Tuesday, November 15, 2011

AB4AR Free Agent Profile: Yu Darvish*

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(*- Assumes Darvish will be posted by his Japanese league team)

Yesterday I kicked off the AB4AR FF Profile series by looking at C.J. Wilson.  Today let's break down the next biggest potential free agent pitching target, Yu Darvish of the Japanese Nippon Ham Fighters.


- Darvish is just 25 years old, still presumably before his physical prime, and yet has plenty of experience to fall back on.  Granted it's all been in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan, but Darvish has 7 seasons of baseball under his belt.  He's not a typical 25-year-old pitcher with little to no high-level pro experience.

- Despite the young age, Darvish has already been built up to handle heavy workloads.  He's thrown 200+ innings in 4 of his last 5 seasons, and has done it without suffering any significant arm injuries as a result.  Considering the Yankees' recent history with managing young pitchers' innings limits, this is a good thing to not have to worry about with Darvish.

- Darvish has serious swing-and-miss stuff.  He has a career 8.93 K/9 in the NPBL and that number has trended upwards over the last couple seasons.  His array of pitches is reported to include a 4-seam fastball that sits low-to-mid 90s and touches 97, a 2-seam fastball, a curveball, a change, a slider, and even a cutter and splitter.  He almost certainly won't be throwing all those pitches in the Majors, but he's certainly not at a loss for options.

- He pairs his stuff with great command and great mechanics.  His career BB/9 in the NPBL was just 2.36 and scouts familiar with him comment on how well he repeats his delivery and manages his own mechanical issues.  One scout in particular said, "His balance to home plate is impeccable and he repeats his motion extremely well because he knows his entire pitching motion like the back of his hand."  That's pretty high praise and a valuable skill to have at such a young age.  And when you look around the MLB and see how many pitchers struggle with repeating mechanics (see: Burnett, A.J.), that makes that report even more glowing.

- Because he's an international free agent, the Yankees wouldn't have to forfeit any draft picks to sign him.  Just pay the posting fee, which doesn't count towards the luxury tax or the overall payroll, and negotiate a deal.  And since he doesn't have the MLB track record to speak of, a Darvish deal will likely cost less than one for C.J. Wilson.


- Darvish's flashy stats (1.99 career ERA, 2.60 FIP, 0.98 WHIP, 55 CG, the above K/9 and BB/9 values) have all come against NPBL competition and almost certainly aren't representative of how Darvish would fair against Major League hitters.  Logic would dictate that those numbers wouldn't be as flashy after a year pitching in the AL East.

- The heavy workload on such a young pitcher can be seen as a red flag by scouts and teams who are used to today's strict innings and pitch counts placed on pitchers who are Darvish's age.  The fact that he hasn't had a serious arm injury yet could just mean he's "due" for one.

- Darvish's ability to handle all the cultural changes that come with being a pitcher for a Major League team is a big unknown.  And there are some questions, albeit small ones, about the relationship between he and his wife.  How would that play out in front of the cutthroat NY media?

- Recent star Japanese exports (Irabu, Matsuzaka) have flopped in the Majors.  And while it would be unfair to use them to evaluate Darvish, it is something that teams are going to do.  Because of all the cultural differences and style differences between the American game and the Japanese game, and how others before him have failed to adjust to those differences, Darvish can be seen as a risky signing.

- Between the posting fee (likely somewhere between $40-50 million) and whatever his contract will be (likely $50-60 million), Darvish could end up being the most expensive free agent pitcher out there.  And when he's essentially being looked at as a AAAA-level prospect, that's a hefty price to pay.

Personally, I think Darvish is the pitcher the Yankees should be targeting the hardest.  He's by far the youngest free agent starter available and easily the one with the highest upside.  Pitchers this young aren't supposed to be as experienced and mature as he is.  They aren't supposed to have this firm a grasp on their mechanics or this advanced a combination of stuff and command.  By all accounts, Darvish is already a more polished pitcher than Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, and by that comparison also more polished than top prospects like ManBan and Dellin Betances.

Based on their long history with high-profile Japanese free agents, both the good (Matsui) and the bad (Igawa), the Yankees are probably the team best-equipped to make Darvish's transition to Major League Baseball a successful one.  And to top it all off, the Yankees can add Darvish by giving up just money, the asset that they have the most of.  They've already scouted him multiple times over the last few seasons, so they have to have a plan for targeting Darvish if and when he's posted.  The Yankees were wise to not be as aggressive on Dice-K as the Fraud Sawx were.  I think they'd be equally wise to be that aggressive on Darvish this time.

P.S.- If you're looking for information on Darvish, the best source out there is probably this recent post on TYA by pro scout David P. It's a must-read for sure.

Can Curtis Granderson Repeat His 2011 Performance?

(The Grandy Man could in 2011.  Can he do it again next year?)

2011 was a helluva season for Curtis Granderson.  Less than 1 year after he had to miss 2 games in the middle of the season to completely rework his swing with Kevin Long, C-Grand used that new swing to put together a monster 2011 season... :

.262/.364/.552, 77 XBH, 41 HR, 136 R, 119 RBI, 85 BB, 25 SB, 146 wRC+, .394 wOBA, 7.0 WAR, ASG Starter, AL Silver Slugger Award winner for CF, AL Players' Choice Awards winner for AL Player of the Year, and possible AL MVP

... And re-establish himself as a premiere player in the American League.  Surprisingly, Granderson's 2011 campaign might not even be his career best.  In 2007 he went .302/.361/.552 with 84 XBH (including an insane 23 triples), 141 wRC+, a .395 wOBA, a 14.5 UZR/150, and a career best 7.8 WAR.  But for Yankee purposes, 2011 was a big year for Curtis as it confirmed that he could be the type of player he was in 2007 and 2008 and the type of player the Yankees thought they were getting when they traded for him in December of '09.  But after one year of so-so C-Grand and one year of great C-Grand, what should we be expecting for him in 2012?  Or more specifically, can his 2011 level of production be maintained going forward?

First, let's use some broad strokes to explain Curtis' big rebound in 2011.  When Long rebuilt Granderson's swing in 2010, his main focus was to cut all of the excess pre-swing movement out and create a more compact swing to better utilize Curtis' quick hands.  That compact swing produced a big power surge in the 2nd half of 2010 and it continued this past season as Granderson posted a .290 ISO, besting his previous career high (set in his '07 season) by 40 points.  Granderson also bounced back a bit on the batting average front thanks to a .295 BABIP, which was still not up above .300 like he was in his first 3 full MLB seasons with the Tigers, but much better than the .270s values he put up in 2009 and 2010.  His batting average, and production as a whole, took a bit of a hit because of a 24.5% K rate, his highest since 2006, but Curtis used a career high 12.3% BB rate to counter that and keep his OBP and wOBA values high.

A Quick Word On The AL ROY Voting

Hellickson- 102 points
Trumbo- 63 points
Hosmer-38 points
Nova- 30 points
Pineda- 11 points

Is that a joke?  Are the voters serious?  Who voted for the Rookie of the Year this year, a local Tampa Bay middle school class??  Fuckin' A, man.  That point total is TERRIBLE.

You want to tell me that Jeremy Hellickson was a slightly better pitcher than Ivan Nova this year?  OK, I'll buy that.  But you can't try to tell me he was THAT much better than Nova.  And there's no way you can convince me that he was better than Michael Pineda at all.  Or that Trumbo with his sub-.300 OBP and Hosmer with his shitty first base defense were better than Nova and Pineda.  JUST LOOK AT THE FUCKING NUMBERS!!!!

Whatever.  It's a joke.  20 bucks says Nova would have gotten more votes if he wasn't wearing a navy blue hat with an interlocking "NY" on it.  Although on the positive side, maybe the still lingering love obsession with HRs gives C-Grand a better shot at winning the MVP next week.