Last week I looked at the team and concluded that what they needed more than anything else was a front line starting pitcher. I also ran down a list of free agent starting pitchers to figure out who they should pursue. After the last few days I can add a few things. First of all, Ted Lilly is not longer a free agent, he and the Dodgers agreed to a three year extension. That takes out a top candidate, perhaps the second-best starter on the market. Second of all, CLIFF LEE CLIFF LEE CLIFF LEE CLIFF LEE CLIFF LEE. It’s far fetched, but wouldn’t it be great if he was a National for the next few years? I guess a poor performance in the playoffs aren’t going to drive down his value.
Yu Better Recognize
But one guy I didn’t talk about was the next star from Japanese baseball, Yu Darvish. You may recall Darvish from the World Baseball Classic, where he started 2 games, appearing in 5 total. In 13 IP, he had a 2.08 ERA and had 6 BB and 20 Ks. But that is a pretty small sample size, so let’s look at what the 24 year old has done in Japan.
He’s been on the same team, which has one of my favorite team names in all of sports, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, since his NPB debut in 2005. In his 5 professional seasons there, he’s established himself as a #1 pitcher with a dominant fastball, usually thrown in the low to mid-90s, but reportedly has been clocked as high as 97 mph. Or 156 kmph, if you like. He’s also got a strong slider, and an effective splitter as well. Like so many other pitchers who have spent significant parts of their early career somewhere besides the US, he has about 57 other pitchers that he throws in sometimes.
In 1036 1/3 IP with the Fighters, he’s compiled a 2.02 ERA with 974 Ks to 297 BBs. That K/BB ratio of 3.28/1 looks pretty good, but if you take out his rookie, age 18 season, it goes up to 3.70. And if you take out his first FULL season as well, at a still very young age of 19, you have a 4.36 K/BB ratio over 4 full seasons. He’s also lead the league in strikeouts and ERA twice over the last 4 seasons, and has had the best WHIP all 4 years.
It’s hard to call him anything but the best pitcher in that league, and if he decides to declare for major league free agency, he will garner quite a bit of interest. Just like the Daisuke ridiculousness, teams will have to pay millions to speak with him, and then have to pay more to sign him. And there’s a mixed history of Japanese pitcher performance in the majors. There is no guarantee that he will be effective in the majors, and that his arm won’t fall off after a season.
Daisuke is often pointed to as the example that Darvish will follow. I’m not going to dissect the differences in the pitching styles, but Darvish has a few things going for him over Daisuke. First of all, Darvish has thrown 400 less innings than Matsusaka did in Japan, because has been in the league for 2 less years. But going just by IP, the years themselves have been better. Matsusaka had 2 partial years, one with 146 IP and one with only 73 1/3, both presumably due to injury. Additionally, he had one year with 240 1/3 IP and one with 215 IP, whereas Darvish had one year at 207 2/3, but nothing more than 201 besides that. And his only short season was his first, which probably wasn’t due to injury.
Of course, all this could be moot, as Darvish has very recently said he plans to stay in Japan next season. Whether or not he sticks to this will be seen in a few months, but for now, the Nationals might want to try to convince him to test the waters.
The case, again, for Webb
Brandon Webb is still an interesting case to me. He’s someone who could end up as a Chien-Ming Wang-like season-missing project-hyphen. But he’s got a history of being Brandon Webb, and maybe he’ll be that once again. If so, the Nats would have a bargain Ace, but they better figure out a way, if they do sign him, to get him for a few years if they want. The whole point of signing a great starter in DC is to not only make next year more palatable, but to put the team in the running when said pitcher, Strasburg and Zimmermann are all together.