Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Yu Darvish or Haven't They Learned Their Lesson Yet

I've been thinking about this one for a while and I wanted to elaborate on what the title mean. First off, in case you don't know, Yu Darvish is currently the best starting pitcher in the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB). The 25-year old pitcher for the Nippon Ham Fighters is currently one of the heavily scouted players by MLB teams in Japan. Why? Well, according to Jason Coskrey and Kaz Nagatsuka in their MLB scouts doing due diligence on Fighters' Darvish from the Japan Times dated September 5, 2011:

In his seventh year as a professional, Darvish is 91-36 with a 2.04 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. So far this season, Darvish is 16-4 with a 1.54 ERA. Through 21 starts, he has 206 strikeouts, marking his fourth season with at least 200.

So on paper Darvish seems to be a jewel of a find for any MLB team that would be open to post for him. A quick and concise explanation on how the posting process works can be found here at the page Posting System on BaseballReference.com. This is where things can get complicated. First off, Darvish is not a free agent at the end of the year. In the NPB the rules concerning how free agency is attained are stricter than how free agency is attained for players in MLB. According to Ryan Webber in his article Japanese Free Agency from Sportsagentblog.com dated November 13, 2009:

Starting in 2009, there are two classes of free agents: international and domestic. Domestic free agents can only sign with other NPB teams while international free agents are free to try their luck overseas as well as sign domestically...In order to qualify as an international free agent, players must play nine seasons in the NPB. To qualify as a domestic free agent, players drafted before 2007 must wait eight seasons. Players drafted after 2007 are only required to wait seven seasons before being declared domestic free agents. This is a much longer period than in MLB.

Also, in contrast to MLB regulations, players must be on the team’s top roster for 145 days in order for it to count as a “year” for free agency purposes. Time spent injured or in the minors does not count. Therefore, it can take much longer than eight or nine years for a player to be eligible for free agency in Japan.

So in Darvish's case he can become a domestic free agent during next season and an international free agent during the 2014 season. It is believed that Darvish will asked to be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters. If approved by Nippon Ham and the league then there will be a mad dash on MLB teams to try and put together the highest posting fee and hope their's gets picked. There are at least 10 teams scouting Darvish among them being the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Herein lies the meaning of the second part of the title to this post.

I was telling a couple of friends of mine who are Yankees fans of the Yankees' attempts to scout Darvish and after a couple of perplexing looks from them, they both almost voiced the same statement in unison: Haven't they learned their lesson yet? In case you don't know, the Yankees have been burned when it comes to Japanese pitching in the form of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa. Theoretically you can say that every MLB team has been burned by Japanese starting pitching not living up to their expectations though Daisuke Matsuzaka did put up a 33-15 record with a 3.72 ERA in 61 games (61 starts) with 355 stikeouts and 155 walks his first two seasons with the Red Sox before injuries and ineffectiveness have limited him to a 16-15 record with a 5.03 in 45 games (44 starts) with 213 strikeouts and 127 walks. Perhaps if the Red Sox hadn't shelled out a whopping $51,111,111.11 posting fee on top of a six-year, $52 million dollar contract the ineffectiveness would be felt less by the Red Sox Nation. Position players such as Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki and to a certain degree Akinori Iwamura lived up to the expectations. No Japanese starting pitcher since Hideo Nomo has been able to meet up to the same kind of expectatios. But back to Darvish.

In the Coskrey and Nagatsuka article, they say that MLB scouts view Darvish favorably when compared to current MLB starters. How can a team looking to stay competitive such as the Yankees and the Red Sox who play in Baseball's most competitive division ignore a potential ace such as Darvish. As with any player who is scouted, it can be a crap shoot. Look at Jose Bautista, who could have predicted two years ago that he'd be such a dominant player. On the flip side, look at Jason Heyward who had an impressive rookie season and is struggling this season. The scouting is never guaranteed to bring success. Teams just have to sometimes take a chance on a player and hope for the best which is what teams hope to do with Yu Darvish. This whole thing can be made moot if Darvish does not ask to be posted or if he does ask to be posted and the team decides not to. Until then we'll just have to wait and see.

*** Photo Credit goes to the Japanese Baseball Card Blog Page


For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Yu Darvish's career statistics from the NPB website

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