What Exactly Do the Dodgers Have in Yu Darvish?

Yu-Darvish
(Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)

When the Dodgers snagged Yu Darvish in the waning moments before the 2017 non-waiver trade deadline, there was a mixed reaction among the more educated fans of the club, especially when considering his two-inning, 10-earned run debacle against the Marlins just days before. However, the 31-year-old Japanese righty seemingly put that entire mess to rest after he threw seven shutout innings in his Dodgers debut against the Mets, striking out 10 batters and only surrendering three hits and a walk on August 4.

At that particular point in time, the Los Angeles front office crew appeared to be brilliant in their maneuvers to orchestrate the deal with the Rangers, having put together a package which would prove not to be detrimental to the organization’s thriving farm system. Yet, not long after getting his proverbial feet wet in a Dodgers uniform, the Habikino native has already endured a back injury, and has put together a handful of not-so-impressive appearances over his last four outings.

And as far as the uneducated and impatient fans go, many were calling the trade a “mistake” late Saturday evening after Darvish struggled mightily with his control, ultimately giving up five earned runs on eight hits and three walks in only three innings of work. Those same fans, who likely believed the Dodgers were on pace to establish the best season record in the history of baseball, took to social media and vented their frustrations through the wee hours of the morning. Some probably even had difficulty sleeping amid their anxiety, even though Los Angeles continues to maintain a 14-1/2 game lead over second place Arizona in the NL West.

Ironically, that same irrational crew of fans may have somewhat of a valid point, as subjective as it may be. Many pundits initially assumed that Darvish would be a legitimate No. 2 starter, and bolster a questionable supporting cast to resident ace Clayton Kershaw. And after taking into consideration the recent string of catastrophic starts from the rotation regulars—sans Kershaw—many followers of the club who believed that the Dodgers were destined for success in the 2017 postseason are now having second thoughts, particularly when noting the recent sporadic production of the offense.

There’s little doubt that Darvish has an outstanding arsenal of pitches, along with the mentality and physical mechanics to make it work in his favor—onlookers have already seen that firsthand. When he’s right, his heater can be borderline wicked. Besides having the ability to crank the gas up to 98 MPH, the righty mixes four-seam, two-seam and cutter grips which effectively vary in directions of movement. If his slider’s working properly, it can be among the nastiest in the game. And although his splitter is by no means a plus offering, it still keeps hitters of balance when they’re expecting a fastball up around the numbers. Still, the important themes to remember here are “when he’s right” and “if his slider’s working.”

His 2013 campaign was by far his benchmark season, the year when the four-time All-Star finished second in the AL Cy Young voting and led the American League with a whopping 277 punchouts. Yet, he has never been able to put one stellar season together across the entire board, especially following Tommy John surgery in 2015. Over 22 starts for Texas last season, he posted a 4.01 ERA and a 3.97 FIP over 137 innings, after experiencing several injury bouts with his neck and shoulder throughout the season.

That said, in the days after acquiring Darvish, Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi explained that there was a tremendous amount of work that went into the deal, specifically the amount of effort which went into scouting and evaluating the right-hander. Zaidi also mentioned that Los Angeles scouts had notebooks before Darvish even came to America pre-2012. He also indicated there’s no concern whatsoever regarding the righty moving forward.

“We’ve obviously been watching him very closely,” Zaidi said on the day of the trade. “As I mentioned, these conversations have been ongoing for awhile. The quality of the stuff has been there. The velocity, the breaking ball. His health has been good. So we’re not concerned about it at all.”

Subsequently, the current sentiments of skipper Dave Roberts, even after Darvish’s debacle on Saturday, are very similar to what Zaidi has been saying all along:

“I told Yu to just keep his confidence,” Roberts said. “He’s trending the right way. I know the linescore doesn’t look that way. There’s no wavering on our side as far as belief in him. There are no health concerns. Sometimes things go sideways, but he’s had a lot of success in this league and we know it’s going to come.”

As it stands now, many groups among the fan base stand divided. Some are confident that Darvish will find his groove, while others will continue to insist the trade was a “mistake” until they’re blue in their faces. And then there’s an entirely different group who is sitting on the fence in between. Yet these are only fans, and are often mistaken in their respective opinions and evaluations, particularly when considering the best interests of the club over the long haul.

In the end, though, whether it’s the nagging late summer Southern California heat, the remnants of some back discomfort which landed him on he disabled list last month, a case of flawed mechanics in his delivery, or the fact that he’s still trying to get on the same page with his coaching staff and catchers, there’s still enough time for Darvish to get “right.” And there’s certainly no cause for widespread panic. With the proper adjustments made and careful monitoring of his usage over the next four to five starts, there’s still a good chance that he’ll fit nicely into a very formidable postseason rotation.

After all, it could be much worse—just imagine the Dodgers being forced to depend on somebody like Bud Norris, Brett Anderson or even Scott Kazmir in a playoff scenario.

(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)

 

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