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2017 Player Profiles: Yu Darvish

After missing 2015 with Tommy John surgery, the Rangers ace was back to his old tricks in 2016. What does 2017 hold in store for him?

Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.

Yu Darvish has been a dominant pitcher ever since he came to our shores in back in 2012. Unfortunately, he succumbed to Tommy John surgery late in 2014 and missed all of 2015 recovering. In 2016, he picked up right where he left off, though, making a great comeback.

Although he only threw 100.1 innings, he put up a 31.7% K%, a career-low 7.5% BB%, a 3.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP, and a 3.19 xFIP. His SwStr% was a robust 12.2%, 10th best in baseball with 100 innings or more. Not bad for a guy that hadn’t pitched a game since August of 2014. The point of this post today is to see if everything else backs up those numbers and to find out if he can repeat this performance in 2017.

Let’s start with velocity and make sure it is back to his pre-TJ levels.

This Fangraphs data shows that he is right in line with his previous velocities, so no worries there. How about release point, another thing that can get messed up after an injury?

His vertical release point was actually higher than ever before. This is obviously a change, but perhaps it is actually better for him. Generally, a higher release point is better and makes it harder for hitters to see the ball. I would be more worried if it was falling, indicating a mechanics issue. I think this is another good sign.

His horizontal and vertical movement charts show (you’ll have to trust me) that neither of those have changed for any of his pitches. His pitch mix was also about the same in 2016 as in 2014. Ditto his swinging strike rates for each pitch type. His Hard% was down from 2014 and his GB% was up.

How about his exit velocity allowed? His 86.7 mph allowed is very close to the lowest (technically 31st lowest) in MLB with 100 batted balls allowed. That’s good. He’s in the lowest 75 or so on fly ball and line drive exit velocity too.

I found one flaw with his 2016: his slugging percentage allowed on offspeed pitches, which was an even 1.000 on 35 batted balls. He only threw 40 splitfinger fastballs this year, but most of them were crushed. Half of them went for homers and most of the rest did some damage. It was also his second worst pitch for getting swings and misses (ahead of only his two-seamer, but behind his fourseam). He only got 21 strikes on those forty splitters and hitters rarely chased it out of the zone, with his second lowest O-swing%.

Basically, that’s it. That’s his only weakness when healthy right now. A pitch that is really his sixth pitch. He should either work to improve it (it was once a much more dangerous weapon) or ditch it and rely on his five other elite pitches. That’s right, five of his pitches had above average swinging strike rates in 2016. Five.

I should mention health here. In addition to TJ surgery, he missed five weeks with right shoulder and neck pain. Shoulder problems are always scary with pitchers, but he did come back and pitch 12 more weeks after that. Those injuries are actually his biggest fantasy weakness. He comes with lots of health risk but the skills to hang with the best non-Kershaw pitchers on the planet and certainly to compete for the AL Cy Young.

2017 Projection:

170 IP, 30% K% (11.5 K/9), 8% BB%, 3.10 ERA, 1.14 WHIP

I had to ding him for health by reducing him to 170 innings, but otherwise I expect elite numbers across the board. I might try to snag some shares in leagues in 2017 because the upside is so high. There’s just so much to like here. Tschus!