Yu Darvish's Fantasy Baseball Value Gets a Nice Boost With the Cubs
That sound you hear is the Halleluja chorus playing behind you.
The free-agent logjam at starting pitcher broke through a little bit last week with the announcement of Darvish's signing, and the Cubs got themselves the best starter on the market. Last season was his first full year following Tommy John surgery, and the now-31-year-old right-hander went 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA, a 3.83 fielding independent pitching (FIP), a 27.3% strikeout rate and a 7.6% walk rate. Opponents hit just .226 off him, a slight increase from his career average of .217, but still one of the best marks in baseball.
Darvish will now be the ace of the Chicago rotation, with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood giving Chicago a deep and talented starting five. Darvish also joins a squad with solid young offensive players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. Their lineup loaded with stars that took a step back last year but hope to perform better in 2018.
The important question, though, is how does this signing impact Darvish's fantasy baseball value?
A Full-Time National Leaguer
In 22 starts for Texas, he had a 4.01 ERA and a 3.99 FIP while striking out 9.7 batters per nine (K/9) and walking 3.0 batters per nine (BB/9). In nine starts with L.A. (granted, a smaller sample size), he put up a 3.44 ERA and 3.38 FIP with an 11.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9.
Yes, he was playing for a better team, but facing the soft underbelly of the 8-9 spots in NL batting orders sure didn't hurt his overall numbers. Generally speaking, offense isn't quite as prevalent in the NL as it is in the AL for that reason, as was the case last year.
Now, he gets to live DH-free for as long as he's in the National League (with the exception of interleague games in AL parks). That's going to help.
No More Astros
With a change of leagues, he's also changing divisions. Instead of seeing American League West clubs more than anyone else, that shifts to the National League Central. Think that makes a difference?
Here are the team totals for the AL West last year.
|Los Angeles Angels||.243||.315||.397||93||186||4.38|
Just getting away from the depth trap of that Houston lineup makes Darvish a better pitcher almost by itself.
I mean, the Astros' slash line as a team last year was .282/.346/.478, with an OPS+ of 127. In other words, the Houston Astros collectively hit as well as Domingo Santana in 2017. Santana had the same OPS+ (127) and batted .278/.371/.505. Houston's own Alex Bregman had the closest comparable triple slash (.284/.352/.475) with an OPS+ of 129.
Here's how the four teams not named the Cubs did in the NL Central did last year.
|St. Louis Cardinals||.256||.334||.426||99||196||4.70|
The Milwaukee Brewers are likely going to be a better offensive club in 2018 with the addition of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, and the St. Louis Cardinals got better with the acquisition of Marcell Ozuna. However, Darvish will no longer have to face Mike Trout or Robinson Cano or Khris Davis on a regular basis, either.
The numbers bear it out. The NL Central should be easier to handle than the AL West.
Now, what about the ballpark?
|Globe Life Park in Arlington||1.117 (5)||1.032 (12)|
|Wrigley Field||0.917 (25)||0.985 (17)|
Any number over 1.000 (a baseline value for a neutral park) signifies a park that favors the hitter. Anything under that number favors the pitcher. In terms of giving up runs, last year's Park Factors show that Globe Life Park in Arlington played as a solid hitters' park, the 5th-most favorable venue in terms of runs and 12th-most in terms of homers. Wrigley Field, by contrast, was 25th in runs and 17th in homers.
Hitters in Arlington batted .265/.343/.453 last season with an OPS of .797. Only four ballparks allowed a higher OPS to hitters: Coors Field (.828), Comerica Park (.803), and Target Field (.798). Wrigley was 11th in terms of OPS (.761), and batters hit .252/.335/.427 in the friendly confines. There were 209 dingers blasted out of Wrigley, while 239 were smashed out of Arlington.
As long as his pitches aren't being hit anywhere near Kyle Schwarber, Darvish's defense will be far superior in Chicago than it was in Texas.
As a team, the Cubs were worth 22 defensive runs saved (DRS) last year -- eighth-best in baseball -- and posted the fourth-best ultimate zone rating (UZR). Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist are all well above average defenders at their positions. The Los Angeles Dodgers were actually better than the Cubs defensively last season, with 66 DRS (2nd-most in baseball) and a UZR that was 6th-best, while the Rangers were middle of the pack in terms of DRS (18th in MLB) and quite bad in UZR (24th).
The one caveat is catcher. According to pitch framing numbers, Willson Contreras was one of the worst at getting his pitchers extra strikes last season. Of course, Robinson Chirinos and Brett Nicholas weren't much better for the Rangers, although Darvish will miss the work of Yasmani Grandal, who was the second-best pitch-framing catcher in baseball last year.
Where to Draft Him
At the moment, Darvish's Average Draft Position (ADP) is 55th overall as the 16th starting pitcher going off the board. So in a 10-team league, he's going in the middle of the fifth round, which is currently one spot behind Chris Archer, and 10 spots before Dallas Keuchel.
With Darvish's destination now known and given that he'll be playing in a more pitcher-friendly park, a more pitcher-friendly league full-time, and a more pitcher-friendly division with one of the best defenses behind him, you might see him creep up ADP boards a bit more over the next few weeks.
You can rely on a strikeout rate similar to what you saw from him after arriving to the Dodgers last season. Health will always be a concern, but the fact his fastball velocity is the highest of his career (94.2 miles per hour) following Tommy John surgery indicates he's not experiencing any problems with that elbow. He should be able to maintain an ERA between 3.20-3.50, with lots of strikeouts and a low batting average against.
Just as long as he doesn't start tipping his pitches again.