Darvish to Stay Home

I was originally going to write a counterweight to all the recent media speculation about a Yu Darvish posting, but the point was rendered moot on Tuesday by the man himself. In an announcement on his blog (translated here), Darvish said that he “will be wearing a Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighers uniform” next year. Darvish hasn’t signed a contract for 2011, so the case isn’t totally closed, but his latest comments are consistent with what he’s been saying for years. He has consistently disavowed any interest in playing in MLB, though this season he was less adamant about it, and admitted some contact with agents like Scott Boras and Arn Tellem.

Darvish’s announcement is certainly good news for Nippon Ham. He’s key to their ability to compete, but beyond that, the current economic climate is problematic for Japanese exports to the United States. When Daisuke Matsuzaka was posted in 2006, the exchange rate was about 118 yen per dollar. Over the last week it has been hovering at about 81.4 Yen per dollar. So when Seibu posted Matsuzaka, their $51.1m fee translated to about 6bn Yen. If they had done it today and gotten the same fee from the Red Sox, it would have come out to about 4.18 bn Yen.

Moving back to the baseball field, 2010 saw Darvish post his fourth consecutive sub-2.00 ERA, at 1.78. Darvish’s ERA is FIP-endorsed, as he weighed in at a healthy 1.92 on that scale. In 202 innings pitched, Darvish set career bests with 222 strikeouts and five home runs allowed. His WHIP did inch across the 1.00 line for the first time since 2006 at 1.01, but he still lead his league in the category. Sub-par run support limited his win total to 12, a figure that will hurt his chances of taking a second Sawamura Award, but overall he was again Japan’s most dominant pitcher.

The historical greatness of Darvish’s performance often takes a backseat to the MLB rumors, so it’s worth underscoring here. Darvish is only the third pitcher in NPB’s modern era (since 1950) to post a sub-2.00 ERA in four consecutive seasons. The previous two are NPB Hall of Famers Masaichi Kaneda (1955-58) and Kazuhisa Inao (1956-59), who played their primes in a real pitcher’s era. Darvish is on a trajectory to rival the seven straight NPB batting titles Ichiro won from 1994-2000.

But the other side of the coin is that Darvish doesn’t have a lot left to prove in NPB. I think we will see him in the Majors at some point, but it could be a while. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Nippon Ham could post him the offseason before he’s due for free agency, which would be 2014. But who really knows? At this point, the thing that is looking the most certain is that the rumors will continue.

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Patrick Newman is a veteran enthusiast of Japanese baseball who happens to write about it at npbtracker.com, and on Twitter @npbtracker.

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