Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 12/20/11

By now you’ve undoubtedly read that the Texas Rangers have won the bidding for Yu Darvish and now have 30 days to work out a contract for him. At the very minimum, Darvish will end up costing the Rangers in excess of six years and 100 million dollars. The Rangers' former ace C.J. Wilson signed with their rival Los Angeles Angels for five years and $77.5 million. Clearly, the Rangers had more faith in Darvish’s present and future success than they had in Wilson’s. But which is going to be the better investment?

Most fans would say Darvish right away, as he’s been touted as highly as sensations like Steven Strasburg and Daisuke Matsuzaka (five years ago). I’d advise others to remain skeptical of any hype until you’ve actually seen the pitcher. But once you’ve seen the pitcher, don’t be fooled by the indivdual performance. Look at the pitcher in a much more broad sense. First, you need to think about whether his “stuff” will translate to the Major Leagues.

In Japan, Darvish used a 93-94 mph four-seam fastball and a 90-91 mph two-seamer as his bread and butter. These would be considered league average, or even slightly above league average, in America. He also mixes in two different sliders: a hard one thrown around 85 and a softer one used primarily as a change of pace pitch that dances around 80 mph. These are both average or above average pitches. He’s also been known to throw a big looping curve ball when needed that sits in the 70’s. He probably won’t get away with using that pitch in the major leagues though. In terms of “pure-stuff”, Darvish has what it takes to be successful in the major leagues.

But what about the different ball? In Japan, they use a smaller, more tightly wound baseball which leaves the seams of the ball more pronounced or unintentionally raised. These means balls can be gripped better, offspeed pitches will move more and fastballs can be thrown harder. On average, a Japanese pitcher will usually lose 2-3 mph in his transition to the major leagues and find that he must spot his offspeed pitches better because they simply won’t break in the same way they do in Japan. The most extreme case of these came years ago when the Yankees signed Hideki Irabu. Irabu threw consistently in the high 90’s in Japan but had trouble getting the ball over 94 mph in America. Darvish should still be able to throw his four-seam fastball in the low 90’s and his two-seamer in the high 80’s, which would make them average major league pitches. As for his offspeed pitches, we’ll have to wait and see.

Will Darvish’s numbers from Japan translate to the majors here in America? No. A loud and resounding no to be specific. This doesn’t mean Darvish won’t be a successful major league pitcher, but the video game numbers he put up in Japan simply won’t translate. Since age 20, he’s never posted an ERA higher than 1.88 in Japan. Even if his ERA balloons to twice it’s normal amount, he’ll still be a good pitcher in the major leagues. There’s no set number for how much higher an ERA will rise in America, but the best we can go off of are the two best Japanese starters in baseball today, Hiroki Kuroda and Daisuke Matsuzaka. In Kuroda’s last two seasons in Japan he produced a 1.85 and 3.56 ERA. His next two seasons in the majors, 3.73 and 3.76. In Dice-K’s last two seasons in Japan he produced a 2.30 and 2.13 ERA. His next two seasons in America, 4.40 and 2.90. Just going on average, it would be safe to say that Darvish’s ERA will jump up but a full run or a run and a half per 9 innings which would put his projected ERA somewhere between 2.70 and 3.20.

Now we need to factor in the environment he’s inheriting. The Ballpark in Arlington is among the most homer-friendly hitting paradises in the Major Leagues. In his career in Japan, he’s been pretty even between fly balls and ground balls. The difference is, in America, those fly balls are hit by stronger athletes and will travel further. Factor in that just about any routine fly ball into the corners or in a gap in Texas turn into 400-foot bombs and it’s a recipe for disaster. Darvish will need to learn to become more of a ground ball pitcher. The Rangers’ ballpark should artificially inflate his ERA a little more, perhaps into the mid to upper 3’s at worst.

Now let’s consider the pitcher Darvish will be replacing, CJ Wilson. He’s only been a starting pitcher for two years now, so there’s less wear and tear on his arm than most 30 year olds. Since making the transition to starter, he’s turned into a legit ace in Texas. Wilson’s ability to generate ground balls and not wilt under the extreme Texas heat made him the best pitcher Texas has had in recent memory, aside from a couple months of Cliff Lee. His last two seasons he’s thrown over 200 innings and posted ERA of 3.35 and 2.94. Moving away from Texas to pitcher friendly Southern California it seems almost certain that Wilson will continue to post solid numbers, if not even better numbers, going forward.

Had Wilson stayed in Texas, there’s a good chance they would have received 200+ IP and an ERA around three for the next three or four years. But Wilson will turn 31 next season, and it wouldn’t be surprising if by age 35 or 36 he was no longer an ace and had become a middle or back of the rotation starter. Darvish on the other hand will turn 25 next season. If Texas signs him to a six or seven year deal, they’ll still see Darvish in his physical prime. There’s a very good chance that Darvish’s numbers will not be as good as Wilson’s next year. They may not even be as good as Wilson’s for the next two or three years. So as a short term investment, the Rangers probably would have been better off signing C.J. Wilson. But, over the length of the contract, it could be argued that Darvish will be able to sustain the pressures of pitching 200 innings a year better than Wilson.

Still, that’s 25 million dollars more at minimum the Rangers are spending on Darvish. He must not only be better than Wilson over the next five years, he has to be 25 million dollars better to justify this spending spree. Right now, it appears the more certain and less expensive bet on CJ Wilson would have been more prudent than risking over 100 million dollars on a pitcher that hasn’t thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues. But perhaps the Rangers hand was forced.

Wilson is a Southern California native and it’s possible he never wanted to return to Texas. This would mean that Texas never made a decision between Wilson and Darvish, but Darvish became more of a necessity because of Wilson’s preference for his home. There’s no way for fans to know this. But either way, the Rangers are about to embark on a risky business venture that could have been avoided if Wilson were to still be on their payroll.


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