Yu and Ichiro
There are some striking similarities between Daisuke Matsuzaka five years ago and Yu Darvish today. But there are some striking differences, too. Which must be heartening to the Texas Rangers, who are taking a big financial risk.
Monday, we learned the Texas Rangers had won the right to negotiate with Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Yu Darvish, by submitting a $51.7 million posting fee.*
* It's popularly believed that the Red Sox and Rangers paid those figures to the Japanese teams merely for the right to negotiate, regardless of the ultimate disposition of those negotiations. No. The funds are transferred only if the player does eventually sign a contract with the North American club. Which almost always does happen.
Like Matsuzaka was in 2006, Darvish is still a young man; he won't turn 26 until next August.
Other than the posting fees, though, the differences between Darvish and Daisuke are stark.
Hell, they're not even both fully Japanese; Darvish's father is a native of Iran: Farsad Darvishsefad. Oh, and his parents met in Florida. So he's a Japanese-Iranian (or vice versa) by way of St. Petersburg.
Of course, both did exhibit outstanding stuff in Japan.
Their actual performances, though? Quite different.
Matsuzaka graduated from high school directly to the Japanese major leagues. As an 18-year-old rookie he started the All-Star Game. He finished that season 16-5 with a 2.60 ERA. He also threw 180 innings.
As a 19-year-old, Dice-K threw only 168 innings ... and then came 20. When he was 20, Dice-K somehow threw 240 innings despite starting only 20 games, 12 of which he completed; he relieved in 13 more.
That's an immense number of innings for a 20-year-old pitcher. Also, he struck out 214 hitters and walked 117, so he must have thrown an immense number of pitches.
To the surprise of nobody in Japan who had read Craig Wright's work, Matsuzaka didn't throw anything like 214 innings the next season. He couldn't, because he spent most of the next season on the disabled list.
I'll not belabor this point much further. Matsuzaka threw 348 innings when he was 18 and 19, then from 20 through 24 his innings went 240, 73, 194, 143, 215.
Darvish also reached the Japanese majors at 18, and threw 244 innings at 18 and 19. From 20 through 24, his innings went 208, 201, 182, 202, 232.
Darvish has obviously thrown more innings than Dice-K from Ages 20 through 24, but that's actually a positive marker for Darish; he's thrown a ton of innings, but not as tonnish as Dice from 18 through 20. Also, because he's always kept his walks exceptionally low, Darvish probably hasn't thrown nearly as many pitches per start as Matsuzaka did.
There's no such thing as a sure thing. Matsuzaka wasn't a sure thing. Darvish isn't a sure thing. But on scale of non-surety, and based solely on the numbers at hand, Darvish seems significantly less risky than Matsuzaka. He's been absolutely healthy throughout his professional career, and he's got better numbers to boot.
Both pitchers struck out nearly nine per nine innings in Japan. But where Matsuzaka walke roughly three batters every nine innings, Darvish's walk rate is roughly 25 percent lower. Matsuzaka's strikeout-to-walk ratio in Japan was 2.7; Darvish's was 3.8.
Now, I must mention that Dice's strikeouts and walks were outstanding in his last two seasons in Japan, which I'm sure is what made him so bloody attractive to the Red Sox. But again, this is sort of the point; what Matsuzaka did for those last two seasons, Darvish has done for the last five seasons. He's been excellent and he's been consistent.
Of course, $51.7 million is a great deal of money. And that's not even the half of it.
The Red Sox paid the Seibu Lions $51.1 million, and they paid Daisuke Matsuzaka $41.7 million. Considering that Dice-K won only 49 games in his five seasons with the Sox, they didn't really get their $92.8 million worth.
It's going to take more to get Yu Darvish. There's been some loose talk about a five-year, $75 million contract. Which would mean a total outlay of roughly $125 million, or $25 million per season. Darvish would essentially replace C.J. Wilson, a really good pitcher, in the Rangers' rotation. Wilson has to be replaced because he's left to pitch for the Angels, who are going to pay him $15 million per season.
That's how much the Rangers seem to like Yu Darvish.