Dodgers: What to expect from Yu Darvish – and can he hit?

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 20: Yu Darvish
SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 20: Yu Darvish /

The Los Angeles Dodgers acquisition of Yu Darvish at the trade deadline was nothing short of masterful. So what can the Dodgers expect from Darvish over the next three months – and can he hit?

Though not quite an Ace in the mold of Clayton Kershaw, Darvish was the best player involved in any deadline deal. The half-Persian, half-Japanese 30-year old first entered the big leagues in 2012 with the Texas Rangers. Now, he will find himself pitching in Chavez Ravine as a member of the Dodgers for the rest of 2017.

Debuting with 16 wins and a third-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting (behind Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes, it’s worth noting), Darvish was named an All-Star and was ninth in the Cy Young award voting. In a word – impressive.

In 2013, Darvish sported a 2.83 ERA and a league-leading 277 strikeouts in only 209 2/3 innings, establishing his bona fides as a legitimate Ace – he finished second to Max Scherzer in that year’s Cy Young voting.

In 2014, Darvish was limited  22 starts but still managed 182 strikeouts in 144 1/3 innings. An All-Star for the third consecutive season, his star was on the ascent. However, tricep soreness plagued him and carried over into 2015, where a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament was discovered, necessitating Tommy John surgery.

Returning in a relatively fast 14 months, Darvish showed little signs of deterioration, notching 132 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings during the 2016 season. Perhaps most indicative of his pre-surgery dominance, he allowed only 81 hits on the year, auguring hope that he would return to ace status in 2017.

Only that has not yet materialized, and perhaps is the main factor in the relatively bargain price the Dodgers paid in giving up three prospects in the deal. His 4.01 ERA is the highest of his career and his 9.7 K/9, while still impressive, is the lowest of his career.

The 6-9 record does not exactly read “Ace” and almost definitely affected his trade value. That said, his auxiliary stats do not show signs of decline. He had two absolutely horrific starts in July – one in which he gave up 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings and another where he allowed seven runs and 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Taking those two appearances out of the mix, his numbers look more in line with expectations, which really should be as a really good number two starter. Which is exactly why the Dodgers acquired him. With Kershaw expected to return to the Dodgers by the end of August, the Best Pitcher in the World will hold the key to all potential game one matchups, leaving Darvish to face any club’s second best pitcher.

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Whether the Dodgers face the Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg), the Chicago Cubs (Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta), or Arizona Diamondbacks (Patrick Corbin), Darvish matches up extremely well. With Alex Wood and Rich Hill in tow, the Dodgers rotation is literally superior to any team’s in the Major Leagues, and that’s a comforting feeling.

Now – can Darvish hit? In 14 big league at-bats, Darvish has smacked three hits for an impressive .214 batting average. And of the three hits, one was a double and another a home run. He has struck out six times, a small price to pay for a pitcher with a lifetime .714 OPS.

Granted, the sample size is small, but his international statistics deliver similar numbers. In 36 at-bats for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, Darvish connected for five hits and only struck out 12 times.

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It’s worth noting and remembering that in the next three months, his trial by fire in the National League may not be all that foreign to the next best thing to an ace the Dodgers could have possibly acquired.