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2013 Fantasy Baseball Breakout or Bust: Yu Darvish

In December of 2011 The Texas Rangers posted $51.7M to the Nippon-Ham Fighters to win the right to negotiate with their 25-year-old star pitcher, Yu Darvish. Subsequently, Darvish signed a 6-year, $60M contract. Did the Rangers’ huge gamble in Darvish pay off in his rookie season? Lets take a look at his 2012 numbers to find out:

 16  9  3.90  29  191  156  221  89  14  1.28  7.3  10.4  4.2  2.48  .220

At first glance it’s easy to see that the Darvish hype was warranted. He shows dominating stuff that translated to fantastic H/9 and K/9 numbers. He finished 6th in the AL with 16 W, and he kept the ball in the park against tough American League competition. So how is it that his ERA ended up close to 4.00? Looking at his monthly splits doesn't really offer an answer here, as his worst ERA and WHIP months were in July (5.74, 1.43) and August (5.29, 1.48)-- he didn't clearly improve and dominate until September (2.21, 0.74).

Yu Darvish on March 13, 2012 (1)It would seem easy to surmise that Darvish took the league by surprise in April, and that hitters' adjustments in the subsequent months brought him down to Earth, but that’s just not really the case.  Although his ERA ballooned from April through August, his H/IP ratio remained just about the same, while K/9 actually improved. The ERA totals for these middle months are just not in the expected range when looking at the rest of his numbers. While a mild lack of command certainly did not help his ERA, there's no way it should approach the abnormally high levels that it did in July and August.  Bad luck played a big role.

September is where it gets most interesting. In the month where Darvish completed the most IP, he also gave up the least hits, cut his walk rate in half and maintained a K/IP pace. Notice that he only gave up one HR in September, and opponents hit a paltry .160 against him. The 2.21 ERA in September is not to be expected for a full year, but it is a more realistic benchmark than his inflated July and August ERAs.   If Darvish can have one or two of these five-start stretches mixed in with what he did in most months last season, he could easily end up with substantially better numbers than last year.

All in all, I love Darvish in 2013. He has multiple strikeout pitches, has shown improved command and has proven to be a workhorse, throwing over 180 IP in each of his last six 6 professional seasons. I am confident that he will be more consistent this season, and his occasional streaks of brilliance should amount to a great season overall for fantasy owners.  All this said, Darvish is being drafted very highly, near the likes of Matt Cain and Jered Weaver.  He's not at that level yet, both in terms of development and consistency. And while he could be there with the upper echelon at the end of the season, drafting him over either of those guys is a reach. Look for Darvish in the seventh round after Cain, Weaver and Wainwright are off the board.

2013 Projection

 18  10  3.42  34  210  230  1.20