Chicago Cubs: Yu Darvish is ready to take the next step in his career
By Jake Misener
With Tommy John surgery in the rear view mirror and his long-term future decided, the only task ahead of Yu Darvish? Take the ball for the Chicago Cubs.
Yu would never know the Chicago Cubs landed the best overall free agent starting pitcher by scrolling through Twitter. (Also, I apologize. I got that ‘Yu’ in there early and I promise to not do it again).
As we all know by now, the Cubs landed Yu Darvish on a six-year, $126 million deal this weekend. After being introduced on Tuesday at Sloan Park, he got right to work with his new teammates. As for the press conference itself, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein echoed a sentiment I’ve made clear too many times to count.
You can’t base an evaluation of a big-league starting pitcher on a pair of World Series starts.
"“If anything, I think getting close to a championship and not getting all the way there has only increased his motivation and his focus on winning a World Series. That’s what we’re here to do as well,” Epstein said. “We know there’s more to Yu Darvish than what happened in the World Series.”"
Pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Darvish pitched to an earned run average north of 21.00 in the Fall Classic. Of course, the Dodgers ultimately fell to Houston in Game 7 – giving the Astros their first-ever championship.
Learning from mistakes
Meanwhile, Darvish was left with nothing but a bad taste in his mouth – and the opportunity of landing a high-value, long-term free agent contract. He first sat down with Epstein and the Cubs in December – and the two sides had a lot to talk about.
"“He’d put a lot of thought into things that had gone right in his career, things that he wanted to continue to improve on and what his goals were for the rest of his career,” Epstein said. “We were able to have a pretty in-depth baseball conversation on ways he could maximize his deep arsenal of pitches and fit in with our approach to try to get guys out. Without that meeting, we probably don’t end up here with Yu joining the Cubs.”"
2017 marked his first full season removed from Tommy John surgery. Despite pitching half of 2016, there’s no-doubt an adjustment to be made post-surgery to handling the grind of a Major League season. All told, Darvish fared well – especially after his trade to L.A.
Heading into his age-32 season, the Japanese right-hander might be ready to evolve as a pitcher. Instead of strictly relying on stuff (the guy throws more pitches than just about anyone in baseball), he’s going to start shifting more and more into ‘pitching’.
What does it all mean?
What exactly does that mean?
In Chicago, it comes down to a few different aspects. First, using his defense. During their World Series run of 2016, the Cubs boasted one of the best defensive clubs in the history of the game. Last year, they took a step backward, but should be markedly improved in 2018.
In his career, Darvish has been a pure strikeout pitcher – averaging nearly 10 percent more punchouts than the MLB average. As he ages (remember, he’ll be in his late 30s by the time this deal concludes), missing bats won’t be as easy. Learning how to pitch to contact effectively before it becomes absolutely necessary will go a long way in smoothing that transition.
Next: Things fell just right for Darvish-Cubs hookup
With a contact percentage nearly seven points below league average, making this a priority will be key. If you have a guy with the pure stuff of Darvish who learns how to be more effective (getting outs with fewer pitches), the Cubs gain a huge edge moving forward.