So it actually happened: The Cubs bolstered their rotation by signing Japanese ace Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million guaranteed contract. In terms of value, that $21 million AAV pegs Darvish as a 2.6-3.0 fWAR pitcher for the next six years.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted at the start of the offseason that Darvish would sign for $160 million over six years, so the actual deal represents a relative bargain. The fact that the Cubs were able to land him for $34 million less in guaranteed money points to just how goofy this offseason has truly been. That’s actually a huge steal.
Let’s get familiar with the new Cubs ace by talking about his pitch repertoire, watching some of his disgusting pitches, looking at whiff rates and pitch effectiveness, discussing his injury past, and projecting his value.
Darvish overwhelms batters using a flurry of four-seams, sinkers, sliders, and cutters. These four pitches made up about 92 percent of his repertoire last season. The other eight percent of pitches Darvish threw consisted of changeups and curves.
Darvish’s slider is like the anti-Arrieta pitch. Whereas the former Cubs ace threw sliders upwards of 90 mph with little dropping action, Darvish curls the same pitch in at about 83 mph and with exponentially more dropping action. So much dropping action, in fact, that the vertical movement on Darvish’s slider was better than 93 percent of all such pitches since 2007 (see table below). Insane.
Ah, but we’re not done talking about that slider yet. We need to address the horizontal movement on this cartoon pitch. The average horizontal movement he generates is basically the best in MLB. Over 99.9 percent of sliders thrown failed to meet Darvish’s average last year. Just absolutely ridiculously insane. I mean, just look at this thing.
But when batters are prepping for that wicked slider, Darvish can mix it up and sprinkle in some curves (six percent frequency). And when he does throw those curves, they go to the plate at 73 mph, 12 ticks less than his four-seamer. Those poor, poor batters.
Darvish’s most whiff-tastic pitches are his four-seam, sinker, and cutter, all of which generate at least ~95 percent more whiffs than comparable pitches.
What’s interesting, though, is that despite having that cartoon slider, he doesn’t get many whiffs with it. Maybe it’s because his velocity is slightly below league average, so batters can pick up on it. Regardless, Darvish’s value on the pitch (13.3 wSL) was seventh best in MLB last year.
Notice how Darvish’s curve also draws more whiffs than ~91 percent of all other curves, even though he threw it only six percent of the time last year.
I went into great detail about Darvish’s health this offseason already, and I recommend reading it. Like, right now. I’ll sum up what I wrote for you here, though.
After coming back from Tommy John surgery, Darvish raised his release point by about four inches…right up until he was traded to the Dodgers. Almost immediately after buttoning up the Dodger Blue and playing in front of that delusional crowd, his release point dipped back to his pre-TJS days.
I don’t know what to make of that dip, but it happened and I think it’s something to monitor moving forward.
Steamer and ZiPS projections don’t agree on Darvish. The former thinks he’ll pitch to a 3.82 ERA and 3.70 FIP for 3.6 fWAR, while the latter believes the new Cubs ace will record a 3.24 ERA and 3.22 FIP for 4.0 fWAR.
If Darvish stays healthy, I don’t see how he can’t live up to the unexpectedly low AAV the Cubs shelled out to sign him. I have to admit that the injury history and release point stuff is a bit worrisome for me, but who knows what the release point drop really means.
The bigger key is that Darvish has five pithes, four of which are some of the rarest and best in baseball. No other pitcher has a slider like Darvish, which is how he’s been able to maintain such a high whiff rate over the years. Only 12 pitchers in baseball had a better whiff rate, and Darvish was essentially tied with Stephen Strasburg and within a few whiffs of Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Carlos Carrasco, and more.
I couldn’t be happer with this deal. Again, to guarantee only $21 million AAV for a pitcher like Darvish is just mind-boggling to me. And it’s for six years.