The next CJ Wilson.
Patrick Newman on Darvish:
This season he was a lot better. The most obvious difference was his fastball velocity, which was more consistently around 94 and touched 97 on his best days. His cutter seemed to take a step forward this year, giving him three pitches above 90 mph with movement (2-seamer, 4-seamer, cutter). I think the velocity gains are real, as he added 10 kg of strength to his frame last offseason. I didn’t really see the same mistakes with his slider this year, he actually looked like he was using all his stuff effectively. There would be times when decent hitters would start to catch up and foul off his harder stuff, and he’d come right back with a slow curve or softer slider, and the hitter would be helpless. So he looked better overall this year, and my concerns about his mistake pitches and velocity are mostly gone. He’ll certainly still make the odd mistake, as he’s not a robot, but I’m more optimistic about him than I have been of anyone in the past.
Most of these are eyeball-level observations, drawn from memory of the games I watched during the season. So grains of salt apply. Here’s some data for reference and additional context: http://npbtracker.com/data/player.php?p_id=242
This doesn’t mean that Darvish is without question marks. All the usual stuff applies — five-day rotation, different ball, different mound, facing batters that can actually hit home runs, being prepared mentally, coping with travel, etc. I have the impression that Nippon Ham has really let Darvish do his own thing — he tends to tweak his delivery a lot, more than any other pitcher I can think of offhand. Who knows if an MLB pitching coach is going to be cool with that? Also keep in mind that Darvish is going to have more pressure and attention than possibly any player that has preceded him. Ichiro was stalked relentlessly by the Japanese media when he joined the Mariners, but I don’t think the Americans necessarily expected much from him. American fans have been anticipating Darvish for years, so he’ll have the Japanese insanity and the American expectations to live up to. I think he will be successful though, and I hope he is.