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The Rejuvenation of Yu Darvish

From dazzling international prospect to Major League All-Star, Yu Darvish has experienced success at all levels of baseball. However, over the past few seasons, he has struggled immensely, at least for his standards. The Japanese phenom was prospering with the Texas Rangers ever since signing with them in 2012, but once he got traded to the National League in 2017, issues began to arise.

Initially, Darvish pitched fairly well with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but once he signed with the Chicago Cubs, a combination of injuries and the inability to consistently get outs started to get the better of him. Though with 2020 being a fresh slate, Darvish looks to have returned to form. He has not only been pitching well this season, but has somehow been able to elevate his game beyond even his prime.

Filthy since the beginning is the only way to describe Darvish’s Major League career. An important note to mention is the fact that he debuted at the age of 25. Still young, but on the later spectrum for most players. This is because he began his professional career in Japan.

Straight out of high school, Darvish was signed by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. The young pitcher got some MLB attention at the time, but he had his heart on playing for a Japanese professional team instead. For seven seasons, Darvish pitched for the Nippon-Ham Fighters, putting up incredible numbers, including 18 wins and a 1.44 ERA in his final season in 2011.

A possible contributor to his decision to leave Japan and reach the next level was when he was not recognized as the best pitcher in Japan that season, losing the Sawamura Award to Masahiro Tanaka. He was displeased and even Tanaka claimed that Darvish was the better pitcher, holding so much respect for the long-time ace of the league.

Rangers trade Yu Darvish to Dodgers for three prospects - Minor League Ball
Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Sports

In January of 2012, the Rangers signed Darvish to a 6 year/$60 million-dollar contract. Right out the gate, he pitched sensationally. He was already a refined pitcher with so many years of professional experience and with every hitter seeing him for the first time, it made his stuff even more lethal.

Darvish has an unbelievable repertoire as his pitch selection is unlimited. He has an amazing 10 pitches that he can use to get batters out. Normal starting pitchers have anywhere from 4-6 pitches, but 10 is almost unheard of. Because of all the weapons Darvish has available to him, opposing hitters were never able to predict what was coming. He finished his rookie season with 16 wins, a respectable 3.90 ERA (considering he pitched in the AL), and he earned himself an All-Star appearance. 

Next season was even better for Darvish, pitching one of his best performances in the dawn of the 2013 season. In an outstanding April night, he was one out away from perfection before Houston Astros Marwin González laced a base hit.

That year had Darvish accomplish lots of spectacular feats, including a 15-strikeout performance, multiple no-hit bids, and another All-Star selection. In just his second Major League season, Darvish placed 2nd in AL Cy Young voting, finishing with 277 strikeouts (1st), a .194 batting average against (1st), and a 2.83 ERA (4th), while pitching 200+ innings for the first time in his career. The fearsome pitcher’s time in Texas lasted until the 2017 trade deadline. He finished his Rangers career with four All-Star appearances, while only having one season with an ERA above 4.00 (2017).

Cubs RHP Darvish feeling better after sick day - ABC News
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

On the Dodgers, Darvish pitched fine, but it was the postseason that really mattered. Throughout the NLDS and NLCS, he was stellar. Though once the World Series rolled around, he collapsed, posting a dreadful 21.60 ERA in two starts. This was definitely in part to the Astros cheating scandal, but still horrible numbers nevertheless.

After losing the World Series with Los Angeles, he headed to Chicago where the rails really started to come off. His first season on the north side went anything but smoothly. Numerous stints on the injured list prevented Darvish from ever getting into rhythm and when he did pitch, it was not at the level anyone expected.

In just eight starts, he had a 4.95 ERA, ultimately harming the Cubs more than helping that season. The following year had a healthy Darvish and now he had a full season to get acclimated to playing at Wrigley Field.

Unfortunately for him, the adjustment was continuing to be a struggle. He pitched to a 3.98 ERA, however, the most alarming part of his pitching was the long ball. It is truly staggering that he gave up a league leading 33 home runs in 2019. With stuff as dirty as Darvish’s, that many round trips should never be allowed. It will always be an enigma for how that happened, but his 2020 response is everything the Cubs could have asked for.

Currently holding a 1.77 ERA (3rd in NL), Darvish is blowing away the competition this season. Everything has been working on all cylinders, as this is to many people’s surprise. His career was heading into a tailspin after last season, with him most likely going to be a back-end starter for the rest of his career if progress was not made.

He always had the tools, but properly utilizing them is the key. Darvish’s electric arsenal is finally phasing hitters again and one distinct difference between the past few seasons and this one is his ability to reduce home runs. In nine starts so far, he has only allowed 4 home runs while also dominating in almost every other statistical category. With a record of 7-2 and looking strong, Darvish is back to being a Cy Young candidate.

A reason for his sudden burst of success may be contributed to the shortened 60 game season. Starting pitchers usually strive to pitch 200+ innings, plus the postseason, meaning they may pitch more conservatively throughout the regular season. However, with such a short span pitching wise, Darvish can go all out, giving it his all every start because he does not need to save bullets for later on.

The reduced schedule may not be the main factor, but it is very possible that it is helping. It really does not matter how he has improved so dramatically because the bottom line is that Yu Darvish is on fire. He looks rejuvenated and it will be interesting to see if he can continue at this pace.

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