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Yu Darvish to the Padres: Fantasy Impact

The holidays must have been excellent in the Preller household since Padres GM, A.J. Preller is in quite the giving mood to his team's fan base. Over the last few days, Preller has traded for Blake Snell, signed KBO star Ha-Seong Kim, and now is trading for 2020 N.L. Cy Young runner up Yu Darvish. The Padres have one of the deeper farm systems in major league baseball, and Preller has used that to strengthen his already strong team. A Padres team reached the NLCS last season, and many already expected them to contend again in 2021. 

Most thought Preller and the Padres were done making moves for starting pitching after the Snell trade, but nope, he wanted more by trading for Darvish. Darvish is coming off a season where he finished runner up to Trevor Bauer for the Cy Young. He was flawless for the Cubs and now becomes the 1A to Snell’s 1B in the Padres rotation. A starting rotation that consists of Snell, Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, and Adrian Morejon

Darvish will not be coming to San Diego alone as his personal catcher in 2020; Victor Caratini will be apart of the seven-player trade. Going to the Windy City is RHP Zach Davies and minor leaguers Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana, Owen Caissie, and Ismael Mena. The trade has significant implications in real life baseball as the Padres try to contend with World Series Champion Dodgers and there are fantasy implications as well. Let’s look at what Yu Darvish joining the Padres means for the upcoming 2021 fantasy baseball season.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Darvish Brings Dominant Stuff to San Diego

Before we get into all the good that is Yu Darvish, let’s briefly discuss a few of the negatives that have already been mentioned. Darvish will turn 35 years old in the upcoming season. In pitching terms, that is old. The other negative talking point is Darvish’s injury history. He has had Tommy John surgery twice, last time in 2016, and was battling right triceps tendinitis in 2018. He has been injury-free for two seasons now and has tweaked his mechanics along the way that appear to have helped with Darvish’s injury concerns. Age can lead to more injuries, but let’s trust what we have seen in the last two seasons and shoot for the best. 

Speaking of the best, Darvish was nearly the best pitcher in the National League last season. In 12 starts, he threw 76 innings (6.3 IP/start) with a 2.01 ERA and a 2.82 xFIP. It keeps getting better when digging deeper as he had his second straight season with a strikeout rate over 30%, a walk rate of 4.7%, and an 8.8% HR/FB. All of this led to an 8-3 record and runner-up for the NL Cy Young. 

“Well, it was a shortened season. We have to take it with a grain of salt.” I can already hear this crowd as well, the shortened season crowd. Ok then, let’s take a look at bigger sample size.

In 2019, Darvish was having some struggles to start the season, so he went into the lab to determine what was going wrong. He noticed a few mechanical issues and a pitch mix issue, so he made the necessary changes, which resulted in a strong finish to 2019. He carried the changes over to 2020. If we combine the game logs from his transformation at the all-star break in 2019 to the end of 2020, we have a 25 game sample size where he threw 157.2 innings. Over those 25 starts, he had a 2.40 ERA, 2.59 xFIP, 34.6% K-rate, and the most impressive part is he had a 3.4% BB-rate. 

The pitch mix change was more impressive, especially for a pitcher with eight pitches. He mainly uses four pitches, but the other four are always there to make things interesting. Before the resurgence in 2019, he was using his four-seam fastball a lot, and it turned out he was throwing it way too much. He eventually switched to his cutter being his most thrown pitch while also increasing his slider usage and decreasing his four-seam usage. 

When digging in more in-depth on the pitch results for Darvish, thanks to Alex Chamberlain’s pitch leaderboard, the change in pitch mix was outstanding. The cutter and slider have been much more effective at getting first-pitch strikes. Using the fastball later in the count has made it a better put-away pitch and has also limited the overall quality of contact (0% barrel last season) when it is put in play. Darvish is now utilizing his best pitch, the slider, to get ahead early in the count or to put batters away 54% of the time with a deserved strikeout rate of 46%.

There is much more to discuss regarding the pitch mix and the pitches’ quality, but know the cutter is getting ahead of batters. Simultaneously, the four-seam fastball has become more effective, and the slider is an elite pitch that is filthy whenever used by Darvish. 

 

2021 Fantasy Impact

Darvish should be the ace-like pitcher we have come to expect for the Padres. It should be noted that part of the trade was the inclusion of his “personal catcher,” Victor Caratini, which is a big deal. Caratini caught all 12 of Darvish’s starts in 2020, but the change was made in 2019 and the results were quite telling.

2019 Catcher Splits

Caratini also favors Darvish’s pitch mix changes by throwing more cutters. Not just a defensive catcher, Caratini is also a plus for the Padres as he brings a decent batting average, a little pop, can play multiple positions, and will be able to give Austin Nola a day off every fifth game.

Darvish moves from Wrigley Field, the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in 2020 according to ESPN park factors, while Petco Park was the 10th-most pitcher-friendly. In 2019, Petco was the third-best pitcher’s park, while Wrigley was eighth. However you break it down, he will still be in a pitcher-friendly park. Darvish will be moving from an NL Central that was one of the easiest divisions to pitch in last season and heads to the NL West that does not scare anyone a ton outside of the Dodgers and the occasional trip to Coors Field.

Steamer likes Darvish for 2021, although not enough to post the insane numbers of 2020. A 3.72ERA with a 29% strikeout rate in 31 starts is still solid. His current December NFBC Draft Champions ADP is 18.5, making him the fifth pitcher off the board. To some, Darvish may be going too high as drafters are picking him for his career year. He should still be an ace for the 2021 season and should be taken early on in drafts. I prefer the middle to end of Round 2, but if you want Darvish on your team, you will have to be aggressive. 



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