Japan's Darvish has all the tools to succeed

Updated: March 7, 2009

Junko Kimura/Getty Images

Japan's Yu Darvish tossed four hitless innings in his first World Baseball Classic outing of 2009.

KEEP AN EYE ON DARVISH

Like most of America, I haven't seen very much of Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, but what I have seen I like. He's 22 years old, 6-foot-5 and has a drop-and-drive delivery with the little hesitation seemingly typical of a lot of Asian pitchers.

He throws from a three-quarter arm slot and kind of pushes his breaking ball. It kind of goes up before it goes down. But he's got a very athletic body, and that usually helps pitchers to be able to successfully repeat their delivery. If he needed to make adjustments once he came to the big leagues someday, he looks like he could manage that. His delivery and mechanics tell me he should be able to master several pitches. The baseball culture in Japan is for pitchers to have a full arsenal of pitches. Even the relievers over there have three, four or even five pitches they can go to.

The negative, for me, when I watch Darvish is that while his fastball has very good tail, it's pretty flat. When it leaves his hand, the angle of trajectory is straight. The ball comes out very level and that means it'll stay on the plane of the bat a little longer as well. There are guys that have been successful with that, but it just means you have to be a little more accurate and a little more deceptive on the mound.

If I had to compare him to a current big league pitcher, he kind of reminds me a little bit of Steve Karsay. Darvish is not totally blowing people away, but his velocity is above average for the major leagues. He has a fastball in the low to mid-90s. His curveball is good; it's pretty deep and has some good late bite. From what I can see, his command is pretty good. His slider is not quite as big and sharp as Daisuke Matsuzaka's.

Darvish looked impressive in Japan's WBC debut against China (four innings, no hits, three strikeouts), but China is not exactly one of the best offensive clubs in the world. But looking at a larger sample we can see his stats from Japan are impressive. His high win percentage alone shows that he knows how to win. The more we see players from Japan in the major leagues, the more we see that their stats do, to a degree, translate over to the major leagues. Sometimes the power numbers from the hitters don't translate as much, but the pitching numbers seem to hold up really well. Guys like Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima and Hideo Nomo all have had strong numbers in the big leagues.

But for now, keep an eye on Darvish at the WBC. The Japanese are the defending champs, I think, because the tournament just means more to them and the teams from other countries. Our season in the U.S. is timed so that players are sharpest once they get late into the summer and fall.

Everything is geared toward not burning yourself out in order to have a strong second half and be ready, possibly, for the playoffs. All of your workouts, at-bats, number of innings, etc., are built around that philosophy. So for major league players, it's an adjustment for them to be at their best before spring even really starts.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 5 | March 4 | March 3 | March 2 | March 1

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Buster Olney examined the case of young Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who appears ready for the majors but who might have to wait a bit:

Matt Wieters just keeps on hammering the ball this spring, and Saturday, he did it in the clutch, Peter Schmuck writes. He's hitting better than .400 in spring games and putting a whole lot of pressure -- a good kind of pressure -- on the Baltimore Orioles' front office to keep him on the team to start the season.

It probably would make the most sense for the Orioles to send him to the minors for at least the first couple of months to prevent him from becoming arbitration-eligible until after 2011. Wieters is a Scott Boras client, and this typically means Wieters would be more likely to head to free agency and walk away from the Orioles than to sign an Evan Longoria-type long-term deal.

On the other hand, the Orioles must continue to make progress as they crawl their way back into the conversation in the AL East. Some talent evaluators will tell you they think Wieters is the Orioles' best player right now because of his hitting ability, plate discipline and the way he handles pitchers.

Consider the combination of his walk, strikeout and power numbers at the plate while playing in high Class A ball and Double-A last season:

    Walks: 82
    Strikeouts: 76
    Extra-base hits: 51
    OPS: 1.054

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Keith Law checked out a little spring training action between the Dodgers and Mariners:

I picked the Mariners-Dodgers game Saturday because of the potential to see Chad Billingsley and Brandon Morrow face each other for a few innings, but Morrow was a late scratch because of "forearm stiffness." Minor spring training injuries like that are usually nothing, but Morrow's reputation for being fragile dates back to his days at Cal, and this is the third year in a row he's had a sore part of his arm in March. (He has also been fighting a flu bug this week.)

Billingsley himself is coming off an offseason injury (a broken leg), and he was rough Saturday. His fastball was 88-94 mph and his command was fair. He had an inconsistent curveball that was mostly above-average to plus but that he popped several times. He also threw a mid-80s cutter up to 87 with decent movement to his glove side, but he barely used his changeup. It looked like he was playing around with the cutter; he didn't seem to have a great feel for it.

For the rest of this entry from Keith Law's blog, click here.


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BEST
Jon Lester• The Red Sox locked up their ace of the future -- perhaps their ace of the present -- by reportedly inking left-hander Jon Lester to a five-year, $30 million extension on Sunday. Lester, who tossed a no-hitter on May 19 this past season, went 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 2008.
• Cuba showed off its power in its World Baseball Classic matchup against South Africa. How much power? Well, Cuba hit a tournament-record six homers in an 8-1 pounding. Frederich Cepeda led the way, hitting two HRs.
WORST
Ervin SantanaErvin Santana had a breakout year in 2008. He starts 2009 with a bad break. The Angels' right-hander is experiencing elbow trouble and will be shut down by the team. Santana went 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA a year ago. He also posted 214 strikeouts and a 1.12 WHIP.
Alex Rodriguez• Another day, another Alex Rodriguez update. On Sunday, it was announced the Yankees third baseman will in fact undergo arthroscopic surgery on his hip and miss 6-9 weeks. "Well, it's better than him missing the whole year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It could have been a lot worse."

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NUMBERS TO KNOW

Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar is a name fans should know as he enters his second full season in the majors. The 26-year-old, who hit .288 with a .366 OBP last season, will likely be near or at the top of the Braves' order, setting the table for Brian McCann, Casey Kotchman and Chipper Jones. Taking a deeper look, his peripheral numbers suggest he'll be effective again:


Escobar (2008 vs. NL averages)
2008 NL avg.
Swing-and-miss pct. 13.9 20.5
Chase pct. 16.8 22.6
SLG .338 12
BA/balls in play .311 .298

Escobar doesn't swing and miss a lot, and he doesn't go out of the strike zone to chase unhittable pitches. He also doesn't get a large amount of fluke hits -- his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is not significantly higher than the league average. Escobar did show improvement in all these categories from his numbers in 2007.

-- ESPN Stats and Information

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