Pitchers and catchers have begun reporting to their respective spring training locations, and when the Texas Rangers start up their camp, all eyes will be on the team’s pitching rotation.
Well, actually more than likely, one player, Japanese sensation Yu Darvish.
Darvis was signed to a massive contract (eight years, $60 million) that came well after the Rangers spent $51 million just for the rights to negotiate with the highly touted pitcher.
Darvish was dominant in the Japan Pacific League — one of two leagues that make up Nippon Professional Baseball. He posted a pristine 1.72 ERA in five seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Darvish also struck out 1,083 batters, while walking just 221 during that strech.
Darvish’ stats indicate an elite-level pitcher in Japan, but the question at large is can he replicate those numbers in Major League Baseball?
History isn’t on his side when it comes to pitchers making the switch from NPB to MLB.
Hideki Irabu and Hideo Nomo weren’t able to dominate the major leagues and were good in spurts. Daisuke Matzusaka had one great season (2008, 18-3 2.90 ERA), but has since failed to stay healthy and has struggled in Boston.
Darvish is making the leap a few months shy of his 26th birthday, which is typically when the Japanese pitchers have moved over from Japan, so Darvish will immediately draw comparisons to his fellow countrymen.
The pressure, also, will be a tad bit higher given the circumstances surrounding the team.
The Rangers lost C.J. Wilson to division rivals Los Angeles in the offseason, and Darvish is expected to make up Wilson’s production (16-7, 2.94 ERA in 2011) in a rotation featuring Colby Lewis (14-10, 4.40 ERA), Derek Holland (16-5, 3.95 ERA), Matt Harrison (14-9, 3.39 ERA) and Neftali Feliz (32 saves in 2011).
Luckily for Darvish, the Rangers are an offensive-minded team, hitting an American League best .283 as a team with 210 home runs, which was second to the New York Yankees in the AL. Darvish should receive the offensive support he needs while he acclimates to the major league hitters.
If Darvish can produce within the range of 14 to 16 wins with an ERA hovering around 3, then it will be a solid debut season for the Japanese superstar.
Then after that, it’s on him to break the mold on Japanese pitchers.