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The return of Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish is returning from Tommy John surgery this year
One of the biggest things on the minds of every Texas Rangers fan, and every fan of any team opposing them in 2016 for the AL West title, is whether or not Yu Darvish will return pitching to the form he had previously pitched. Yu Darvish is one of the biggest forces in the American League when he's on the pitching rubber. He dominates American League hitters with a wide and varied array of breaking pitches thrown from different arm angles, at different speeds. Then there's the dominant fastball all pitchers want to have.
There's little Darvish can't do on the pitching rubber. He's got the size, the stamina, and all those pitches. It's not really fair. But can he come back, and back to form? We'll see.
Today marks one year from the day Yu Darvish had his ulnar collateral ligament replaced. That's Tommy John surgery. He threw 25 pitches off the pitching mound in practice today.
Prior to injury, Yu Darvish dominated American League hitters. He recorded loads of strikeouts.
Yu Darvish stands six feet and five inches tall. He weighs 220 pounds. Size doesn't mean everything, but it means a lot when it comes to someone you expect to be your staff's ace starting pitcher.
He won't be 30 until this August. Oh, he had a somewhat late start in Major League Baseball, but we've had one hell of a taste for what he can do. In roughly two and two third MLB seasons YU averaged 11.3 strikeouts per 9 innings. That's the kind of power numbers that gets you compared to people like Nolan Ryan. Yu Darvish is like a right handed Chris Sale.
You take Yu's stats and average them over a 162 game season, this gives him 34 starts. He returns from surgery and at the same level of dude, and he's averaging 279 strikeouts a season. He also averages 16 wins. His walks plus hits per innings would be a nice 1.196.
Yu Darvish in Japan with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
Yu Darvish - imported from Japan, as the finest pitcher in the Japanese League
When Yu Darvish signed with the Texas Rangers he had zero innings of experience in the Major Leagues. I thought very skeptically about his signing. I remembered when the Ranters had signed Chan Ho Park. Clearly, I was having some disagreeable thoughts, due to ethnicity.
Yu Darvish never cared what I thought. He was regarded as the single finest pitcher in Japan when he signed to come play in Arlington, Texas. He won 16 games, lost 9, and struck out 221 batters in 191.1 innings. Next time I hear about someone being the best pitcher in Japan, I won't doubt their ability none.
Anyway, the Rangers had went to two straight World Series. They wanted to keep that going, and they didn't. They got Yu Darvish though, and they paid him a load of money to come here. When he comes back to the pitchers mound this May, or maybe this June, we expect big things from Yu, but we've also got to be patient. You don't rush a talent like Darvish back to the mound, even if he's the one doing the rushing.
Cole Hamels is the ace for the present. Hamels would make the ace on most Big League pitching staffs. Hamels has talked about how excited he is to get to pitch in the same rotation with Darvish. We're all excited.
Big Yu Darvish on the cover of 'Sports Illustrated'
The Yu Darvish pitching style and repertoire
What you notice when watching any highlight reel or game with Darvish pitching is the guy loves to throw breaking balls. He loves to throw them because he gets so many swings and misses, or dinky pop ups and grounders. Yu has that mid to high 90s fastball everyone wants to see, and some scouts say he'd be a better pitcher if he threw the fastball more often. The pitch tops out at around 98 miles per hour. He also throws a sinking fastball he refers to as a shuuto. Then there is the cut fastball.
One thing Darvish does to an extreme you'll seldom see from anyone else is he can throw a 97 mile per hour fastball, and on the next pitch throw a 62 mile per hour lollipop curve ball. When he does things like that, batters wind up standing their with their jaws slacked. He can make you look foolish. Yu Darvish changes speeds, arm angles, and pitches often, and this is a big part of his success.
Darvish's slider is his main strikeout pitch, but he throws two speeds of curve-ball. He also throws a mean split-finger fastball. Some Big League scouts consider the Darvish assortment of pitches the best arsenal in the MLB. Some consider his slider to be better than those of Chris Sale, or Clayton Kershaw, or Max Scherzer.
Besides the amazing arsenal of darting and diving pitches, Darvish confounds advanced scouts by changing what pitch he's preferring to throw in specific counts. He does an endless change of sequence thing, never allowing himself to be known to throw a certain pitch to right handed or left handed hitters in certain counts or situations. He can throw any pitch at any time, and change speeds on any of them. He used to throw a screwball. But everyone knows the screwball is dangerous to the arm throwing it. Luckily Yu dropped it.
A Yu Darvish highlight film from his time playing in Japan.
Yu Darvish was known as a baseball phenom from a young age
Major League Baseball is now an international sport. It is increasingly so year by year, and MLB just keeps getting better for it. We're seeing the best athletes now from all over the world, so Major League Baseball is tougher than ever, and more exciting than ever - because the competition is so stiff.
Yu Darvish is an ultimate example of internationalism in baseball. He was born in Japan to an Iranian father and a Japanese mother. This is somewhat odd in and of itself, as the Japanese are a well known folk for mostly being homogeneous. His parents met in college in Florida.
Yu Darvish started playing baseball early in life. By the time he was in second grade he was playing ball. By the time he was in junior high there were around 50 high schools scouting Yu to play baseball for their high school. Baseball is a very big deal in Japan. By 2004 Darvish was being scouted by Major League teams. He wanted to play in Japan though, and so he did.
Yu's Japanese professional baseball career is fairly legendary. He became the highest paid player in Japanese baseball. That tells you something. So far as I am aware, the Major Leagues started associating with Japanese ball when Cecil Fielder went to Japan, and then came back to the Majors. I was very skeptical about this Yu Darvish fella, and all the money my Texas Rangers were going to invest in him. I was wrong about Darvish. I love being wrong sometimes.
Yu Darvish exhibits the classic drop and drive pitching mechanics
2012 Topps Baseball #660 Yu Darvish Rookie Card
Japanese professional baseball superstar, Yu Darvish, comes to Texas
The Texas Rangers won the bidding war among Major League Baseball teams, agreeing to pay Yu Darvish 10 million per season for six years. Nolan Ryan was the team president at the time, and Ryan was very impressed with Yu's composure about it all, and said so. He specifically said Darvish was a more composed man than he had been at a similar age.
This is high praise, coming from a legend, but Yu was already a legend himself, just not in Texas. Texans will warm rather quickly to someone on one of their sports teams who's shinning like Darvish does. Yu is a strikeout pitcher. He's the best strikeout artist the team has had since Nolan Ryan was there on the hill at the old Arlington Stadium, firing off high 90s fastballs in his mid 40s. Darvish isn't exactly that type of pitcher though, he can reach back and hit the high 90s with the fastball and the radar gun. But Yu is somehow truly a junkball pitcher, just one who happens to also have a great fastball.
Yu was introduced quickly in the 2012 season, he made his MLB debut on April 9. He won his first game. There was a memorable confrontation in the game with Ichiro Suzuki, another of the well known, if not the most well known Japanese to play in Major League Baseball. Suzuki got the first hit ever recorded in the Big Leagues off of Darvish, and it came on a 96 mile per hour fastball.
Yu would win Rookie of the Month in the American League for April 2012. He'd start his career in America so well he'd go on to be named to the 2012 American League All Star team.
Darvish finished his first season as an established power pitcher. He won 16 games, a total he hasn't surpassed yet. He also struck out 221 batters. The team was careful to limit how many innings Yu pitched, and the left him at just under 200 innings with 191.1.
Yu Darvish highlights film from 2013 when Darvish led the American League in strikeouts
Yu Darvish dominates Major League Baseball in 2013
It was the second season of the Yu Darvish experience when he'd show the Major Leagues just why he was so highly thought of in Japanese ball. In 2013, Darvish had a not so wonderful team behind him, but he went on to record 277 strikeouts. This led not just the American League, but all the Major Leagues. He also led the Major Leagues in strikeouts per 9 innings, and the rate was 11.89 strikeouts for a total 9 inning game.
The Cy Young that year would go to Max Scherzer. But had Darvish been on a better team, who knows. The high-point of the season came on April 2. He started the season with an amazing 8 and 2/3rds innings of perfection. Losing the no-hitter and the perfect game on what would have been the last batter.
He joined Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson on the list of memorable achievements by getting his first 100 strikeouts before Memorial Day. Yu didn't get to pitch the complete season in 2013. He spent a short time on the disabled list. Were it not for his 15 day DL assignment, he'd likely have achieved membership to the 300 strikeouts club. He wound up placing second in the Cy Young voting to Scherzer, despite the record of 13 wins and 9 loses. Yu greatly improved his earned run average to a sparkling 2.83. He gave up only 6.2 hits per 9 innings.
Yu darvish 2014 highlights
Yu Darvish, the Rangers' horrible 2014 season, and looking forward to 2016
It would be unfair to Yu to say that Darvish had a bad season in 2014. The Texas Rangers were horrible that year. The team had literally fallen apart. They'd acquired Darvish at a considerable investment of money, in order to finally win a World Series. It just wasn't working, but none of this could be laid at the feet of the big man from Japan.
He broke a Major League record held by Kerry Wood, for the fastest pitcher to reach 500 career strikeouts. That is to say, he reached 500 strikeouts in fewer innings than anyone had ever done before. He reached 500 Ks in 401 and 2/3 innings pitched.
On the 9th of May Yu would again flirt with a no-hitter.The game wound up becoming controversial in a few ways, but in any event, Darvish pitched an outstanding game, but did not record a no hit ballgame. On July 6 of 2014 Darvish got to participate in the All Star game, and he recorded a perfect inning. The second half of the 2014 season was abysmal for the Rangers. Ron Washington, the manager, he quite the team, the team was in last place - and Darvish complained of elbow soreness. He was allowed to leave off late in the year, and go on the disabled list.
I think allowing Darvish to go on the disabled list in late 2014 was a terrible idea. I think he was about to blow out his UCL ligament, and it would have been better for the Rangers had he done so late in a lost cause season than to wait for it to happen in spring training in 2015. No matter, the past is the past. Going into 2016 every single last Texas Rangers fan alive is waiting with every breath for the return of Yu Darvish.
We have to wait knowing it is bad to push Yu, but we also want him back as soon as humanly possible. Yu Darvish, being an extremely competitive perfectionist type of athlete - he wants to get back at it quickly too. We simply must wait. The Texas Rangers now have a vastly improved team from the one Yu last pitched for. The offense and defense are wonderful, the benches are deep, and the Texas Rangers probably have the single best bullpen in Major League Baseball. I sit here in my Yu Darvish #11 T-shirt in great anticipation of seeing he and Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and the whole crew winning some games. We should all root for Yu's return, and return to glory. Thanks for reading.