In our first two parts we took a brief look at the current positional players who turn our heads, prevent us from changing the channel, and rack up the views on social media website. Positional players are always given more opportunities to make the highlights of the night, and plays of the week because the play EVERY DAY! Of course it’s easier when you’re given the chance to do it day in and day out. For the men on the mound, it’s not that easy. They have the even more difficult task of going out there and PREVENTING the moon shot artists, and base thieves from running amok; all of which are not easy tasks. If it was easy… anyone could do it. The difference between these pitchers and the others, is that THESE ones not only have it in their power to stifle offenses, but on any given day these guys can prevent anybody from reaching base.
To prevent this from becoming a painfully long read (FRAT) I’ve broken it up in to multiple parts. Today we look at the current pitchers in the game who are more than YouTube worthy. Our first two candidates: Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish.
Justin Verlander: Where do you start with Justin Verlander? To begin with, he is ARGUABLY the BEST starting pitcher in the game today, playing for what may be the BEST team in the game today. He not only earned Rookie of the Year honours as a 23 year old in 2006 with a 17-9 record, but he also helped pitch the Tigers to their first World Series appearance since 1984. Verlander is THE definition of what an “ace” should be. He expects to throw a complete game shutout in every start, and he also has the stuff to throw a potential no hitter with every start; something he has done on two occasions. His first career no hitter came the season after his Rookie of the Year season (2006); as a 24 year old in 2007 against the Brewers. In that game he would walk four batters, but strike out 12. The more impressive feat was that his fastball topped out at 102 mph in the 9th inning; on the 109th pitch he threw.
His second career no hitter came against the Blue Jays (sigh) in 2011. Verlander didn’t rack up the strikeouts like he did against the Brewers, but he did carry a perfect game into the 8th inning until issuing a walk to J.P Arencibia. Verlander would go on to face the minimum 27 batters in the game, and his fastball topped out at 101 mph on the radar gun.
Verlander is one of the premier strikeout artists currently pitching in the majors. In his nine seasons in the majors, he has topped 200 strikeouts in a season four times; including two seasons where he recorded 250+ strikeouts.
His mastery of the strike zone and K doesn’t end after 162 games either; if anything it’s just getting started. In the 2012 ALDS against the Oakland A’s, Verlander put on a performance for the record books. Verlander would make two starts against the A’s, going 2-0 with one complete game shutout and 16 innings pitched. He would also rack up 22 strikeouts in those two games, thus setting a new strikeout record for the ALDS
The reason for Verlander’s success in the K department can be directly attributed to his absolute filthy repertoire of pitches in his arsenal.
Verlander’s fastball is one of the best in the game and he will consistently throw it in the 94-96 mph range; with the ability to dial it up into the triple digits when he needs. He compliments his fastball with a superb circle change that he throws in the 85-88 mph range. He also throws two breaking balls, a slider in the 83-86 mph range, and a big, Bugs Bunny looping curveball that will sit in the 77-80 mph range. As intimidating as his pitches are, it’s the freakish control he has of said pitches that is really frightening; not to mention that he actually throws harder as his pitch count climbs. The below link may offer a little more insight into the type of toolkit that Mr. Verlander owns:
And on top of all that, as if the awards and accolades were not enough, Verlander also just became the highest paid pitcher in MLB history when he inked a 7 year/$180 million contract in the 2012 offseason.
Oh… and he has been rumoured to be dating Kate Upton for the past year… so there is that too…
Yu Darvish: For most people, there introduction to Yu Darvish came via his dominant performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The (then) 22 year old used his impressive toolkit to help pitch the Japanese team to their second consecutive WBC Championship. Darvish would post a 2-1 record to go along with 2.08 ERA and 20 K’s through 13 innings pitched. The tournament would also see the Japanese team use Darvish as a closer (recorded 1st career save) and as a reliever in the championship game against South Korea.
The big allure about Darvish during the 2009 WBC was that it gave MLB scouts their first real look at Darvish against potential MLB hitters. The reason this info was a hot commodity was because of the growin rumours of Darvish jumping from the Japanese Pro Baseball ranks and being available as a potential free agent to all 30 MLB teams; for a staggering posting price mind you. This wasn’t anything new. In fact Darvish had been on some MLB (Braves & Angels) radars since his High School days. During the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft the Angels, Dodgers, and Mets had all kicked the tires on signing
Darvish, but he remained adamant about playing pro ball in Japan.
There is always a bit of concern when signing Japanese players to play in the MLB. First is the often lucrative posting fee that an MLB team must pay the players current Japanese team, just so the two sides can actually negotiate a contract. MLB teams must present a sealed bid to the Japanese team. The team with the highest bid gets an exclusive negotiation window; only the winning bid is announced. After successfully winning the bid, then come the ACTUAL contract negotiations. When the Boston Red Sox won the bidding rights to prized Japanese pitcher Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka in 2006, they paid the chiefly sum of $51 million just to have the chance to sign him to a contract. See just because a team wins the right to talk to the player doesn’t mean that the player will necessarily sign with said team. This is why MLB teams tend to overpay for import players. The Red Sox for instance signed Dice K to a 5yr/$52 million dollar deal, even though he had never played in the MLB.
The other cause for concern is the actual quality of the player themselves. For every Hideo Nomo there are three Hideki Irabu’s and Kei Igawa’s. For every Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, there are five Kaz Matsui’s, Kosuke Fukodome’s, and Akinori Iwamura’s. Just because these players dominate the Japanese leagues and international play, does not mean that their successes will translate well into the North American game. There are two main obstacles that an import player must overcome in order to be successful. The first is the workload. For positional players it’s the 162 game schedule, for pitcher’s its getting use to pitching every 5th day. The second is the talent level. There is a HUGE difference in talent between the Japanese pro league and the MLB. More often than not, it is these two factors that prevent players from being successful in the MLB. Dice K for example finished with a career record of 50-37/4.52 ERA/609 K’s in five years for the Bo’Sox. Mind you they did win the 2007 World Series with him. But was it truly worth it?
In 2011, Yu Darvish announced the Nippon Ham Fighters that he intended to leave them to pursue a career in the MLB. The Texas Rangers proved to have the winning bid; paying just over $51.7 million just to talk with Yu. The Rangers and Darvish would agree to a 6 year/$60 million dollar deal in the 2011 offseason. Yu-Mania was about to be launched on the Rangers and baseball fans worldwide. Darvish arrived to 2012 Spring Training with all the hype and energy surrounding him of a rock star, or Fernando Valenzuela for that. He was unusual from the prototypical Japanese pitchers teams were use to, as Darvish stands at just over 6’5 and weighs 225 lbs. Dice-K for example was 6’0, 180; Nomo was 6’2, 205. In his last spring training appearance, Darvish gave the world a small glimpse of what he was capable of.
The first thing you may notice about Darvish while he pitches is his DISGUSTING pitching repertoire. If you missed it… take a look at this FANTASTIC .gif made possible by Drew Sheppard of Fangraphs.com:
Darvish throws a four seam fastball in the 91-95 mph range that can top out at 98. He follows that up slurve/slider that he throws in the low 80’s with sharp, late breaking action. Darvish also throws a two seam fastball, cut fastball, TWO curveballs, a split-finger fastball, and a changeup! He’s like a Japanese version of David Cone, or Mike Mussina. Darvish says he throws two different curveballs, one a “fast” curve (78-81 mph range) and the other, a “slow” curve (69-71 mph range). In his earlier years, Darvish use to throw a screwball, which he mainly used as an out pitch. A shoulder injury caused him to permanently shelf the screwball. Even with all the scouting and technology in the game today it is a constant challenge to get a solid advanced scouting report on Darvish. That is the
benefit of being able to throw 8+ pitches. And if you think scouting him is hard… just try hitting him…
Yu had a VERY successful rookie/debut campaign for the Rangers in 2012. He went 16-9/3.90 ERA/221 K’s in a 191.1 innings pitched; Yu was also voted to the AL All Star team as a rookie. Besides making his MLB debut in 2012, Darvish also made his MLB Post Season debut as well. Darvish took the ball against the Orioles in a one-game Wild Card playoff. Darvish pitched well enough to get his team a win; unfortunately his team did not show up. The Rangers are not only expecting Darvish to help lead them back to the October baseball, but also help get them back into the World Series for the 3rd time in 4 years. Judging by his Opening Day 2013 performance against the Astros… I’d say the Rangers post season hopes are in good hands…
**Currently 7-2/3.03 ERA/105 K’s in 74.1 innings…. we may have our first 300 strikeout performance in over a decade.**
Stay tuned and don’t change the channel… more to come soon!