Darvish Is Not Daisuke

Thanks to Patrick Newman for his help in writing and researching this article.

Judging from the first responders to the coming storm over the Pacific, this title bears repeating: Yu Darvish is not Daisuke Matsuzaka. The natural search for comps, paired with the disappointment that was Matsuzaka’s career, will lead to suspicion when it comes to the newest ace slated to come over from Japan. Why should it work out this time if it didn’t work out the last couple times? But there are real differences between the two pitchers that could use a little emphasis.

Consider this list your consolation if you are dumbfounded by the posting fee that your team will spend simply for the right to speak with Darvish.

The first difference might seem irrelevant to some: Darvish would be the tallest pitcher to make the jump from Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball. At 6-foot-5, he’s five inches taller than Matsuzaka. Darvish is also 220 pounds, but could have the frame to add more. He added 20 pounds this year.

This might not be a big deal. Research on the subject seems to suggest that height is not well correlated with pitcher success. Then again, any major-league research is tainted by the fact that short pitchers who have made it to the majors have survived all the denigration and marginalization that they may have received for being short. It’s true — at least anecdotally — that height is preferred when evaluating pitchers. Factually, pitchers shorter than 6 feet tall are less likely to hit 100 mph, and tall pitchers also get some benefit from having release points closer to the plate.

But saying that Darvish is taller and bigger still sets him apart from his fellow countrymen. Velocity also ontinues to add some separation. Darvish has hit 97 mph with his fastball this year, and sat at 94 mph for most of the season. Kei Igawa never averaged better than 90 mph; Daisuke’s best season had him at 92 mph — and even Hideo Nomo wasn’t known for his velocity. Hiroki Kuroda averages 92 mph with his fastball. Here’s the list of qualified American starters who sat better than 94 mph this past season: Alexi Ogando, Justin Verlander, David Price, Michael Pineda, Edwin Jackson and Derek Holland.

Darvish is taller and bigger and throws his fastball faster than Matsuzaka. Darvish is a year younger than Matsuzaka was when he posted, too. And Darvish also is better, if you believe their comparable Japanese statistics.

Matsuzaka had a 2.95 ERA in eight seasons in Japan. He never once had an ERA under 2.00. He had an 8.7 K/9. Darvish just completed his fifth-straight season in which he had an ERA under 2.00 and a whip under 1.00. This year was his finest to date: 16-5, 1.48 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 240 K, 32 BB, 5 HR in 207 IP (stats as of Sept. 27). Overall, Darvish managed a 1.996 ERA in his seven NPB years, with an 8.9 K/9. Demonstrably better.

Sometimes it seems like Japanese pitchers have too much mileage on their arms by the time they come to America. Their approach to stretching pitchers out, and bullpen side sessions is different. (Read: pitch until you drop, or Nagekomi.)

On the other hand, Darvish has avoided the notorious overwork that plagued Matsuzaka’s amateur and early pro careers. Like Matsuzaka’s teenage years, young Darvish pitched at Koshien, Japan’s national high school baseball tournament. Unlike Matsuzaka, he doesn’t quite have a 250-pitch, 17-inning complete game on his resume. Darvish’s longest outing was a 166-pitch game that he lost on a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. Also, unlike Matsuzaka, Darvish was eased into his pro career: he threw 94.1 innings and 149.2 innings in his first two pro years. Matsuzaka, by contrast, threw 180 innings as an 18 year-old rookie — 347.2 in his first two seasons — and set a career high with 240.1 innings in his third. In essence, Darvish has fired fewer bullets.

Now it’s time for the toughest parts of the comparison: stuff and demeanor.

The 25-year-old Darvish throws five pitches that project as above average at the MLB level: a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a pair of sliders and a 12-6 curveball. He’s also added a cutter into his repertoire this year, and he mixes in occasional changeups and forkballs. Darvish’s out pitches have been his two sliders: a mid-80’s horizontal slider that breaks hard and away from right-handed batters, and a lower-80’s downward-breaking slider. This year he induced whiffs 19.5% of the time he threw his slider — and he threw them about a quarter of the time.


From NPBTracker.com, a game chart of a typical Darvish start in 2011.

This might sound a little familiar: Matsuzaka also has five pitches, now that he’s dropped his curveball. That’s a two fastballs, slider, cutter, changeup and split-finger. Maybe it’s just a split-change. By linear weights, his slider and cutter have been the most effective pitches — and Japanese hitters in 2006 rated his slider as the league’s second-best pitch. Over the past year-plus, Matsuzaka has only gotten whiffs on 13.6% of his sliders.

It’s hard to compare stuff with limited information on hand. Demeanor is tough to pinpoint, too, but there certainly seems to be a big difference if you talk to writers who are familiar with the Japanese league. Both are self-assured young men, as any successful baseball star might be. But they aren’t the same.

Some have described Matsuzaka as cocky, but Robert Whiting, author of The Samurai Way of Baseball: The Impact of Ichiro and the New Wave from Japan, speaks glowingly of Darvish’s character: “I think the U.S media will take to Darvish in a hurry. He’s tall, has movie-star good looks. And he is also a really nice guy.” When it comes to pressure, the two seem to react differently, too. JapaneseBaseball.com founder Michael Westbay thinks that “pressure seems to roll off of Darvish like water on grease.” Matsuzaka, on the other hand, can look “less human and more robot” as the situation gets out of hand.

We’ve run the gamut and compared Darvish and Matsuzaka on many different levels. For the most part, they seem to be very different pitchers — and yet you could flip the table: both are slider-heavy right-handers coming to America fresh off of dominating the Japanese league. But when you hear that your GM is in Japan scouting Darvish — as Jon Daniels reportedly was earlier this year — maybe you’ll choose to focus on the differences that exist between the two.

Then you’ll see that — whether it’s a matter of grease, robots, velocity or remaining bullets — there are real differences between these two men.

Note: I have edited the third paragraph of this piece because some mostly irrelevant thoughts distracted from the point of the piece, which was a simple comparison of two pitchers.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Eric Dykstra
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

What’s your gut tell you on the posting fee and eventual contract Darvish would end up with if he came over for the 2012 season?

BSally
Guest
BSally
4 years 10 months ago

I find it very hard to believe that Billy Wagner has never hit 100 mph. It seems an overstatement to say that “factually, no pitcher shorter than 6 feet has hit 100 mph” when the study cited looks at exactly two years worth of data.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
4 years 10 months ago

I was going to post the same exact thing

Matt K
Guest
Matt K
4 years 10 months ago

Billy had DEFINITELY hit 100.. 107, actually. That link that the author put up is for 2008-2009 ONLY. So, “factually” he’s right for only 2 seasons…

Eminor3rd
Guest
Eminor3rd
4 years 10 months ago

Right, 107. The unrecorded fastest pitch of alltime

cuck
Guest
cuck
4 years 10 months ago

Actually Nolan Ryan was supposed to have hit 108 when the gun was placed where it was today.

Gregory H
Guest
Gregory H
4 years 10 months ago

“Factually, no pitcher shorter than 6 feet tall has hit 100 mph.”

The 3600 batters who faced Billy Wagner would disagree.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 10 months ago

Speaking of Wagner, didn’t Kimbrel get pretty close? He’s not very tall.

Josh
Guest
Josh
4 years 9 months ago

CK hit a couple 102’s 101’s, and a bunch of 100’s. if my memory serves correct…of course these are ballpark gun readings.

Dave
Guest
Dave
4 years 10 months ago

Average height for American Male is only 5’9? Dwarves.

joser
Guest
joser
4 years 10 months ago

Average — which includes all those Greatest Generation men who were taller once but are getting shorter as they age into their 80s (and even the Boomers are starting to shrink). Of course it doesn’t help that Europeans continue to get taller while Americans no longer do, even when controlling for variables like immigration, for reasons no one fully understands.

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
4 years 10 months ago

One theory for Europeans ( and Canadians and Japanese) continuing to get taller while Americans no longer do is greater income inequality since 1980 in the USA than formerly. The theory of causation is greater income inequality leads to less support for children leads to shorter people. Randy Newman was a closet reverse socialist.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 10 months ago

We should fix this by voting in more conservatives that will pass bills and tax laws that favor the rich. That’ll help.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
4 years 10 months ago

He might be on a different level as Daisuke, but I won’t be convinced until he shows it day in and day out. All of these things we’ve heard about Darvish – we heard the same things about Daisuke a few years ago. We heard how he was so much different and so much better than any pitcher that came from Japan, and he didn’t pan out.

Maybe Darvish will be an ace in America, and he’s probably worth a decent amount of risk for a big-market contender, but as a fan of the game I’ll wait a bit before I get too excited.

Hurtlocker
Guest
Hurtlocker
4 years 10 months ago

Very interesting, I’m sure there is team out there that that will make him rich. By the way, Steve Dalkowski threw over 100mph and was only 5’11”. He never made it to the majors though.

JG
Guest
JG
4 years 10 months ago

Dalkowski likely hit 105 like Chapman or even higher, considering there are numerous people who encountered both him and Nolan Ryan and swear up and down that Dalkowski threw much harder than Ryan.

orange56
Guest
orange56
4 years 10 months ago

“Factually, no pitcher shorter than 6 feet tall has hit 100 mph”.

Umm, I might be missing something here, but Lincecum (5’11”) and Billy Wagner (5’10”) have both pitched over 100mph.

The link you posted used only data for 2008 & 2009, years in which the author claims no pitcher shorter than 6’0″ had speeds over 100mph.
(Lincecum’s recorded 101 mph was in 2009, so I am not sure whose data is correct or if they are using the same speed source.)

To state that it is a fact that no pitcher shorter than 6′ has hit 100mph is incorrect and misrepresents the author’s study.

orange56
Guest
orange56
4 years 10 months ago

Woah. There were no comments on this article when I did my little fact finding, then bam!, people beat me to the punch it pointing out the error and the statement has already been corrected.

What a crazy world the interweb is. :)

J
Guest
J
4 years 10 months ago

Pretty sure the average height for Persian male is not much different from a Japanese. Not sure what that has to do with anything, sort of a dumb comment on the writer’s part.

El Guapo
Guest
El Guapo
4 years 10 months ago

Bob Feller was listed as 6′ 0″ but he was likely a tad under 6′.

El Guapo
Guest
El Guapo
4 years 10 months ago

They didn’t call Feller The Heater from Van Meter for nothing, either.

Andrew Grant
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Making your first point “Yu Darvish will be good since he’s not fully Japanese” is really offensive. Especially since Iranian people are just as tall as Japanese people on average.

exxrox
Member
exxrox
4 years 10 months ago

probably the first comment I’ve ever thumbs-downed..good job on missing the point entirely and looking for problems where there are none to be found

JonnyBS
Guest
JonnyBS
4 years 10 months ago

Unless 6’5″ fully Japanese (or taller) doesn’t exist in this world, I don’t think mentioning he’s half Iranian as a reason why he’s 6’5″ is particularly wise. I don’t find it’s offensive and it shouldn’t be, but it does seem a bit lackadaisical.

DanK
Guest
DanK
4 years 10 months ago

Eno is retarded.

Would Eno have said that a half Dominican half Japanese pitcher would benefit from a higher pitching IQ and be more of a team player because his inferior Dominican genes would be diluted with smarter Japanese genes?

I didn’t think so.

I think all the PC fanboys would be in an uproar.

I am not politically correct but lets not BS here.

DanK
Guest
DanK
4 years 10 months ago

Ok. Let me give a fairer example. Suppose someone was a half black/half asian manager. Would you have said that black managers have never really done well, but since this manager is half asian he will be smarter than the average black man and has a higher chance of success?

Would you have said this? The answer is no because political correctness is applied differently depending who the target is. I never called you a racist. Just that it is cowardly to mention something like this unless you are willing to say Non PC things about everyone which you are obviously not willing to do.

Hoard Stern is not PC and I have no problem with him at all because he is not afraid to say anything about anyone. You can feign ignorance on this one. But it is really about balls. Thats all.

DanK
Guest
DanK
4 years 10 months ago

Intelligence is indeed measurable and not subjective. That is why I brought it up and this is apparent to all but the truly sheltered individuals. This is why Ashkenazi Jews consistently have the highest IQ scores. This is a fact.

Just so you know. There is nothing wrong with bringing up race. We should openly talk of this more. But I and others correctly called you out on this because it was poorly researched and you decided to use his not being a full blood Japanese as your first and main point. Then in your comments section you backpedaled and acted like “Hey I was just talking about height. Race isn’t important.”

If this is about Darvish the pitcher, than his race is just a footnote for those interested. But if you do want to talk about race then grow some balls and make your point. Don’t get rattled. But then again, you would have to answer questions about why there are so many black basketball players or why blacks haven’t dominated the QB position in football. Things your fragile psyche would not be able to hold together.

Don’t open a can of worms and act shocked when people react! Personally I wasn’t offended by what you said, since Japanese people are shorter than other races on average. It was just sickening seeing you try to say something Non PC then justify it by cherry picking what you wanted to believe.

Richard
Guest
Richard
4 years 10 months ago

IQ doesn’t measure intelligence.

DanK
Guest
DanK
4 years 10 months ago

Didn’t think you would respond to my post. Crawl back into your hole!

oil
Guest
oil
4 years 9 months ago

This is the comments section, so I don’t think it’s surprising or inappropriate that race will be discussed after the author has made an interesting point regarding the relationship between ethnic heritage and athletic ability. Let’s not pretend as if there’s something wrong with taking issue with certain fine points within an article; in some cases that’s called for. Eno had to know his point would be fairly controversial, and there’s nothing wrong with treating it as such as long as people are fairly civil.

But with that being said, race can’t really be discussed in scientific terms because it’s an entirely social construction. Maybe what we should be talking about is shared genetic and ethnic heritage, which is different from race and perhaps less likely to offend.

Ray
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Fangraph readers have their cranky pants on today…..

t ball
Guest
t ball
4 years 10 months ago

…which makes it pretty much like any other day.

filihok
Member
4 years 10 months ago

Any idea what Dice-K’s and Darvish’s ERA+’s are over their Japanese careers? That might be more informative than their straight ERAs.

smellslikehype
Guest
smellslikehype
4 years 10 months ago

smells like hype. added 20 pounds? I guess timmy should go out and add 20 pounds? i remember when Pedro added 20 pounds. didn’t work out so well. 20 pounds.

Notrotographs
Guest
Notrotographs
4 years 10 months ago

20 pounds on a 6’5″ frame

20 pounds on a 5’10” frame

Almost exactly the same thing.

Brian
Guest
Brian
4 years 10 months ago

Just a thought: I heard that the velocity of pitches are overstated in NPB because the baseballs used in Japan have less prominant seams making it easier to release the ball.

Look at Marc Kroon; this guy went to Japan and pitched 100mph (or 162km/h) and I don’t think he duplicated his success when he ventured back to America.

Can anyone confirm this information? Or is it purely a myth?

Nate
Guest
Nate
4 years 10 months ago

They changed to a ball that is basically a clone of the MLB ball this year. I read an article several months ago where a pitcher who had used the MLB ball before said that he felt the new ball gave him better control over his breaking pitches. I can’t find the link right now, but based on how well pitchers did in NPB this year with the new ball, I’d think they’d be able to perform similarly with the MLB ball. How MLB hitters handle those pitches compared to their NPB coutnerparts might be different, but that’s not because of the ball.

Tanner Scheppers
Guest
Tanner Scheppers
4 years 10 months ago
ofMontreal
Guest
ofMontreal
4 years 10 months ago

I read this too but I don’t remember it saying anywhere that they standardized the ball to be the same as our MLB. It just said that they standardized the league ball instead of using 3-4 different manufacturers models depending on individual team contract(s).

Plus they are smaller because they are Japanese. ;-)

Isles
Guest
Isles
4 years 10 months ago

This guy was only 5’11” and some say he threw 125 MPH:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Dalkowski

phoenix2042
Guest
phoenix2042
4 years 10 months ago

125 is not humanly possible without tearing a ligament. i know this because i read an article about the farthest it is possible to hit a baseball. it was actually very interesting and scientific about weight of the bat, ball, arm length/height of hitter, angle of the batted ball, bat speed, and most importantly, ball speed. it concluded that the fastest a ball can be humanly thrown with perfect mechanics for a man 7 feet in height (more height allows higher speed) is 111 mph. side note: i would love to see a 111mph fastball!

Smartypants
Guest
Smartypants
4 years 10 months ago

Correct me if I’m wrong but the authors statement says, factually, players shorter than 6″0 are LESS LIKELY to throw 100+mph not players shorter than 6″0 are INCAPABLE of throwing 100+mph, so citing Billy Wagner and Craig Kimbrel’s existence does not defeat his point. Man fangraph’s readers are such dicks.

Gregory H
Guest
Gregory H
4 years 10 months ago

You stand corrected.

Signed,
Dick

gnomez
Guest
gnomez
4 years 10 months ago

Darvish reminds me of a right-handed Igawa with velocity.

Patrick G
Guest
Patrick G
4 years 10 months ago

Which is to say he is nothing like Igawa?

Clément
Guest
Clément
4 years 10 months ago

Takaaki Minami is the tallest pitcher in Japon currently in a roster, he plays (well, he hasn’t thrown yet) for the Softbank Hawks. But then, if you look for him on the internet, I’m sure you will point out an interesting fact …

And yes, Darvish is not Matsuzaka, just like Lincecum is not Buerhle. Japanese people are also different from each other you know. I know those comparisons are made to educate people about a pitcher they don’t know but it’s irritating.

Clément
Guest
Clément
4 years 10 months ago

Yuki Kuniyoshi of the Tokyo Yakult is also 195cm. But you will an US grandpa on his family free.

Chad Moriyama
Member
4 years 10 months ago
DanK
Guest
DanK
4 years 10 months ago

Ha Ha. Enos isn’t racist. He is just a sloppy writer who writes whatever pops into his peanut sized head. Everything this article tried to say was pretty much a train wreck.

For what its worth I fired my Irish CPA last year. I found another CPA whose last name was O’Reily and was hesitant to hire him, but when I found out that he was half Jew I decided to give him a shot! :)

ray
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

thanks for sharing…..not.

Notrotographs
Guest
Notrotographs
4 years 10 months ago

Go away.

Chad Moriyama
Member
4 years 10 months ago

I never said he was racist.

Just pointing out that it’s easy for people to make questionable comments about Asians or Asian Americans because nobody bothers to call people out on it.

I’m more amused than anything else.

HY
Guest
HY
4 years 10 months ago

One thing to check.

“Matsuzaka had a 2.95 ERA in eight seasons in Japan. He never once had an ERA under 2.00. He had an 8.7 K/9. Darvish just completed his fifth-straight season in which he had an ERA under 2.00 and a whip under 1.00. This year was his finest to date: 16-5, 1.48 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 240 K, 32 BB, 5 HR in 207 IP (stats as of Sept. 27). Overall, Darvish managed a 1.996 ERA in his seven NPB years, with an 8.9 K/9. Demonstrably better.”

You can’t compare their stats without considering context. Matsuzaka spent almost most of his Japanese career when NPB was quite a hitter friendly league.(remember Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera hit 50+HRs, and 30HRs were kinda norm for power hitters?)

Same can’t be said for Darvish. Scoring in NPB (especially Pacific League which Darvish played) dropped considerably since mid 2000’s and Darvish fully enjoyed the benefit. And I doubt this season is his career best since scoring level of NPB this season was ridiculously low.

Of course Darvish can still come out ahead of Matsuzaka even after adjusting the circumstances, but I don’t think he will come out ‘demonstrably’ better.

I didn’t crunch the numbers, but my guess is Matsuzaka’s 5 best seasons and Darvish’s 5 best seasons are not that far off.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 8 months ago

Daisuke’s last 2 years were very similar to Yu’s last 2 years, other than ERA and H/9, but at this site those two stats should really matter all that much.

FWIW, I just used last 2 years because that’s what I had in mind for the Lewis-Darvish comparisons in another thread. It’s selection bias and all that.

Daisuke’s stats did get noticeably better over his last 2 years, and if it is due to changing run environment, that would make a lot of sense.

If Darvish is playing in Japan’s version of 1960s MLB, then that would also matter very much.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 10 months ago

I AM SO OFFENDED. ENO IS THE WORST

WHAT KIND OF A NAME IS ENO ANYWAY

WHATEVER NATIONALITY THAT IS, THAT COUNTRY PROBABLY SUCKS AT WRITING BASEBALL BLOGS

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast
4 years 10 months ago

Anyone else feel like they were reading a Boras dossier?

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 10 months ago

So, racism debates aside, will him being Japanese (nationality) mean he might go to a more “asian” city? Or at least stay on the West coast closer to home?

I saw that the Dodgers gave Kemp too much money, was thinking why not get Darvish in that rotation with Kershaw. Could turn them around pretty fast.

Jack okeefe
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Why can’t people just enjoy the article and not look to find the smallest fault.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 8 months ago

Jack, you forgot the question mark.

Jack
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Sox will make a run at him, package deal with Beltran. Same as they did with Dice K and J.D. Drew.

TokyoLazyDude
Guest
TokyoLazyDude
4 years 10 months ago

I dunno but the fact is that unlike Dice-K, Darvish never ever declared that he wants to play in the MLB. All has been just media-made buzz. I remember him being asked whether he wanted to be posted and his response was “all I know is that I’m currently a Nippon Ham player.” He really got this dry personality, a big contrast to his rival Masahiro Tanaka from Rakuten Eagles. Now, Tanaka is the one whom I’m pretty sure is gonna go to the MLB when the time is right.

Mylegacy
Guest
Mylegacy
4 years 10 months ago

Eno – you write this great piece comparing two great pitchers from Japan and POW – BAM – SOCKO – all those commenting want to talk about is how tall/short Japanese are vrs. Iranians.

To add to the stew – I heard from my uncle Tom’s best friend Harry that Darvsh’s grandmother on his fathers side was Tessy O’Hennessey from County Cork in Ireland and she was only 4′ high and weighed in at a sprightly 230 pounds of bust and buttock.

Seriously, Yu is a wonderfully interesting prospect. With only Wilson being hyped as being his equal or better there is no question there will be heavy bidding for him. Heck, every team in the just the AL East would kill to get him.

Interestingly, rumours are now floating that his divorce may get in the way as his wife’s lawyer is (allegedly) trying to get his future MLB earning included in the divorce. So we’ll continue to wait with baited breath for his posting.

Whoever does get his rights, and then his signature, is going to be walking with their tail between their legs – or with their tail stuck straight up – after their 6 years of captive ownership of the Greatest Half Iranian every to play baseball in the Land of the Free.

Brian Cartwright
Guest
Brian Cartwright
4 years 9 months ago

all pitcher’s ERA for NPB by year
1998 3.79
1999 4.05
2000 4.18
2001 4.04
2002 3.63
2003 4.46
2004 4.54
2005 4.15
2006 3.70
2007 3.76
2008 3.83
2009 3.79
2010 4.04
2011 3.01 !!!

AA
Guest
AA
4 years 9 months ago

As I recall, Nomo did throw hard. Not as hard as Darvish, but probably harder than Kuroda (who may average 92, but seems to throw 95 at will).

Jaleno
Guest
Jaleno
4 years 9 months ago

Fantasy question – Yu Darvish or Shelby Miller. Who will have the better career? Who has more upside?

TC
Guest
TC
4 years 8 months ago

Thanks for the information- As 40 year old Ranger fan, I was concerned about this, but your information really help ease my worries- thanks and keep up the good work

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