in his career of not-crazy-walk-everybody-ness. (Boom! Found it! From June 16 to July 25, 2009, over seven appearances, Sanchez walked only 2.25 per 9, which for him is akin to Jason Tyner leading the league in home runs.) But, speaking as a Ranger fan who watched as many Darvish starts as I could, he certainly seemed like a different pitcher down the stretch.
Small sample. Readily admit it. It's possible Darvish will be more 5.05-per-9 than 1.78-per-9. But still - 200-plus strikeouts. A competitive number of wins. An ERA that, odds are, will be reasonable. In an ideal world, a low WHIP, but even in a worst-case healthy scenario, one that won't destroy you.
I'd draft Darvish ahead of Sabathia and Wainwright, sure. But I'd also take him ahead of Gonzalez. Ahead of Greinke. Ahead of Jered Weaver. He's draftable in the Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels area, a good 10-15 picks higher than he's going.
Is this enough words now? I think that it is. I have added supreme value by adding more words. Still, though, @lonestarball summed it up rather well.
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