The So What? How much can Yu Darvish help the Cubs? (2/9/18)
How does one reward a 31-year-old starting pitcher after he allowed 10 earned runs in 14 2/3 playoff innings last fall? According to a recent Ken Rosenthal report, Yu Darvish is considering several nine-figure contract offers. So, these suitors are reportedly willing to shell out and reward Darvish with $100,000,000+ to help their World Series chances despite his career 5.81 playoff ERA.
Whether Darvish tipped his pitches or not, he definitely regressed in 2017 - two years removed from Tommy John surgery. His 10.08 K/9 rate was down nearly two strikeouts-per-9-innings when compared against his 17-start campaign of 2016 and while his 3.86 ERA (3.65 xFIP) was not a huge cause for concern, his career-high 15.1% HR/FB rate was and still is worrisome. Darvish allowed the 15th-most (tie) home runs among starting pitchers last season (27). He allowed 26 dingers during his sophomore MLB season, but mitigated damage with a 11.89 K/9 rate and 83.9% LOB rate to post a 2.83 ERA (2.84 xFIP) by season's end.
The So What?
Depending on which way the wind blows the rumor mill, more than a half-dozen teams are reportedly in the running to win the Darvish free agent sweepstakes. While most of the interested parties are large market clubs with big wallets and in a position to cover $100-million-plus, two teams from medium markets remain in the hunt for Darvish's services this season. What do simulations of seasons with and without Yu Darvish look like?
At 34-years-old, Ervin Santana was a big reason why the 2017 Minnesota Twins won 85 games and advanced to the win-or-go-home wild card matchup against the Yankees. Santana finished 16-8 – the most wins for him in a season since 2010 – with a 7.11 K/9 and 3.28 ERA (4.77 xFIP). Now 35 years old, he will miss the next 10-12 weeks due to finger surgery on his pitching hand. The Twins were in need of rotation help before the injury. So, Darvish would be a much-needed upgrade to a young rotation where four of the five projected starters are under 25 ½ years old.
After 50,000 season simulations, Prediction Machine's MLB engine projects a +4.5 win increase with (84.0 wins) versus without (79.5) Darvish in the Twins rotation. Where he pays off in the simulation run is in October. Without Darvish, Aaron Slegers is projected to be the Twins primary No. 5 starter. In that scenario, Minnesota only has a 10% shot of earning a playoff berth. With Yu as the No. 1, the Twins' playoff chances soars to 36%! Plus, their World Series titles odds double from 0.4 to 0.8%.
The Milwaukee Brewers missed a National League wild card bid by one game last fall. In an effort to close the gap in the NL Central and qualify for the 2018 playoffs, the Brewers recently made two aggressive moves when they traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain to upgrade an outfield already featuring Ryan Braun.
Their ace, Jimmy Nelson (12-6, 3.49 ERA & 10.21 K/9), is not expected to return to the rotation until June as he continues his shoulder surgery rehab. Chase Anderson, 30, and Zach Davies, 25, won 29 games combined last season. However, Davies struggled with control a little as evidenced by a 1.35 WHIP. The current back-end of the rotation would include Jhoulys Chacin, Yovani Gallardo and Junior Guerra. In other words, they could use Darvish, like yesterday.
With Yu, Milwaukee's projected win total improves by 3.5 (85.8 to 82.3), while the Brewers' playoff odds improve by 29% from 27% to 58% and World Series championship chances nearly triples from 1.0% to 2.9%.
The Texas Rangers are believed to be on the outside looking in due to Darvish's asking price. So, a reunion is unlikely. Based on the 2018 season simulation projection, it wouldn't appear his return would be a game-changer anyways. With Darvish, Texas' win total improves fewer than four games to 81.2 from 77.9, while playoff chances improve slightly from 9-to-13%. Their World Series odds remained static at 0.1% even with Yu in the rotation.
Note: without Darvish, the Rangers' No. 5 starter would be a combination of Mike Minor and Bartolo Colon. Yum.
The big market contenders – Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs – are all projected to win 93+ games. However, according to PM's MLB engine, Chicago would benefit most from signing Darvish. Not only does their win total improve, but their playoff chances jump to 94% from 89% should they sign Darvish. Los Angeles', New York's and Chicago's World Series championship chances with Darvish of 21.1%, 16.8% and 15.4%, respectively, illustrate Darvish's biggest impact on these teams.
With Jake Arrieta also on the hunt for a new team, the Cubs' 2018 starting rotation is currently made up of Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood, and Mike Montgomery. While Lester's and Hendricks' regression (3.85, 3.76 xFIP's) expects to continue this season, Chatwood is a different case. After spending the past five seasons with the Rockies, his Home/Away splits come into focus. Last season at Coors Field, he carried a 6.02 ERA vs. 3.49 ERA on the road. Chatwood's new-found lease on life should benefit the Cubs' back-end of the rotation. So, if Darvish came aboard, it would bump Montgomery back into the bullpen. Although, he's made some starts in two years with the Cubs, he hasn't made 17+ in one season since being called up from the minors.
In New York, the addition of Darvish would bump 25-year-old Jordan Montgomery from the rotation, but could also provide some insurance should C.C. Sabathia break down. In 29 starts, Montgomery was 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA (4.45 xFIP) and 8.34 K/9 rate.
For many, the Dodgers' abundance of starting pitching wealth is annoying. By the time Los Angeles acquired Darvish and Clayton Kershaw returned from injury, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu were bullpen options. With Darvish a free agent, Maeda and Ryu are currently the No. 4 and No. 5 starters. However, 26-year-old Brock Stewart could carve out a starting role, too. He posted a 3.41 ERA in 17 appearances last season.
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