I've been on the Darvish bandwagon for nearly two years now. While I think its quite a long shot for the Royals to acquire him in the off season, I honestly believe that doing whatever it would take to acquire him would pay off in the long run for the Royals. However most people caution against him, citing other disappointing Japanese pitchers. So I decided to delve into the dark underworld of Japanese stat keeping (No seriously, its like no one in Japan has heard of sabermetrics or stats really) to parcel out pitchers performance before they came to America and how they performed afterwords.
For the purposes of getting a decent sample, I elected to just go with those pitchers that pitched more than 50 innings in the major leagues, the players that did not make the cut were all relievers and all fringe players at best. As a perfect example one player who barely made the cut was our own Yasuhiko "Shake" Yabuta.
Before we get in depth here, let me add a little disclaimer. I cannot guarantee these stats are 100% accurate. The record keeping system for the Japanese stats I ended up using was eclectic and required balancing 3 spreadsheets to get all the necessary information just to calculate K/9, BB/9 and FIP. However I believe that for the most part everything is the correct values.
Second disclaimer: You can see my work here. It is still in progress. I had originally wanted to get the career numbers done before this post, but after it took me nearly 20 minutes just to wrangle Hideo Nomo's career numbers out, I decided to go ahead and post my observations and provide the complete career numbers later.
So what do the numbers tell us?
Firstly that there are definitive tiers of pitching coming from Japan. The Low tier is made up of bad, usually old players past their prime looking for a decent paycheck. Sometimes this includes players whose very presence on a major league roster seems to make no sense (Why hello there Mac Suzuki). These pitchers, unsurprisingly tend to continue to suck once in the majors. The lowest FIP posted in this group belongs to Masao Kida, who managed to put up a 4.3 FIP in under 100 innings. Not exactly lighting the world on fire.
Then there is the Mid tier, a more eclectic bunch, this group has players both young and old, some who seemed washed up only to revitalize their careers in the majors, while others came over and flopped. This group gave us everything from Takashi Saito(2.65 FIP) and Koji Uehara(3.07 FIP) to Kei Igawa(6.19! FIP) and Yabuta(5.46 FIP). Essentially grabbing a pitcher from this group is a relative crapshoot.
And finally the High tier guys, the players who are brought over to be stars. and boy, is this an eclectic bunch. It seems that the one constant they share is strange quirks. Sasaki was forced back to Japan due to being a womanizer, Otsuka apparently clashed hard with Rangers ownership enough to potentially have been blacklisted from baseball, Okajima despite success is currently at AAA potentially in part because of his "gloomy" nature, Daisuke has had some well publicized struggles and Irabu clashed with Yankee's management over conditioning.
So what does this mean about Darvish?
Good question. At first glance, its bad. For the most part the players who have had the most success have all been relievers. Some players, like Nomo, Kuroda and Matsuzaka have maintained basically a league average or slightly better FIP over multiple years. However most of the starters either became relievers or flopped. So that doesn't bode well for Darvish long term.
However Darvish has a lot of positive qualities to help offset this.
He's younger than everyone else on the list, he's thrown fewer innings at this stage of his career than almost everyone else on the list (why hello again Mac Suzuki), and perhaps more importantly, Darvish is far and away the best pitcher on the list. The only pitcher who comes close to posting multiple sub 2.0 FIP seasons in Japan is Sasaki, who in the three seasons pitched less than 140 innings. Darvish in three years has pitched nearly 600. Even Matsuzaka, who was possibly the most hyped Japanese prospect posted FIPs of 2.95, 2.56 and 2.50 his last three years in Japan. Again while pitching fewer innings than Darvish did.
So what can we expect from Darvish?
The biggest factor Japanese pitchers seem to struggle with is how patient American hitters are. 17 of the 22 imports saw their BB/9 increase, in most cases dramatically. Most also saw their K/9 decrease, in most cases by about 20%. The one rate that didn't show a lot of change(and which I forgot to include I'm now realizing), was HR/9 In most cases in was stable or just a few points off.
So what would we expect from Darvish then?
Well first lets increase his walks, last season he had a minuscule 1.36. I'd say we can comfortably double that to 2.7. Then we can decrease his strikeouts by about 20% leaving him with about 9 K/9. Finally over the course of a 200 inning season we can probably give him about 10HR, we'd expect an increase due to the new league, but also a dampening from Kauffman. Lets go with 15, though I think that might be a bit high. Toss that all together and you pop out with about a 3.15 FIP.
So how good is that?
So why Yu?
Because we can and because this is probably the Royal's only chance to get a real bonifide game changing ACE without giving up talent in return.
The Royals have money this season. If we take GMDM's words at face value, then the Royals had about a $40 million surplus in payroll this season. With the contracts on the books, the Royals should have about a $30 million surplus the next 2-3 years. It's not farfetched to expect the Royals to take a chunk of that money they saved this year and put it towards Darvish. Will a $25 million posting fee get him? Maybe. Could we sign him to a $75/5 year contract? Possibly. But the fact remains that if the Royals want the best available starter this off season, they probably need to look overseas.