Japanese Baseball - Yu Darvish
Pacific League: Yu Darvish
It cost the Boston Red Sox a total of $103.1 million to acquire pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
That might seem like a discount if Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Yu Darvish ever hits the market.
Just 23 years old, Darvish has MLB teams, fans and scouts drooling as he continues to dominate Japanese baseball.
Darvish earned the second Pacific League MVP Award of his young career in 2009 and is showing no signs of slowing down.
He is only the third player to win two MVP Awards in his first five seasons with former Orix Buffaloes star Ichiro Suzuki and Nishitetsu Lions pitcher Kazuhisa Inao the others.
"I was surprised to hear I became the MVP because I couldn't do anything late in the season," Darvish said at the awards ceremony. "But overall, I learned a lot this year through playing in the World Baseball Classic and for Nippon Ham."
Darvish has won both the Japan Series and World Baseball Classic, helped the Fighters win the PL pennant three times and was a winner in the Asia Series.
As far as individual awards go, he's been a PL MVP twice, won the Sawamura Award once and was the PL Climax Series MVP in 2007.
When Matsuzaka left for the MLB, he was regarded as the best pitcher in Japan. Now, many believe Darvish has already matched or even surpassed Dice-K.
Darvish is a power pitcher capable of racking up strikeouts almost at will. His fastball often hits 150 kph with a lot of movement and he complements it with an impressive slider. The Nippon Ham ace also has a forkball in his arsenal and employs a curve that's nearly unhittable.
"He's got a really fast fastball," former Chunichi Dragons superstar Kazuyoshi Tatsunami once said of Darvish. "His slider bites really well and he's tall so he has the angles. I never seen a slider like that from a right-handed pitcher. He's the best pitcher I have ever faced."
Darvish cuts an imposing figure on the mound and usually pitches from the stretch, making him difficult to steal against. He usually has a slight pause at the top of his windup before shifting his power forward and releasing the pitch.
In recent years he's worked on his control and in the 2009 Japan Series featured better command of his breaking pitches. Darvish also pitched with a fractured finger in that series.
Unlike many Japanese players, who are fairly reserved, Darvish is emotional on the mound and walks with a confident air off it. He frequently pumps his fists and yells after big strikeouts as the emotion pours out of him.
Half-Iranian in decent, Darvish is handsome in addition to being athletically gifted. In Japan he has somewhat exotic features due to his mixed heritage which stands out in a nation that is mostly homogenous. His tall and lanky yet muscular frame combined with his good looks sends girls across the country into a collective swoon and has advertisers lining up for his services.
Like Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui, Darvish is everywhere advertising coffee and hair spray as he continues to be as successful off the mound as he is on it.
What he's accomplished over his first five seasons as a professional has been nothing short of remarkable. Darvish is 63-24 with a 2.20 ERA since make his debut with the Fighters in 2005. He's also recorded 752 strikeouts over that span.
Darvish was born August 16, 1986 in Osaka to an Iranian father and Japanese mother. He went attended Tohoku High School. During his senior year he threw a no-hitter at the National High School Championship at Koshien.
He was picked in the first round of the NPB draft in 2004 and made his debut with the Fighters in 2005. Darvish was 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA in that year.
His breakout season came in 2006 when he improved to 12-6, posted a 2.89 ERA and struck out 115 in 149 2/3 innings. He also helped lead the Fighters for the Japan Series title that season, out dueling Chunichi Dragons ace Kenshin Kawakami in the deciding Game 5 of that series.
Darvish won the Sawamura Award for the first time in 2007 after finishing the regular season 15-5 with a 1.83 ERA and 210 strikeouts. He was also the MVP of the regular season.
He led the FIghters to their second straight Japan Series with two wins over the Chiba Lotte Marines in the second stage of the Climax Series, winning the MVP Award for that series.
He opened the 2007 Japan Series by tying a Series record with 13 strikeouts en route to a four-hit, one-run complete game victory.
It was more of the same in 2008, with Darvish going 16-4 with a 1.88 ERA. He led the league in complete games (10), was second with 208 strikeouts and likely would have won another Sawamura Award if not for a 21-win season by Hisashi Iwakuma.
Darvish joined Japan in the World Baseball Classic in the spring of 2009 and was impressive in five appearances. He threw four perfect innings in the opening game against China, striking out three, to win his WBC debut. He finished the tournament 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA.
In the WBC semifinals Darvish moved to the bullpen and worked a scoreless ninth in the semifinal round against the U.S. He blew a save against South Korea by allowing two runs in the ninth inning, but picked up the win with a scoreless 10th following Ichiro Suzuki's go-ahead single in the top half of the inning.
In the 2009 regular season, Darvish went 15-5 with a 1.73 ERA, but ended the season off the active roster due to injury. He returned from a 42-day layoff in the second game of the Japan Series and earned a win, working six solid innings in a win over the Yomiuri Giants.
Having completed just five seasons, Darvish won't be eligible to leave Japan as a free agent for another four seasons. Although it is possible for him to be posted by the Fighters, which would allow MLB teams to submit bids to Nippon Ham in order for the right to negotiate with Darvish.
As of 2009, Darvish hasn't been very forthcoming about his plans for the future but that hasn't stopped teams from salivating over one of the great pitchers of his generation.
Yu Darvish signed for the Texas Rangers and began his first season in MLB in 2012.