The Yu Darvish Return Policy

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Yu Darvish threw 42 pitches and allowed 4 first inning runs in his Rangers’ debut last night.

Immediately when he started to struggle, he was labeled a “bust” on social media.

After one inning.

Was he not supposed to be nervous? Excited? Overamped? Trying to throw the ball through a brick wall rather than pitching?

It certainly didn’t help that he was pitching against the Mariners and Ichiro Suzuki—a player who came to the United States and did exactly what Darvish is trying to do by becoming a worldwide star.

Ichiro is heading for the Hall of Fame.

The Rangers did exactly the right thing in letting Darvish fight his way through and get into a rhythm. Because he was such a hyped prospect and cost so much money to get, the expectations were smothering and it showed. If a pitcher is trying to throw too hard and blow the ball by the hitters rather than adhering to a strategy, his fastball will run high; his breaking pitches will flatten or dive into the dirt; and he’ll appear to be out of control because he is out of control.

It’s a good thing that the Rangers are an outside-the-box thinking organization with a patient manager in Ron Washington, a highly-regarded pitching coach Mike Maddux, and Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Nolan Ryan intimately involved in the way their pitchers are treated and developed.

There’s an understanding inherent in these men that a computer printout and mandated dictate of usage and strategy couldn’t comprehend or implement.

It wouldn’t have been a disaster of epic proportions or a potent to his whole future whether he pitched a no-hitter or gave up 9 runs in the first inning. If you remember, Hideki Irabu joined the Yankees, dominated the Tigers in his first big league start and eventually settled into mediocrity, laziness and self-destruction.

Darvish almost imploded, but pulled himself together, held the Mariners in check and gave his Rangers teammates a chance to get back in the game.

They did and Darvish got the win.

The win is not important.

What is important is that in spite of early wildness, he harnessed his stuff displaying a good fastball, a slider, a curve and a cutter. He turned what could’ve been a total negative into a net positive by slashing through his nerves.

That he was able to compose himself forms the foundation to believe that he can succeed. One start is relatively meaningless when looking at the results, but Darvish’s first big league start was meaningful in other ways.

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Oswalt as the 6th Man

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

When the Blue Jays were one of the frontrunners for—and in fact were widely expected to get— Yu Darvish, I wrote that their intention might have been to use Darvish in his familiar 6-man rotation to both make him comfortable and manage his workload while holding down the innings counts of their young pitchers Henderson AlvarezKyle Drabek and Brandon Morrow.

The Blue Jays missed out on the Japanese/Iranian righty and the Rangers eventually got Darvish.

After shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation and signing Joe Nathan to take over as closer, the Rangers’ rotation appears set.

But their interest in Roy Oswalt lends another option into the mix along with questions as to why they need another established starter.

Could it be that the Rangers are also considering going with a 6-man rotation, but for different reasons?

Because the Rangers have gone so far against the new conventional orthodoxy of babying their starting pitchers and are telling them as they make their way up through the minor league system that six innings and 100 pitches (whichever comes first) aren’t going to cut it, they’ve been the subject of resistance from the Rick Petersons of the world who are invested in the “scientific” study of pitchers (along with selling their theories to information-hungry and desperate amateurs).

What would a team that specifically pushes their starters deeper into games have to do with a 6-man rotation?

If they implemented such a plan, the Rangers would be diminishing the workload of their pitchers in a different way than limiting their innings and pitches. The extra day of rest would allow the pitchers to go even deeper into games than the 7-8 innings and 120 pitches that are now seen as extreme. They’d be able to rest their bullpen periodically while not putting forth the perception of abusing their pitchers in some random experiment that has no basis in the hard (and ineffective) data that has led the Yankees to placing the likes of Joba Chamberlain in a plastic bubble and simultaneously destroying any chance he ever had of fulfilling his potential.

The Rangers, staffed by Hall of Fame former pitchers Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux along with the highly respected pitching coach Mike Maddux, can look at a pitcher and use their own experiences to say, “his back leg is dragging”; “he’s not following through completely”; “his hips aren’t turning with the same force they were earlier in the game”; or “he’s not showing the same ferocity” and determine that the pitcher is tired because of fatigue, not because he’s reached a previously prescribed number that they pulled out of the air and are referencing a series of studies to justify their paranoia.

Thinking one is tired and being tired are two different things. If a pitcher knows beforehand that he’s only expected to put in a certain amount of work, that’s how his mind will focus and he might think he’s got nothing left when he does have something left.

Not everyone is a Roy Halladay and wants to finish what he starts.

As pitchers, Greg Maddux and Ryan weren’t babied and stayed out on the mound in good health and effectiveness to a remarkable degree.

This isn’t to suggest that the pitchers should be told to toughen up and stay out on the mound if they’re not feeling right—Greg Maddux was criticized late in his career for pulling himself out of games after a certain number of pitches—but it’s understanding what they’re looking at and taking into account everything that goes into throwing a baseball in a repeated and stressful manner every 5 (or 6) days.

These men are in a unique position to say what they’re doing and why without adherence to outsiders telling them they’re wrong.

Shunning the armchair experts like Keith Law, who vomit scouting terminology and say things to make it sound as if they’re insiders when they’re only putting forth a pretense of such; or looking at the specious and self-indulgent reasoning behind writer Tom Verducci’s so-called “Verducci Effect” aren’t indicative of resistance to an ever-changing reality, it’s actual analysis without cowering amongst the masses in an effort to avoid criticism if it doesn’t work.

Calculating an individual on a chart, graph or by sputtering randomness because it sounds good and having the hypnotized sheep take every word said as gospel doesn’t make one an expert. For all of his down-home, country simplicity in a pleasant Southern drawl and known old-school Texas conservatism, Ryan was one of the first pitchers to lift weights; he paid close attention to his mechanics and was willing to listen to others like the late Angels coach Jimmy Reese, who showed him the value of vitamins and good nutrition. Ryan trusted his own instincts and understanding of his body and he’s transferred that to his work as an executive.

In certain circles, a 6-man rotation would be seen as a concession to the times. Some would probably twist it to validate themselves. But if the Rangers consider it, it will be because they have a method behind doing it and not because they want to place their pitchers in a sealed sarcophagus and protect them from the war of attrition known as pitching, preferring failure to the risk of injury and a misinformed public’s vitriol.

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Darvish is Coming

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Totaling up the posting fee and the reported contract for Yu Darvish, the Rangers have made a commitment of $111.7 million over 6-years for what amounts to a talented unknown.

I’ve repeatedly said that I think Darvish is going to come to North America and become a sensation reminiscent to the true trailblazer for all Japanese stars who’ve come to the big leagues in the past 17 years, Hideo Nomo.

He’s not a guarantee though.

While comparisons to Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and any other Japanese imports are silly and somewhat stereotypical bordering on racist, the questions with Darvish are viable.

In Japan they use a smaller ball. The Major League season is longer. The schedules and workout regimens are different. Pitchers in the majors are used in a 5-man rotation rather than pitching once a week as they do in Japan.

Those are just a few of the differences he’ll have to overcome before getting to culture and comfort.

But stuff is stuff and Darvish’s stuff is legit. The Rangers are a smart organization with one of baseball’s most respected pitching coaches, Mike Maddux and the newly added front office assistance of his brother, the future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. Plus Nolan Ryan is running the place.

Darvish has a two-seam and a four-seam fastball, a wicked off-speed curve, a forkball and a slider. His motion is reminiscent of Tim Lincecum and he hasn’t been overused and abused as Matsuzaka was. He’s pitching in Texas and not New York as Irabu was and his boss won’t be calling him names as George Steinbrenner did with Irabu. Ryan will be able to understand why he’s struggling and take steps to help him rather than screaming and ripping him in the press with no means to an end other than expressing his frustration that his high priced investment isn’t an immediate superstar.

Looking at it under a financial and practical microscope, would the Rangers have been better off having spent that money to keep their own free agent C.J. Wilson or signed a free agent such as Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson or Mark Buehrle?

Maybe.

With those pitchers, you know what you’re getting. With Darvish, he’s not quite an amateur draftee; nor is he an established commodity who’s done it in the big leagues before.

The posting fee for Darvish doesn’t count against the luxury tax. That’s a consideration for a team with financial limitations like the Rangers. But the total is still $111 million+.

Saying he might wind up as a Matsuzaka is, as mentioned before, based on nothing other than their Japanese heritage—they’re totally different pitchers. Saying he could be a disastrous free agent signing like Carl Pavano or John Lackey isn’t based on anything other than the risk of giving any pitcher a large check.

It happens.

We don’t know.

Before seeing clips if Darvish, I fell in line with the school of thought that he wouldn’t be worth the fee and the contract. After seeing him, I felt that he had all the tools to be a megastar on and off the field.

Now he’s coming.

Now we’re going to see.

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Yu Darvish and the Rangers

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After the rumors and speculation based on nothing other than ill-informed non-reporting, the Rangers won the bidding for Japanese star pitcher Yu Darvish.

Let’s look at how it affects everyone involved.

For Darvish and the Rangers.

The Rangers are a high-quality organization with a loyal fan base and newly formed winning tradition; they’re smart and cohesive and do what they have to do to improve and adapt on the fly.

Mike Maddux is one of baseball’s most respected pitching coaches; the team won’t expect Darvish to arrive and be a Roy Halladay-like force. He’ll be a cog in the machine backed up by a deep and diverse bullpen, a high-octane offense and great defense.

The club will make every possible concession to help Darvish be comfortable on and off the field; they know pitching and have benefited from a pitcher in Colby Lewis who’d gone to Japan after failing in North America, changed his approach and had success before returning to be a durable, solid and mentally tough starter.

Darvish will still be seen as something “other” because of his unique heritage of being half-Japanese and half-Iranian; he’s very good looking and has a marketable personality.

It also helps that he’s a star-level talent.

I analyzed Darvish’s mechanics and projected his future in the big leagues here on October 20th complete with video comparisons to other pitchers—past and present—and photos.

Despite losing C.J. Wilson, the Rangers have bolstered their starting rotation in a relatively inexpensive fashion. They signed Joe Nathan to take over as closer and are shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation; now they’ve won the right to negotiate with Darvish.

They’re not surrendering any draft picks for Darvish.

The cost—$51.7 million—is steep, but if they were going to sign Wilson, they would’ve needed to match the Angels contract of $77.5 million; Darvish will cost them the posting fee plus around $60-70 million to sign to a contract; but he’s younger than Wilson and potentially much better. He’s going to be worth every penny.

For those not realizing how good Darvish is or that the team that bought his rights are the best in the American League, you’re going to learn. Soon.

Hope for the weary and downtrodden.

Former Rangers owner Tom Hicks had the club essentially taken away from him when his financial empire collapsed; GM Jon Daniels traded Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

The Rangers newfound status as a force is a lifeline to teams like the Mets and Dodgers with ownerships that are teetering and whose financial and on-field futures are clouded.

The Rangers were mired in bankruptcy and run by a GM who’d made possibly the worst trade in the history of the sport.

Look at them now.

They’re the dominant team in the American League for two straight seasons; are spending money and spending it wisely; and are a legitimate threat to the decade-long, preseason ticket-punched playoff berths for the Yankees and Red Sox.

Things turn around quickly once the house is in order; the Rangers are proof.

The balance of power.

Amid all the controversy and disarray surrounding the Red Sox; with the Yankees being the Yankees and a large segment of their fan base acting as if they’ve just won the World Series and they’re going to get whatever they want (just because) regardless of reality, it’s glossed over that the Rangers are the two-time defending American League champions.

The Red Sox dysfunction is still palpable; the Yankees have done absolutely nothing this winter aside from making sure to keep CC Sabathia and re-signing Freddy Garcia.

With the Angels having spent over $300 million on Wilson and Albert Pujols; the Rangers winning the bidding on Darvish, signing Nathan and shifting Feliz to the starting rotation, the balance of power has shifted West.

If you want to see where the Wild Card is likely to come from, don’t look to New York and Boston; look to Anaheim and Arlington.

The posting fee nonsense.

MLB needs to act more like the NFL—they’re a monopoly; they hold all the power; they need to exert that power.

The NFL takes great advantage of their status; MLB doesn’t.

With the posting process, what are the Japan counterparts going to do if MLB changes the plot?

Nothing.

The posting process should be altered so the Japanese club gets their money and the player will have an option of where to go rather than being a purchased piece of chattel who has no option but to go wherever he’s sent regardless of preference.

Teams interested in a Darvish-type should be asked beforehand to ante up an pre-set, non-refundable amount of money into the pot; the total amount of money accrued is the posting fee; and each team that contributed has the right to negotiate with Darvish.

The Japanese team would get their money and it would probably be close to what the Darvish posting bid was; each MLB team would be taking on a certain risk by bidding because they wouldn’t get the money back; and the player would be a free agent and allowed to go where he wants and would make more money than he would under the current rules. It could even be tweaked so his former Japanese club gets a percentage of his contract for more incentive to partake.

And if they don’t want to, MLB should pull the NFL strong-arm tactic and say they’re doing it anyway and if you don’t like it, take a hike.

That’s how to run a dictatorship!

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Your 2012 Rangers Seeking A Different—Winning—Result

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Those trying to blame Rangers manager Ron Washington for the World Series loss are looking for scapegoats. Talent aside, there have been many teams who didn’t fulfill their promise for one reason or another; to suggest that another manager would simply have plugged in the correct players at the “right” time are taking second-guessing to its logical conclusion.

The players play hard for Washington and always have; the Rangers knew he wasn’t the strongest game manager going back to his first year and he hasn’t gotten much better; but to blame him?

It’s silly. Another manager might not have even made the playoffs at all.

We don’t know.

He had his closer on the mound with a 2 run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of game 6 in the World Series; there were 2 strikes and 2 outs and his closer blew it. What more was he supposed to do?

The Rangers have more pressing questions to answer once they get past this devastating loss.

Let’s take a look.

Washington’s contract is up after 2012.

While Washington shouldn’t be dismissed because of this loss, there’s going to be the hovering question—valid or not—as to whether he’s the prototypical “manager to take them to the next level”.

That’s usually an excuse for a club wanting to make a managerial change, but it’s just as random as any other reason—they don’t have to give a reason to make a change.

Washington’s job is safe and he’ll probably get an extension through 2013 so he’s not working in the final year of his deal in 2012.

Mr. Intangibles is expensive.

The player with the most ancillary importance in baseball this side of Derek Jeter—rife with leadership skills and loyalty—Michael Young still might be trade bait.

He’s set to make $32 million through 2013 and is a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the league; 5 years with the same team) so he’d have to approve any trade; there’s something of a redundancy with the club’s position players and Young’s value is never going to be higher than it is now by those who either need someone who’s as versatile and well-liked as he is or are hypnotized by his “aura”.

The Mets for example could use him as a second baseman; the Phillies could use him as a roving utility player who plays every day.

The Rangers will listen to offers—again—for Young.

Contracts and free agents.

Josh Hamilton is a free agent after 2012 and the Rangers have to consider very carefully his injury history and substance abuse history before making a $120 million investment.

Perhaps God will whisper to Hamilton that he should stay in Texas at a reduced rate.

C.J. Wilson is a free agent now and while the Rangers want to keep him, they’re not getting into a bidding war to do it. Those that were suggesting that his price was reducing with every poor post-season outing don’t know anything about baseball, pure and simple. 200 innings are 200 innings and his post-season struggles had more to do with location than any diminishing of stuff. He’s going to get his big contract from someone and it’s probably not going to be the Rangers.

Strategies.

If the Rangers are going to move Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation, they have to make the decision once and for all—in the winter—and stick to it. The “let’s try it in spring training and move him back if it doesn’t work” isn’t a decision, it’s hedging.

Feliz is 23 and after the way the World Series ended for him, the choice has to be made with finality.

Pursuits.

The Rangers have been said to be preparing a pursuit of CC Sabathia if and when he opts out of his Yankees contract. It’s unlikely that the Yankees will let him leave, but worst case scenario, they’ll raise the price the Yankees have to pay and possibly negate them from going after other players the Rangers might want.

Yu Darvish is going to be worth every penny he costs in posting fees and contracts and will be better than Wilson.

The Rangers could use a bat if they decide to trade Young; David Ortiz and Jim Thome would fit nicely in at DH; if they allocate their money to a bat rather than on the mound, Prince Fielder is a target. Mark Buehrle wouldn’t ask for the world in terms of dollars and is a good fit in the Rangers clubhouse.

If they need a closer, Jonathan Papelbon has the post-season history that few closers in baseball do; Francisco Rodriguez and Heath Bell are big names; Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan and Ryan Madson are free agents on the lower tier.

On the trade front, the Rays are always ready to deal and James Shields is durable, good and signed long term. Both the Rangers and Rays think outside the box, so I’d ask about David Price and see what they say.

Would they—Nolan Ryan and Mike Maddux—think they could straighten out Mike Pelfrey? Would Pelfrey and Bobby Parnell and the hope of clearing Young’s salary make a deal possible with the Mets?

The Rangers and White Sox have dealt with one another before and John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Carlos Quentin are up for auction.

Rangers GM Jon Daniels and team president Ryan think differently and are aggressive to address needs. The Rangers are going to make the changes they deem necessary so they’re back in this same position a year from now, but finally achieve a different result—a winning result.

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