The Texas Rangers paid just under $52,000,000 to talk to him. They signed him to a six-year, $60-million contract. Technically, he's just a prospect, and on Monday night, he'll make his major league debut.
So what exactly is the big deal about Darvish? Well, at 6'5", 215 lbs, Darvish certainly looks the part of a frontline starter. When he pitches from the windup, he has the slow delivery that we've seen from other Japanese pitchers. He does repeat his delivery well, though, which helps allow for good command.
Darvish has all the ingredients of a top-of-the-rotation starter. Not only does Darvish have a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s, he has three or four different fastballs. Darvish, like any pitcher, throws a four-seam fastball, which, naturally, is thrown the hardest. He also throws cutters, sinkers and two-seam fastballs -- all of which can be more effective than Darvish's four-seamer.
We did get a look at Darvish throughout Cactus League play, and there were mixed results. Clearly, Darvish struggles mightily when he loses command of his fastball. In Darvish's second Cactus League start, he gave up three hits and walked four in three innings against Cleveland. In that outing, Darvish had almost no command of his fastball, and was as wild as can be -- and the results weren't great.
Darvish was able to get away with shaky command in his next outing, when he walked three in four innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. Darvish also hit a batter in that outing, and threw a wild pitch. Only 39 of Darvish's 70 pitches went for strikes.
Eleven days and a minor-league start later, we saw what Darvish can really do. In his final Cactus League start, Darvish commanded his fastball and breaking stuff well, en route to striking out 11 in six innings against the Colorado Rockies.
When Darvish is on like he was against the Rockies, he has very, very good command. Which is to be expected, as Darvish walked just 36 in 232 innings in Japan last year.
In addition to a slew of fastballs, Darvish has lethal secondary pitches. Darvish throws a plethora of secondary pitches, including two curveballs -- one of which he throws at 68 mph. You can expect Darvish to generate the most swings and misses with his slider, though. Nolan Ryan believes that the slider is Darvish's best pitch, and it's tough to argue with Ryan.
Darvish also throws a splitter and a changeup as well -- as if hitters didn't have enough to look for.
How Darvish reacts to the American lifestyle and the media circus remains to be seen. Some experts believe that is why Daisuke Matsuzaka ultimately flamed out with the Red Sox -- he simply couldn't adjust to the everyday life of a Major League Baseball player.
Darvish, though, is different. He's already used to the spotlight in Japan, as he was formerly married to Saeko -- a television celebrity in Japan. Darvish has also won the Pacific League MVP twice, and has certainly been squarely in the baseball spotlight during his time in the Pacific League.
So, what can we expect from Darvish in 2012? According to projection systems, quite a lot. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projects Darvish to finish the year with a 3.62 ERA and 1.24 WHIP -- very respectable numbers. The CAIRO projection system forecasts Darvish to put up a 3.44 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. The most optimistic system, Oliver, projects Darvish to have a microscopic 2.45 ERA and .99 WHIP in 2012 -- numbers that would place Darvish squarely in Cy Young contention.
Is it fair to expect Darvish to win, or even contend for, the Cy Young this year? Not really. Does Darvish have the stuff to win the Cy Young award? Yes, yes he does. If Darvish commands his pitches like he's capable of doing, consistently, and if he acclimates well to Major League Baseball and life in the USA, Darvish very well might find himself in Cy Young contention as early as 2012.
Those are two massive ifs, but it sure will be fun to watch this summer to see if Darvish realizes his potential. There will be speedbumps along the way, but it's going to be a fun ride -- and it starts on Monday night.