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Prospect Retrospective: Yu Darvish

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How the Dodgers right-hander looked as a prospect

MLB: Game Two-Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Last night the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 behind a strong outing from right-hander Yu Darvish. The veteran went five innings, giving up one run on two hits with seven strikeouts, this outing alone showing why the Dodgers acquired him from the Texas Rangers for the stretch run.

Darvish’s path into pro ball was unusual. Let’s take a look.

The son of an Iranian father and Japanese mother, Yu Darvish grew up playing baseball and was on the radar of both MLB and Japanese clubs in high school. He was committed to playing in Japan and was drafted in the first round by the Nippon Ham Fighters in 2004. He was used out of the bullpen as an 18-year-old rookie in 2005 and held his own, posting a 3.53 ERA in 94 innings, then moved into the starting rotation in 2006 and quickly established himself as an elite arm.

By 2007 he was the best pitcher in Japan. Over a seven-year career he went 81-32 with a 1.99 ERA in 1268 innings, with a 1250/333 K/BB ratio. Deeply coveted by major league clubs, he finally came to North America by signing a six-year, $60,000,000 contract with the Texas Rangers on January 18th, 2012.

I never wrote a true prospect report for Darvish, since I viewed him as a finished product. I did write this on January 19th, 2012:

I think the chances are quite high that Darvish will be as good as everyone expects, a genuine ace.

If I was going to give Darvish a prospect grade, he would be a Grade A. However, given his age and experience level in Japan, I really don't see Darvish as a typical "prospect." In my mind, this is more like a major league free agent signing, and certainly the Texas Rangers farm system does not deserve credit for "developing" Darvish.

Darvish of course has been very effective overall, despite having Tommy John surgery in 2015 and some shoulder issues in 2016. In the majors he is 56-42 over 131 starts, with a 3.42 ERA, 126 ERA+, with a 1021/307 K/BB ratio. He’s gathered 19.0 fWAR over five seasons, though his peak was 4.6 in his rookie campaign followed by 4.5 in his second year.

Miami Marlins v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

He didn’t turn into Pedro Martinez, but Darvish has been a very successful major league pitcher and excellent at his best.

At age 30 it is quite possible, even quite likely, that Darvish’s best years are behind him, with 2012 and 2013 his peak seasons. However, I’m not completely convinced that is true. Los Angeles is rather friendlier for pitchers than Texas and there was a significant rise in his strikeout rate after the trade. Assuming he can stay healthy I can see him having a truly dominant season again for the Dodgers in 2018.