Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Under Construction

As you can see, I'm updating the dozen or so starts that Darvish has made since I stopped posting in late-April. My thesis is finished and I'm free for a few weeks. Within a couple of days this will be complete.

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 8

After a disappointing walk-off road loss for Darvish against the Seibu Lions, the Chiba Lotte Marines marched into Hokkaido to take on the Fighters at home. Darvish's 136 pitch effort had gone to waste and it was on his mind to take revenge and right the ship on this night.

For the most part, this contest proved to be fairly unremarkable although the lack of control that Nippon Ham's ace displayed continues to be the major flaw that he must correct to dominate completely. In the end, he scattered five hits and struck out eight, but walked four batters and racked up another lofty pitch count (130) over eight innings of work. He was in trouble in the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 8th innings but managed to limit the damage to a single run in the 6th.

His opponent Hiroyuki Kobayashi was a bit more effective, working nine innings on seven hits and a single walk. He did, however throw a ridiculous 150 pitches for Bobby Valentine prompting me to think that Kobayashi must have hit on Bobby V's wife or something. The game did close on an exciting note, as Lotte scored two big runs in the top of the 11th inning on a two-run homer by Shoichi Ohmatsu. The Fighters answered with three in the bottom of the inning to reverse the score and walk off with a victory.

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 7

The Nippon Ham Fighters visited Seibu bringing Yu Darvish into battle with them. Darvish would face budding ace Hideaki Wakui in a marquee matchup of Pacific League hurlers. In Japan, even to a greater degree than in the US, the marquee pitching matchup has a way of ending 1-0 on some kind of late inning breakthrough. It's a lot like a prize fight between two superb technicians.

The Fighters would draw first blood in this game pounding out three hits in the first four batters. The lone out was a typical sac bunt by the number two hitter, Takahito Kudo. The 1-0 lead handed to Darvish became 2-0 after another rally by the Fighters in the top of the 2nd. Seibu third baseman, Takeya Nakamura, blasted a two out home run against Darvish in the bottom of the 2nd to announce that the Lions would not go quietly into the night.

Both pitchers would settle down a bit and show the ace form that we've come to expect from each young star, but Nippon Ham scratched out a run in the top of the 5th to give Japan's ace, Darvish, a bit of cushion to work with. It was just that kind of game, however, as catcher Tooru Hosogawa smoked a one out homer to keep it close in the bottom of the frame. Wakui continued to work strong as the game progressed, while Darvish again faced some problems in the bottom of the 7th.

A leadoff double prompted a quick sacrifice, allowing light-hitting, part-time first baseman Hiroyuki Oshima to drive in the runner from third on a ground out. Game tied. Wakui gave way to the bullpen after eight complete innings and 135 pitches, while Darvish labored on. The bottom of the ninth saw the game still knotted and a rally in the works for Seibu. A one out double by Nakamura saw Darvish fall apart as he issues walks to the next two batters. The bases were loaded with only an out on the board, and the number nine hitter Hiram Bocachica representing the potential winning at bat. Bocachica popped out to second to end the threat of a game tying sacrifice, however that bit of good fortune was met by heartbreak as leadoff man Yasuyuki Kataoka hit a seeing eye grounder to left to score both the tying and winning runs on Darvish's 136th and final pitch.

As they say in Japan, "Zannen," or "too bad."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 6

In his sixth start, Yu Darvish took the mound against the Orix Buffaloes for the first time in the 2008 season . The Darvish Watch campaign for a sub-1.00 season ERA is still on track with a string of lights out performances to begin the year. That story seemed to be slightly overshadowed by the news that super-rookie Sho Nakata has been mashing the ball for the Nippon Ham farm club and blasted a monster home run off Aussie Adrian Burnside. His attitude has been the major factor keeping him on the farm as he's had problems with lateness and oversleeping. His defense has also been heavily criticized by his minor league manager, although he now admits that if Nakata keeps hitting like he has (currently a 7 game hit streak and 7 of his last 14) it will be hard to keep him from the Fighters lineup for long.

On to the game....

Scrutiny of Darvish's 1st inning results is the first order of business here, as it is every week. Let's get right to it:

Tomotaka Sakaguchi (CF) Pop out to 3B
Arihito Muramatsu (LF) Fly out to LF
Tuffy Rhodes (DH) Pop out to LF

Well, whaddaya know? A clean, 1-2-3 first inning for Darvish. That generally is a great sign of things to come for the 21-year old righty. A strong first, more often than not, snowballs into a dominant performance for the young ace. How many in a row was he able to put away following his clean opening frame? None. Alex Cabrera, newly acquired this season by Orix, mashed a 3-2 fastball, belt high on the outside part of the plate, over the straightaway centerfield fence. Touche. 1-0 Orix.

Knowing Darvish as we do, it's no surprise that he settled down right away and proceeded to retire 10 of the next 11 batters, and 15 of the next 19 batters. One of those baserunners came on an error by catcher Shinji Takahashi, playing out of position at first base. The 8th inning proved to be the undoing for Darvish on this night, however. Alas. Kensuke Tanaka, playing second base for Nippon Ham, led off the 7th with a solo home run to take Darvish off the hook and knot the game at one apiece, but a barrage of hits greeted our hero in the 8th that led to a second run and a deficit for the Fighters. The inning in question started with an easy out and then went single, RBI double, walk, single, 3-6-1 double play. To his credit, Darvish worked out of further trouble by turning a much needed twin killing to end the threat.

The Fighters got the game back to a tie with a stunning 9th inning rally, and won it in the 10th with a walk off homer by Tomoyuki Oda, who entered the game in the 8th to pinch hit and play first. Darvish exited the game after the 9th, allowing reliever Hisashi Takeda to notch the victory. Still, he pitched 9 full innings, allowing 2 earned runs on 7 hits and 2 walks, striking out 9 in the process. Not his sharpest outing, but his ERA still sits below 1.00 at 0.69. If your shaky outings look like this, you know you're good.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 5

To date, this season has been a remarkable collection of dominant innings for Yu Darvish, as he has only been scored upon in 1 of 34 innings pitched. His ERA entering the game against SoftBank was a phenomenal 0.53 and hitters just can't touch him at all. Still, SoftBank was the club that gave him some trouble a couple of weeks earlier and a bad first inning would be deadly. Hawks' leadoff man and shortstop Munenori Kawasaki was hit by a pitch to start the game against Darvish the last go around. What would he do in this contest?

Munenori Kawasaki (SS) Line drive base hit to left
Tadaashi Nakasawa (2B) Strikes out looking
Hiroshi Tsubahara (RF) Bloop single to left (throwing error on LF, run scores)
Nobuhiko Matsunaka (LF) Strikes out swinging
Hiroki Kokubo (DH) Ground out to pitcher

So, another shaky start for Darvish. There seems to be some reason to continue worrying about the trend that has become his trademark. Nothing earth-shattering occurred here, but the inability to work clean 1st innings on a regular basis is the Achilles heel for an otherwise unhittable man. In this case, an error cost Darvish an unearned run, but there were two hits scratched across by the Hawks and the hope for a sub-1.00 ERA will depend on getting the lone chink in his armor worked out.

The good news is that Darvish only allowed one more baserunner in working the complete game shutout. The eighth and ninth innings saw our ace retire 5 of the last 6 batters by strikeout and slam the door on the Hawks for good. All told, Darvish threw 103 pitches over 9, allowing three hits and no walks, striking out 10. His ERA now stands at a miniscule 0.42 and he has pitched 42 of 43 innings with no score. Uncanny.

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 4

So far so good for young Yu Darvish. Three starts and three wins for the Fighters have come as a result of dominating pitching by the 21-year old ace, only sullied by a difficult 7th inning in his previous start against the SoftBank Hawks. In consecutive games we've seen a little trouble for Darvish, much as we did in 2007, but to date none of the baserunners allowed has touched home plate. In our continuing scrutiny of the Darvish First, we look at the latest confrontation between Darvish and his Rakuten Golden Eagles' hitters.

Naoto Watanabe (SS) Flyout to Left
Yosuke Takasu (2B) Groundout to Second
Daisuke Kusano (3B) Groundout to First

Whaddaya know? A clean first inning. Things looked good for a dominating performance, as Darvish rarely gets started cleanly and falters late. The biggest challenge in this contest would be to avoid blinking first against the once might Hisashi Iwakuma. The Rakuten starter was once one of Japan's best starting pitchers, before regular arm problems robbed him of his health and heat. This will be a make or break season for Iwakuma, as he is still young, but needs to stay on the field all year to be worthy of consideration as a top flight pitcher.

Both pitchers cruised through the bulk of this contest with Darvish allowing only three baserunners through 7. Iwakuma allowed a single walk through 6, but lost command in the 7th, giving up a crucial sac fly to Julio Zuleta and handing Darvish a lead. You just know that our hero made that run hold up, and finished off yet another complete game shutout. Working the complete game, Darvish gave up 3 hits and lone walk on 95 pitches, striking out 6 in the process. A truly dominating performance in which the Fighters' ace threw less than 10 pitches per inning. Iwakuma may have lost the battle on this night, but can still win the war by pitching this well on a regular basis.

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 3

Unscored upon in 18 consecutive innings to open the year, Yu Darvish would face the SoftBank Hawks in his 3rd go around. Struggling with his control in the previous start, Darvish battled to keep his team in contention for the eventual win. The first inning watch continues as the ace of the Fighter's staff opposed Rick Guttormson, who threw a no-hitter in 2006 and was suspended for drug use in 2007 after testing positive for finasteride. Finasteride is a hair-growth product that is apparently used as a masking ageny, and Guttormson seems to have a nice, full head of hair. Hmmmmm.....

First batter, Hawks' shortstop Munenori Kawasaki found his way on base after being plunked by Darvish. Not an auspicious start, to say the least. The middle of the SoftBank lineup is very good and presents some problems with the speedy Kawasaki on the basepaths disturbing Darvish's concentration. Nothing would come of the leadoff runner, however, and Darvish never looked to be in any serious difficulty against the Hawks throughout most of the game. In fact, after the initial hit batsmen, Darvish only allowed a walk and a single through 6 innings. The single in the 6th frame was erased on a double play.

While Darvish cruised, Guttormson struggled. The Hawks starter allowed 4 earned runs over 6 innings and left the game on the short end of the score. Darvish seemed to let up a bit as he took the mound in the 7th with a comfortable lead, giving up a leadoff double, a bloop single to right, and an infield single to short, loading the bases with none out. Hawks third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda then laced a line drive double to left field, scoring two and putting Darvish against the ropes for the first time this season. A 24 inning consecutive scoreless streak was snapped and suddenly the game seemed in doubt.

Alas, the Hawks went 1-2-3 following the big hit by Matsuda and Darvish stepped away with a lead intact. Narrowly averting disaster, the young ace's night was through. The bullpen closed out a big win for the Fighters, and allowed Darvish to sit out a few innings for the first time all year.

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 2

After a rousing first start, Darvish looked to build on his success against the intriguing Seibu Lions. The Lions struggled in 2007 after losing Daisuke Matsuzaka to the Boston Red Sox and face an even more imposing task in 2008 after seeing slugger Alex Cabrera and stalwart outfielder Kazuhiro Wada walk as free agents in the offseason. Darvish would oppose Seibu's young ace Hideaki Wakui on this occasion and all eyes were watching as one of the most attractive rivalries in the Pacific League unfolded.

The easy first inning of the opening start against Lotte was encouraging for Darvish fans, but a long string of success is perhaps the only thing that will ease the nerves built up over the course of the entire 2007 campaign. After retiring the first batter, Darvish allowed a double to centerfielder Shogo Akada. Would he allow this to rattle him and start a string of trouble? Not this time. Darvish retired the next two batters and went back to the dugout with a quick regrouping.

Still, this wasn't the sharpest outing for the 21-year old righty, as he hit a batter and allowed a follow up line drive to left for a single and some trouble in the 2nd. Again, he battled out of trouble. Unlike the first start of the season, this game had Darvish working out of the stretch on a regular basis. Wakui was equally shaky, but dueled the Nippon Ham ace effectively through 9 innings. The score was tied at zero until pinch hitter Shinji Takahashi delivered a walk off single in the bottom of the 10th handing Wakui the loss and Fighter's reliever Hisashi Takeda a victory after entering in the top of the inning.

Darvish managed to work 9 innings, allowing 7 hits, 4 walks, and a hit batsman on 132 pitches. He struck out 7, but came away with a no decision thanks to the equally impressive Wakui who worked one inning too many as it turned out. Still, this outing proved to be encouraging for Darvish fans as he battled through a lack of sharpness to hold the Lions at zero and gave his team a chance to win.

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 1

After an eventful offseason that saw Yu Darvish lead the Japanese national team to an impressive championship in the Asian Games, qualifying Japan for the Beijing Olympics, a new season is upon us with tremendous promise for the 21-year old ace of the Nippon Ham Fighters. There's not much left for Darvish to accomplish in Japan, after the 2006 Japan Series title, 2007 Sawamura Award, and international success to his credit. Some speculation about a post-season posting to the Major Leagues has been bandied about, as have tabloid stories about the New York Yankees' interest in Yu. All of that is a distraction from the regular season ahead and the prospect that Darvish could post a sub-1.00 ERA and a 20 win season, among other historical feats. He is far ahead of Daisuke Matsuzaka's trajectory at the same age and we really can't project a ceiling for his ability.

The first start for Darvish in 2008 came against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Bobby Valentine. The Marines are a solid offensive club with an interesting mix of power and speed, but rarely put everything together for long stretches. Darvish struggled a great deal during the first inning of starts in 2007, often succumbing to control problems and poorly timed walks. On a number of occasions last season, the young righty seemed to overthrow in the 1st, losing his grip on the count, the scoreboard, and his emotions. Innings 2 through 9 were lights out, but that 1st inning was his undoing far too often. How did he open the season?

In this contest, Darvish came out throwing darts and retired the side without any difficulty whatsoever. In fact, he retired the first 7 batters he faced with 4 strikeouts and proceeded to dominate 13 of his first 14 batters faced, before walking light hitting Shoichi Ohmatsu in the 5th. All in all, Darvish allowed 5 baserunners on 4 hits and a walk over 9 complete, fanning 10. The complete game shutout came on 124 effortless pitches and the Fighters opened the season with a win. A promising beginning for Darvish and his Hokkaido boys. Keep the line moving Yu and let's make some history in '08.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Holding Place

Consider this post a holding spot for the posthumous 2007 season recap and stat line for Darvish. When I catch up on my 2008 posting, I'll come back and get this together.....

In the meantime, enjoy highlights of Darvish's 2007 season, strikeout by strikeout!!


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Darvish Watch: Episode 15

An outstanding pitching matchup awaited on July 6th as the two best clubs in the Pacific faced off with Yu Darvish going for the Fighters and Shunsuke Watanabe on the hill for Lotte. Watanabe was the third wheel in the starting rotation for the WBC Japan team. He's a side-arming righty with decent control and a very difficult arm slot. A low scoring affair would seem to have been the safe bet prior to first pitch. Speaking of which, let's go over Darvish's first inning.

Tsuyoshi (TSUYOSHI) Nishioka (G4)
Daisuke Hayakawa (P5)
Kazuya Fukuura (G4)

Yes! Woo hoo!!! A 1-2-3 first inning at last. It's a miracle. That had to bode well for the tall righty to start this highly anticipated contest. Would trouble come in the second? A little trouble manifested as Darvish allowed a leadoff single to Zaburo followed by a plunking of Benny Agbayani. A little Whoudini work later and no harm done. In fact, after the second inning, Darvish didn't allow another baserunner. You heard me. Young Yu Darvish retired the final 23 batters he faced against Lotte and won thanks to a 6th inning 2-run bomb by the ever amazing Inaba. The final line for Nippon Ham's ace included a lone hit, a hit batsman, and 10 strikeouts. It was a dominating complete game shutout. Just what the doctor ordered to solidify the growing lead in the Pacific and put Darvish in the Sawamura hunt with Softbank Hawks starter Toshiya Sugiuchi and 22-year old Lotte sensation Yoshihisa Naruse. Youth prevails in the Pacific and the Fighters have the lead.

Darvish Watch: Episode 14

Yu Darvish versus the Orix Blue Wave seems like an unfair matchup at first glance. The rising ace of the Nippon Ham Fighters against the aging and streaky boys from Orix...There's always that first inning thing though. Let's get right to it.

Keiichi Hirano (F8)
Arihito Muramatsu (groundball single to 1B)
Greg LaRocca (G6)
Tuffy Rhodes (looking K)

Well, Darvish passed the first test of the game. He survived the first inning unscathed. In fact, young Darvish retired nine consecutive batters after the Muramatsu single. The fourth inning began with a HBP for Muramatsu and a walk by LaRocca, but Darvish put those mistakes behind him quickly and retired the next 12 batters in order. Stupendous. In the 6th inning the Fighters scratched across a run on a leadoff double by Morimoto and an RBI single by the ever amazing Inaba. 1-0 would stand until the 8th inning.

Darvish completed his 12-in-a-row domination by retiring the last batter of the 7th. He was clearly gassed at this point, but Trey Hillman elected to stick with his big man. Base hit for the pinch hitting Kimoto. Catcher Takeshi Hidaka grounded out but Hirano took advantage of a tiring Darvish by lining a single to right field. Trouble was officially a-brewin'. Hillman stuck with Yu again, and I sat in my chair wondering if this was really happening. You just know when a pitcher is gassed. Everyone watching had to know it. Velocity was down, pace slowed, and good wood met each successive ball. Time to change.

No change came and the Fighters paid. RBI ground ball to short. Game tied. Hit by pitch. Bases clearing double for Tuffy Rhodes, which tallied his 1000th career RBI and prompted a fist pump from on top of second base. The double was a ringing shot off the wall that could easily have gone out. Still Darvish remained. Line drive single to center by first baseman Kitagawa. Darvish removed.

The Fighters went on to lose the game by a final score of 4-1. Questionable managing led to the Fighters demise on this night. You have to wonder if the young ace's reputation for complete games is getting the better of him with respect to pace and fatigue. The point is now moot as the Fighters dropped a game to Orix. The good news is that the Nippon Ham boys have put their miserable last place days of April behind them and now sit atop the Pacific. Darvish will have another night soon....

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Darvish Watch: Episode 13

I'm going to cut and paste the intro to Darvish Watch: Episode 12 because it's appropriate once again this time around. Here you go:

"Greetings again Darvish Watch fans. I'd like to start today with a little quiz. What is the key to a Yu Darvish victory in 2007? Answer: a good first inning. We've followed this exciting young pitcher's ascent into the lofty heights of pitching royalty in Japan, pitching stellar complete games, striking out batters in the double digits, and looking the part of the matinee idol while doing it. What he hasn't done much is come out guns blazing in the first inning to retire the side cleanly."

Do you remember that? Good. Here's a rundown of Darvish's first inning from June 23rd against Hanshin.

Takahiro Shouda - WALK
Norihiro Akahoshi - DOUBLE TO RIGHT
Tomoaki Kanemoto - 3 RUN HOME RUN
Makoto Imaoka - SWINGING K
Takashi Toritani - WALK
Akihiro Yano - 4-6-3 DOUBLE PLAY

Just like that 4-0 Hanshin. I'll let you in on a little secret. The final score of this game was 6-4 Nippon Ham in 11 innings. Once again the only damage to Yu Darvish was a first inning meltdown. I promise you that I will provide a recap soon with numbers from his first innings compared with the numbers from all other innings pitched. It will be a stark contrast, and will go a long way to showing why Darvish has room to grow. Why does this keep happening? I have a theory.

I believe that Darvish is both immature and overconfident at times. He is so dominant that he has fallen for his own image a bit. This year, after winning the Japan Series and the Konami Asia Cup, Darvish appeared with dyed brown hair and a little swagger on the mound. His numbers show that he has earned that swagger, but I think it manifests itself negatively in the first inning. He's too pumped up and too sure of himself. His focus is poor and he overthrows. Most of the time, the meltdowns are a simple matter of a hafl centimeter here and a quarter of a centimeter there. His control is just off enough that he falls behind, walks the leadoff man, and then gets into trouble with good professional hitters waiting on a straight fastball. Just like that a few runs are on the board. If I were his manager, I'd make him throw 2 simulated innings prior to the next start to wear him out just a bit. Work him in the pen and then bring him out a little winded.

Better focus comes with each successive inning, and Darvish managed to go the rest of the game allowing 6 baserunners over 8 innings. The pen took over in the 10th, and got the win in the 11th. Darvish pitched to 2 batters over the minimum from the 3rd inning until the end of the 9th. He struck out 11 Tigers on the day, but was a victim of another rocky start. It's the second consecutive game that he's walked 5 batters and control seems to have eluded the young ace. We'll be watching again this weekend to see if he can conquer the demons that have plagued him at the start of ballgames. Click below to enlarge current stats:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Darvish Watch: Episode 12

Greetings again Darvish Watch fans. I'd like to start today with a little quiz. What is the key to a Yu Darvish victory in 2007? Answer: a good first inning. We've followed this exciting young pitcher's ascent into the lofty heights of pitching royalty in Japan, pitching stellar complete games, striking out batters in the double digits, and looking the part of the matinee idol while doing it. What he hasn't done much is come out guns blazing in the first inning to retire the side cleanly. In recent weeks, I've given you the lowdown on Darvish's first innings, batter by batter, to illustrate his struggles. I'll do the same today.

Hirokazu Ibata (pop out to 2nd)
Hidenori Kuramoto (strike out - runner advances to 1st on passed ball)
Masahiko Morino (walk)
Kosuke Fukudome (RBI double to center)
Kazuki Inoue (walk)
Koji Nakamura (fly out to right)
Motonobu Tanishige (bases loaded RBI walk)
Michihisa Sawai (looking K)

Yes, a little bad luck led to the first baserunner, but I have to tell you that Darvish was straight awful for the better part of the early innings. He had nothing on any of his pitches and very little control. The three walks in this inning are enough to illustrate that, and the final walk to Tanishige that accounted for the second run came on four pitches, none of which was close. Tanishige is a .242 hitter with a .315 OBP and a grand total of 8 extra base hits in 191 plate appearances. You cannot walk that kind of hitter, let alone force in a run on four pitches.

I'll add to the severity of this situation by telling you that the Chunichi starter was Kenshin Kawakami, former Rookie of the Year(1998), Sawamura Award winner(2004), and currently the highest paid pitcher in Japan. In this kind of matchup, especially in conservative Japanese strategic settings, a 2-0 lead early could spell curtains. Most teams don't have the big guns to mount more than a single decent rally against a top starter. Nippon Ham is just such a team. Darvish's margin of error is so thin that these first inning ordeals make it very hard to regroup. This was the case in this contest, as Kawakami dominated the Fighters from the very start, allowing only 3 baserunners through the first 5 innings, two of whom came in the 1st, ironically.

Darvish, meanwhile, never got it going completely, giving up another run in the 4th inning after recording the first two outs quickly. He gave up a hit, hit a batter, and then allowed a little roller to second base to score the runner on an infield single. It was a bit of hard luck for the young ace, but he did allow the hit batsman after all. Nippon Ham had it's one shining moment, where there was some hope. Kawakami appeared to tire just a bit in the 7th as he gave up a leadoff hit followed by a 2 run blast to catcher Shinji Takahashi. After walking the very next batter, Nippon Ham played things conservatively, sac bunting for the first out. Chunichi manager Ochiai went to the pen, who made things a little more interesting, but runners were left stranded, the score 3-2 Dragons.

That's where the game ended. Darvish went the full nine innings, allowing only 5 hits, but he walked 5 batters and hit another. That was his undoing. Considering his early problems, the 20-year old righty only allowed 2 batters over the minimum after the 4th inning. He was never sharp, and he never looked like the world class Darvish that we have come to know, but on an off night he managed to go nine, allowing only 3 runs, striking out 8. Tough loss. Click below for updated stats: