Revenge in Super Bowl XLVI

Narratives drive me insane. Justin Verlander, in my opinion, won the 2011 AL MVP simply because of a narrative that was a creation of the mass media.* Narratives are created by those who need something to write, either to kill space or to gain viewership. They are ususally false, overhyped, and predictable.

*Seriously, the dude had a great season, but it was by no means legendary. If any pitcher should have won the MVP, it was late ’90’s-early ’00’s Pedro. Since he didn’t, Verlander – by NO means – should have.

The Super Bowl features the “best” two teams from the National Football League, America’s most popular sports league. There are two weeks in between Championship Sunday and Super Sunday. This creates a huge magnification of the event and the need for major news outlets to fill serious space. This year’s fillers are typically uncreative and very annoying, including, but not limited to:

1. Where does Tom Brady rank among all-time QB’s with a win?

2. Is Bill Belichick the greatest coach in NFL history with a win?

3. Is Eli Manning elite?

4. What can we force Antrel Rolle to say today?*

*A midget? Seriously?

These are few among many, many more. By now, we are all tired of these arguments and debates. We’ve all heard this debate, and we all know on which side certain writers/analysts stand.  Thus, the MSM – mainstream media – has come up with a narrative that  is fresh just as boring;

5. That revenge will play a huge role in determining the outcome of Super Bowl XLVI.

Of course, the Giants ended the Patriots perfect season four years ago. We know that it was a David and Goliath story and that the Giants pulled off perhaps the greatest upset in the history of the NFL. Because of this, the Patriots are angry and will beat the team that spoiled the dream.

This has already gotten on my nerves. Don’t believe how overhyped this is? Look at this Google search of “Revenge in Super Bowl.” However, it was this article in the Boston Herald that really struck the wrong chord for me this morning. In it, Karen Guregian quotes several players that remain on the current Pats team that were there for the loss in 2007-2008. The article implies that the Patriots will be more motivated to beat the Giants than they would have been the 49ers.

This is not only a ludicrous notion, but a misguided one. There are only seven players- and only six of them are active- left from the 18-1 team. The list includes Tom Brady, Matt Light, Wes Welker, and Vince Wilfork, who are all major players on this edition of the Patriots. They are not, however, used in the same light. Wes Welker is no longer the focal point of the Patriots offense, Rob Gronkowski is. Tom Brady is no longer as dominant as he was in 2007.  Wilfork is now the most consistent part of the defense.

The team is much different and is based around players who were not even in the NFL in 2007. Belichick will not attempt to stir up anger in his players over Super Bowl XLII because, for 47 members of the New England Patriots, it will not resonate. They weren’t there. They can never understand what the Patriots felt on the night of February 3, 2008 and they will never feel the bitterness that those Patriots still feel.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have gained a reputation for being more prepared than any coach/quarterback tandem in the league. They’re supposedly tireless in their effort to win, and that effort seems to translate onto the field- they win, and they win a lot. To my eyes, they seem to pride themselves on that reputation. Does it really make sense to assume that they would prepare less for the Super Bowl if they had a perfect season four years ago?

I’ve never bought the fact that players need more motivation to prepare for the Super Bowl. This is the Super Bowl. The eyes of America and the world abroad will be upon these two teams. If you’re an athlete, what more motivation could you possibly need than to be playing on the greatest stage in American sports?

Do the Patriots who remain want revenge? I can only imagine so. Will that desire factor into the game? I don’t believe that it will. There aren’t enough players left on either side for that game to really matter to the players. To many fans, it will matter and will always matter. Many fans err when they believe that players are concerned with the same things that they, as a fan, are.

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it will be because they outplayed the New York Football Giants, not because of some misguided theory of revenge. If they lose the Super Bowl, it will be because they got outplayed.

It’s the Super Bowl. If players need to look for more motivation to win, then may God help them deal with the agony of the defeat that will surely follow.

The Yankees Trade Montero: Analysis

*I have sat by my computer, mostly on twitter, for most of the past month. I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen. Then, I work one night for a friend of mine and this happens!? I swear, I will never work again. I have had a whirlwind of thoughts about this trade, as you can see if you follow me on twitter. This is my attempt at organizing them all.*

Woah. That’s my first reaction. My second reaction? What a cool trade.* As a baseball fan, how can you not be excited by this? A young slugger that has often been compared to Edgar Martinez and was routinely one of Baseball America’s Top 5 prospects in all of baseball for the International League was traded for Michael Pineda, who was the Mariners’ second best prospect after the 2010 season, also according to Baseball America. The winner of this trade won’t be decided for perhaps another decade, and I won’t attempt to declare a winner.

*Also, does anyone else find Brian Cashman’s ninja-like qualities astounding? The dude is the GM of the most popular franchise in America’s Pastime in the country’s biggest city, and he still can shock the world. The Yankees are a tight organization, for better or worse.

Yankees Get:

Michael Pineda, P, 23 years old next week

Pineda is a young, big right-handed pitcher. At 6-7, 260, Pineda is the classic power pitcher mold, and that is exactly what he is: a power pitcher. Per Fangraphs Pitch f/x, Pineda’s fastball clocked in on average at 94.2 mph last season, which is damn fast. In 173 innings, he struck out 9.1/9 and walked only 2.9 per 9. A strikeout ratio for a pitcher that young is very promising, as control is usually the biggest problem for a young fireballer. The big righty has 5 years of team control left, which is extremely valuable.

Pineda is not perfect, by any means. He has shown a slight propesity to give up home runs (0.9/9) and is a flyball pitcher (only 36.3% of his outs were groundballs), so the home run figure can be expected to rise in Yankee Stadium. He struggled down the stretch, and has a slight platoon split, and is a primarily two-pitch pitcher, throwing his fastball and slider 90.2% of the time, per FanGraphs. This is not to say that he cannot develop his changeup, but as of right now, Pineda is a two pitch pitcher.

Watching Pineda develop, or not develop, perhaps, will be an interesting storyline for the next few years.

Jose Campos, P, 19

Campos is much more of an x-factor if you’re into “winning” trades. Per Kevin Goldstein, he was the 5th best prospect in the Mariners’ stystem and has enormous upside with an elite fastball and not much else as of yet. However, young pitchers with big arms are not sure things by any means. And by any means, I mean almost never succeed. Seriously, young pitchers that throw hard come and go, oftentimes getting hurt. Campos is someone to watch, but he’s likely only somebody a prospect nerd cares about for the next three-four (maybe more) years.

Mariners Get:

Jesus Montero, C, 22 years old

Montero is unanimously considered to be one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball. His bat won him the hearts of Yankee fans and of scouts alike. He is noted for opposite-field power, a skill that he briefly exhibited in his MLB stint in 2011. Very few people doubt that the kid can hit and hit at an elite level. In 69 PA last season, Jesus had a .328/.406/.590 line and hit 4 home runs and had 12 RBIs. This is an extraordinarily small sample size, but it has to count for something: the kid has shown that he can hit big league hitting. Check out here for MiLB stats. Jesus has 6 years of team control left, which is even better than Pineda.

Montero is also not perfect. He is a man without a position, as virtually nobody outside of the Yankee organization believed that he could be a catcher. He failed to make defensive strides over the past few years and could be destined to a career as a DH, which lowers his value at least a little bit. He also struggled a little bit at the AAA level, but I don’t read too much into that. His second half last year was much better.

Hector Noesi, P, 24 years old

Noesi was uninspiring in 56.1 IP for the Yankees last year, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t promise here. Noesi was scouted with great control and that is considered one of his greatest strengths as a pitcher. He pitched to a 4.47 ERA in the bigs last season, with 7.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. His ceiling is most likely a mid-rotation starter, a role in which he never really got a chance to perform for the Yankees. It will be interesting to see how the Mariners value him and how they handle his role.

What It Means:

Look, both teams filled perhaps their biggest need with this trade. The Yankees needed pitching badly if they wanted to repeat a 97 win campaign from the year before, and Pineda obviously fills that void. If he pitches exactly as he did last year, the Yankees are a much improved team and look much more formidable, though there is reasonable concern for a regression and reasonable excitement for improvement. The Mariners couldn’t hit to save their lives last season, and Montero gives them a core of Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and himself. The potential 3/4/5 combo would have made Baseball America salivate a mere two winters ago and could make the AL tremble in two years time.

If the Yankees are serious about getting underneath the 189 million payroll threshold for 2014 and still competing, this was a great step in that direction, as they can still peg one of their Killer B’s in a future rotation for almost no money as well. However, the Yankees bats are aging and they have no impact bats in their MiLB system save Gary Sanchez, who is years away.

The Mariners have a talented core and a supposed pitching-heavy system, so they have potential here. Oh yeah, and they have Felix Hernandez. It might not be until 2014, but the Mariners have potential to be a very formidable opponent in a few short years.

Ultimately, nobody knows who won this trade. We will have to watch a lot of baseball to find out, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my next few summers.


The New York Knickerbockers: Stay Patient Edition

Knicks fans often get made fun of. Perhaps this is because most Knicks fans also root for the Yankees: most people hate the Yankees, as the Yankees win. The Knicks, as you know, do not. Thus, people that hate the Yankees because of their superiority to the rest of, well, sports, lash out at those who root for the Knicks. However, even the most passionate Knicks hater out there must admit one thing: the Knicks have a passionate fanbase, among the most passionate in all of sports. Being passionate often leads to a ridiculous statement in the heat of an intense sports moment, or seriously overvaluing a team’s signings.* Moreoften, though, this passion results in impatience and in the need for a “figurehead” for failure. For fans of the Knicks, that figurehead seems to be, unanimously, Mike D’Antoni.

*Jeremy Lin trended in NYC on Twitter after the Knicks signed him. Jeremy Lin.*

Before I continue, a disclaimer:

*I do not believe that the season is “lost” or that the Knicks are a bad basketball team. I really do not believe that Tyson Chandler is merely a role player. I passionately do not believe that the Carmelo/Amar’e “experiment” in NYC has failed. I do believe that 7 games, in any sport, is a ridiculously small sample size to emphatically judge anything. With this said, there are some people that do. It is to them that I address the following:

The Knicks were down 16 points to the then 0-6 Washington Wizards last night in the nation’s capital. It was the first half, so there was a lot of basketball to be played, but that is nevertheless alarming. However, off of consecutive losses to the Charlotte Bobcats and the Toronto Raptors in New York, it is terrifying, at least to an impatient fan. Many, both in my house and on the internet, wanted someone to blame. As I previously mentioned, the favorite to blame among Knicks fans is none other than D’Antoni.

Before we continue, let’s rewind:

D’Antoni is excoriated for his lack of emphasis on defense and for being a completely one-dimensional basketball mind. Having watched his Phoenix Suns and Knicks, it is hard to dismiss such criticism, as much of it is valid and worthy of concern. Everytime a Knick fails to help on defense or grab a defensive rebound, my twitter timeline explodes with a ruthless condemnation of Mike D’Antoni. As I said, some of this is relevant and astute criticism. The rest is irrational. I do think that Knicks games are watched more critically than others, and D’Antoni is the reason. People seem to want him to fail. Thus, they overvalue every minute play of every Knicks game.

I don’t believe that Mike D’Antoni is perfectly suited for this roster: he has no point guard, which is essential in his pick-n-roll based offense. His main two scorers are primarily isolation based players.  A great coach, I am consistently reminded, adjusts to such a problem. Pat Riley certainly changed his coaching mantra in the 90’s when he donned the Orange and Blue. I am aware of this, and I am unsure of how Mike D’Antoni plans to adjust to the roster that has been given to him by Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald. I am not sure if he will adjust.

That is not the point. The point is to give him time. Mike D’Antoni has been coaching the Knicks since the 2008-2009 season, which sounds like a lot of time. In this case, though, it is not. One player remains from that roster on the current Knicks roster, and that player is Jared Jeffries. There are three holdovers from the 2009-2010 season: Jeffries, Bill Walker, and Toney Douglas. General Manager Donnie Walsh basically told D’Antoni that those two seasons didn’t matter when he gutted the roster for cap space to make a run at LeBron James and another superstar. Is it really fair to judge D’Antoni’s performance in these two years? What was he given, exactly, aside from a promise from Stephen A. Smith and Donnie Walsh that James wanted to own the world’s best city?

When James proved that the best laid plans of men oft go awry, the Knicks turned to Plan B, and again gutted a roster- this time mid-season- in order to acquire superstar Carmelo Anthony to accompany savior Amar’e Stoudemire. The Knicks, finally, were relevant.

However, they were still not stable. The team acquired Tyson Chandler, who was supposed to save the defense, and parted ways with Chauncey Billups. Passionate Knicks fans nearly cried with joy at the thought that they had someone to guard the rim for the first time in a decade and forgot the fact that Baron Davis- the team’s starting point guard- was hurt and that the Toney Douglas experiment was forced to begin.

D’Antoni had to deal with coaching to superstars to coexist offensively; teach them a new system; adjust to having no real point guard ready for opening day; get to know Mike Woodson, defender extraordinare; adapt to a new starting center; and expectations. Oh yeah, and he had to do it with two preseason games- TWO- and no training camp due to a lockout. What coach could be expected to lead a basically brand new team to the promised land, change a defensive culture, satisfy the insatiable New York Media, and contend in a place that hasn’t seen a contender since Patrick Ewing and his kneepads departed a mere TEN YEARS prior in TWO WEEKS?*

*Tyson Chandler agreed to terms with the Knicks on the 10th of December. This being the last of the major Knicks moves, I consider this to be the solidification of the Knicks roster, save B-Diddy. The Knicks opened their season on December 25th.*

Six and a half games into the season, we return to Washington. The Knicks would win the game, eventually, although they did not look convincing for one minute. But the point remains the same: they won. Still, even after the game, I saw Knicks fans clamoring for the head of the coach. The Knicks are 3-4. This is not storming out of the gate, but it is not exactly stumbling either. There are 59 games left in this season. Nevertheless, fans and critics of the team point to every failure as definitive and every success as temporary. To them, the season, and Mike D’Antoni’s tenure with the Knicks, is over, despite the fact that there are 59 games left in the season.

All I ask for is a little time for Mike D’Antoni, just for him to coach one season for the New York Knicks when he has a stable roster. If, at the end of this season, there was been an obvious lack of defensive intensity and improvement, I will be among those calling for his job. However, it is not fair to see struggles this early in a season and call for the head of a coach who has never had a semblance of a stable roster or had any time to prove himself when he does have one.* Give Mike D’Antoni one season – just one – to prove himself as a head coach in the NBA, to answer to his biggest test. Perhaps we will all be surprised to see what we find. Perhaps we won’t. Nonetheless, it’s better off to find out than to be left speculating after a premature firing.

*Even at this point, the Knicks do not have Baron Davis, who is assumed to take over the starting point guard role when he returns from injury. They also do not have Jared Jeffries, for what that’s worth. Despite having a stable roster, that stable roster is not at 100% ,to say the least.

Do the Knicks really need to find a new head coach right now, in the early stages of a season that was designed for success? Would this not suggest panic by the Knicks organization at the time when panic is least needed? The roster is stable but still incomplete. Give this season time.

Will Mike Woodson even do a better job than D’Antoni? He is the only real viable replacement for the man at this point. Will another season of speculation really aid a team that needs a voice and a direction? My answer is, definitively, no. Leave D’Antoni at the helm. After all, after this decade, what the Knicks really need is some stability.

All is Quiet on 161st and River Ave

As I was sitting around my house today, I noticed that I had DVR’d World Series tapes of the most recent 5 Yankees titles. Being me, I immediately began watching, choosing 1999. The Yankees, of course, captured baseball’s title by defeating the Atlanta Braves 4-0 in the Series. The one thing that stuck out to me, though, was the fact that Roger Clemens, perhaps the best pitcher in baseball’s long history, started Game 4. He took the hill in that game with a 3-o series lead. That means that the Yankees had one of hell of a deep pitching staff, in stark contrast to the modern Yankees, whose current pitching staff looks something like this:

1. CC Sabathia

2. ?

3. ?

4. ?

5. ?

Anyway, this got me thinking about the relatively quiet offseason that the Yankees have had and what it means going forward.

Last year, the Yankees made no major additions. Of course, they added Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano, the latter of whom threw exactly zero pitches in pinstripes. The former was very, very, good after returning from injury, but was extremely expensive. Cliff Lee channeled his inner Greg Maddux and spurned the Yankees. GM Brian Cashman- who himself was opposed to the Soriano signing- decided to pick pieces out of the trash and pieced together a makeshift rotation. 97 wins later, it is safe to call Cash’s plan a success.

This year, though, the rotation HAD to be upgraded, right? Bartolo Colon is gone, and even if he wasn’t, it would be hard to count on him for 164.1 more quality innings. Freddy Garcia and all of his sweaty glory return, but he is also a question mark. He walks only a few men (2.8/9) and surrendered only 1 HR/9 in 2011, despite having a mediocre fastball and being a junkball pitcher. He knows how to pitch, and will be a solid 4-5 pitcher.

The Yankees- to my disappointment- bid less than 20 million dollars for Yu Darvish, who appeared to be the best pitcher on the market. John Danks has been locked up by Chicago. The options are slimming, although Hiroki Kuroda still lurks. What does this mean?

Perhaps the Yankees are waiting for next offseason, where Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and Zach Greinke supposedly* lurk. Because the Yanks probably don’t expect either to attain free agent status, this seems unlikely to me.

*Does anyone actually think that Hamels and Cain will hit the market? As for Greinke, the Yanks are said to be lukewarm about him.

More likely the Yanks believe in the talent of their young pitchers, which is not a bad thing. Manny Banuelos- 20 years old-  is the 6th best prospect in the Double-A Eastern League, according to Baseball America. Dellin Betances-23- is ranked 9th. Prospects obviously do not always pan out, but the Yankees have shown a reluctance to part with these prospects in particular, much like they did with Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain in the offseason prior to 2008. Phil Hughes, too, is only 25, despite the fact that it feels like he’s been around forever.

Brian Cashman has positioned the Yankees into a situation where they can be cautious with free agents because of their farm system. The Yankees have Banuelos, Betances, Chamberlain, Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and Hughes as young pitching options. All of them are differently talented and have different ceilings, of course. If any of those guys can build upon their MiLB/MLB successes, though, then the Yankees will have a plethora of young arms upon whom to call this season. As it stands, the Yanks will have CC, Nova, Garcia, A.J. Burnett and Hughes in their rotation. While not elite, the Yanks showed that they can win 95+ games with this rotation simply because their offense is that good. There is no reason for a Yankee fan to panic.

While it might be optimistic to assume the Yanks can repeat their success with a sub-par pitching staff, there is no reason to suggest that the offense won’t pick up the slack for everyone not named CC Sabathia. With another playoff spot added this year, it is fair to assume that the Yankees will be representing the Big Apple in baseball’s postseason next season. However, if the young arms that Cashman and Damon Oppenheimer haves stockpiled develop as well as the Yankee Front Office projects them too, then the Yankees will be a scary team for years to come.

 

Jonathan Papelbon Signs with Phillies

By: Bobby Montano

Finally, a week after my first Hot Stove Report, we have our first big move:

Jonathan Papelbon has reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies, reports Jim Salisbury of Comcast Sports Network. The deal is reported by Salisbury to be 4 years, 50 million dollars. 

For Philly

This is, undeniably, a hefty price-tag to pay for a reliever. Papelbon is one of the game’s most elite relievers, so if any reliever deserves this pay day, it is him. Since becoming Boston’s main closer, Papelbon has posted a 2.30 ERA. More importantly, though, he has struck out nearly 10 per 9 innings and walked only 2. He has a WHIP under 1.00.

My only real concern with Papelbon is his walks. Through his career, he has been solid. Walking only 2.2 per 9 is low, clearly. This year he only walked only 1.4 men per 9. However, in the two years before 2011, Papelbon walked over 3 men per 9. While not a huge number, nobody likes when their closer comes in and doesn’t throw strikes.

To his credit, he rebounded after many thought his career to be finished. Closers not named Mariano Rivera have a tremendously short period of effectiveness. Because of this, I am always wary of dedicating years and money to closers. The deal isn’t terribly lavish and the Phillies have money to spend.

I like the move for Philly. They get a certifiable upgrade over Madson. If the 4/44 deal was actually offered and recinded, they get an upgrade releatively cheaply. Whether or not I think teams overpay for relievers, all big market teams do it. I do not, in any way, claim to have more baseball knowledge than Ruben Amaro. With this in mind, if Papelbon pitches to form for the next 4 years, he will have been worth the deal.

For Boston

Papelbon leaving Boston isn’t necessarily surprising, but it certainly throws a wrinkle into their team’s plans. Where do they go from here?

They can sign a Jonathan Broxton type, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Perhaps they can sign Madson. Or, most likely, they will use Daniel Bard as their closer, a move that I would support, at least in the short term. If Bard can hold the fort, perhaps they can develop another closer, trade for one at the deadline, or simply wait. Most likely, it won’t make that much of a difference.

I am of the opinion that closers are generally easily replaced. Most high leverage situations occur in another inning than the 9th. There can be more pressure on a reliever who enters a game in the 7th inning with the bases loaded and one out with a one run lead than a closer who enters the game with the bases empty and a three run lead.

This is not to say that it is easy to close games; quite the opposite, really. The last three outs are always among the hardest. But they are not the hardest outs time in a time out. Therefore, Bard can replace Papelbon on Yawkey Way and the Sox won’t lose any more games than they would if Papelbon was closing.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Bard can’t “handle” it. If I’m Ben Cherington, though, I’d be willing to take that bet. And why not: it’s a cheap one.

On Japanese Pitchers and Yu Darvish

By: Bobby Montano

Bleacher Nation, Brett Taylor

After the 1994 season, Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo entered a contractual feud with his team. To make a long story short, he “retired” and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ever since, there has been a trend of Japanese pitchers entering the Major Leagues.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is the highest profile signee, landing with the Boston Red Sox after the 2006 season. Dice-K has been viewed as a failure by many members of the baseball-minded community and has subsequently – and understandably – scared many teams and fans away from Japanese stars.

This brings us to Yu Darvish, a 23 year old pitcher who has been the ace for the Japanese league’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for the past five years.  Darvish is widely expected to be posted and make the journey to the Western Hemisphere for the 2012 season. He is fortunate: the free agent class he enters is weak, and, as usual, there are plenty of teams in need of starting pitching. Is Yu the answer for a team like the Yankees or Rangers (both of whom I expect to at least pursue him); or is he destined to bust?

Before we reach a verdict on Darvish, let’s first look back at three of the most recognizable faces that came before him.

The Past

Hideo Nomo:

Hideo Nomo from 1995-1997:  43-29, 3.34 ERA, 627 IP, 10.1 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and 1.199 WHIP, 11.0 bWAR

Over the first three seasons of Nomo’s big league career (age 26,27,28), he was a successful pitcher. He missed an awful lot of bats and kept the ball in the yard, pitching to a 0.9 HR/9 ratio. His only issue was his command, as he put more runners on base than an elite pitcher would. That said, if one was a GM that just signed a new pitcher for a three-year contract and got this kind of production out of him, chances are that one would be very satisfied with the deal. A pitcher like this can help a team win.

Hideo Nomo from 1998-2001: 39-42, 4.66 ERA, 721.2 IP, 9.1 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, and 1.416 WHIP, 8.1 bWAR

Nomo’s production noticeably fell off, as his bWAR was 2.9 wins lower from 1998-2001 than it was in one less year from 1995-1997. He began walking more people and striking out fewer, although his K/9 rate was still high. He stayed on the hill for more than 170 IP in three of the four years. Still, Nomo was productive over this span, performing above the league average. A pitcher with these numbers would be a solid mid-to-back of rotation man on a competitive team. The rest of his career showed a slight decline, though there were a few solid years – notably 2002-2003.

Daisuke Matsuzaka:

Daisuke from 2007-2008: 33-15, 3.72 ERA, 372.1 IP, 8.6 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.324 WHIP, and 8.3 bWAR.

Over the first two years of Daisuke’s career, he was a very solid pitcher. He struggled in his first year, but this should have been expected from a rookie, especially considering the language barrier and culture shock a young Japanese man would face upon arriving in the States. In his second year, Daisuke lived up to the hype: 18-3, 2.90 ERA. However, the peripherals told a different story: he was walking men at a staggering 5.0 BB/9 rate, which led to a 4.64 FIP. Nevertheless, Daisuke undeniably helped the Boston Red Sox come within a game of their second consecutive American League Pennant.

Daisuke 2009-2011: 16-15, 5.03 ERA, 250.1 IP, 7.7 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 1.506 WHIP and 1.3 bWAR

Although these numbers certainly are not pretty, I believe it was essentially Daisuke’s inablity to stay on the mound that has destroyed his legacy. The Red Sox should have seen this coming; while he was almost a baseball legend for the number of pitches he could throw, he had only pitched over 200 innings twice in his 8-year Japanese career. Daisuke began walking too many people while on the hill, which ultimately led to his demise. In the Major Leagues, no one can afford to put extra men on base. Over a long enough period, any pitcher will get burned with the free passes. Hitters are just too good.

Hiroki Kuroda:

Kuroda 2008-2009: 18-18, 3.74 ERA, 300.2 IP, 6.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.187 WHIP, and 2.4 bWAR

Though Kuroda’s record doesn’t reflect this (does it ever?), he was actually a very good pitcher in these two years when he wasn’t hurt. He only managed 21 games in 2009, which would be a worry. His ERA was pretty good, but his peripherals were even better; he hardly walked anyone and struck out a fair amount of batters. He surrendered roughly 8 H/9 innings over that span, which identifies him as a contact pitcher. A pitcher with these numbers is more than solid by Major League standards.

Kuroda 2010-2011: 23-29, 3.23 ERA, 398.1 IP, 7.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.187 WHIP, 6.2 bWAR

This is the mark of a great Major League pitcher. Kuroda was on the hill for roughly 200 IP for both years. One must ignore his W-L record, as those never truly indicate a pitcher’s value to a team. Kuroda maintained a very low walk rate, increased his strikeout rate, and generally kept people off base. While flying under most people’s radars, Kuroda has been one of the best pitchers in the NL over the past two years. A team that is looking to contend would find him to be a very solid 2-3 pitcher.

What the Past Means

Without question, Japanese pitchers who have come to the Major Leagues have had success. Even Daisuke, who is often viewed as a failure, had a very successful season that lived up to expectations. All three of the above have helped Major League teams and have had several years of successful baseball. Kuroda is probably one of the most unknown pitchers in the game. Nomo had a great few seasons before regressing, but in his prime was a benefit to his team. Daisuke has been hurt for most of his time here, making him harder to analyze – although he does have a penchant for putting men on base.

Darvish Profile

Yu Darvish is 24, making him younger than any of the three already discussed. In his last game on October 29th, he threw six pitches: fastball, slider, changeup, cut fastball, shuuto, and forkball; in his previous start, he added in a single curveball. He relies heavily on a fastball/slider combo, throwing 40 fastballs and 29 sliders in 101 total pitches, tagged toughly at 69% of the time. His average fastball velocity was 94.59 mph, with the lowest being 92.5 and the highest being 96.875. That kind of fastball is dominating. The slider averaged 82.97 mph, the changeup 85.73, the cutter 91.25, the forkball 89.38, and the shuuto 94.38.

Simply speaking, Darvish is a power pitcher who has control (2.1 BB/9) and strikes out a lot of men (9.2 K/9).  He has pitched to a sub-2 ERA all 5 seasons in the Japanese league, which Daisuke never did.

Verdict

I would go after Yu Darvish, but only with realistic expectations. The NPB certainly isn’t equal to the Major Leagues in talent, so clearly Darvish’s numbers will not translate directly to the United States. He should be treated as a highly successful minor league prospect, roughly equivalent to an AAA prospect. Even the most promising of AAA prospects don’t translate into big league aces, as Phil Hughes should exemplify. All high-level prospects are risks, and Darvish would be an expensive risk to take.

A 51 million-dollar posting fee seems to be out of the question, as the Red Sox showed that a Japanese pitcher isn’t a sure thing when they bid that much money on Daisuke. I can’t make an educated estimation of a posting fee because teams rightly don’t publicize their ranges. The posting fee doesn’t go toward the luxury tax and is uncapped, so the big market teams can flex their financial muscles if need be. I would guess a $35 million posting fee with about a 6 year, $70 million dollar contract, totaling a $105 million investment. But that’s merely a guess.

It’s not my money to spend, so I am all for it. I think Darvish has the potential and the ability to translate into a very good Major League pitcher for a long time. It all comes down to expectations: if you expect a reincarnated Old Hoss Radbourn or Cy Young, you’re out of luck and will likely be labeling Darvish a bust in a few years. But to expect a reasonably successful pitcher? That’s not out of the question, and your view is much more likely to be true.

All told, Darvish is a definite risk, but a risk worth taking. Three pitchers before him have proven that successful NPB league pitchers can and have had success overseas. Where will Darvish end up? My guess is as good as yours, but I’m inclined to say either the Rangers, Yankees, or Blue Jays.

To do more research about Darvish’s pitches and velocity, click here. All stats and comparisions are taken, as usual, from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. Rumors come from MLB Trade Rumors. For more on this topic, view David P.’s guest post at http://www.theyankeeanalysts.com here.

Hot Stove Report: Week One

By: Bobby Montano

Now that baseball season is over, Bobby Montano will be looking at the MLB Hot Stove once a week and covering the main stories.

Yankees agree to terms with CC Sabathia

This is, by far, the biggest news of the offseason to date. By this point we all know about the opt-out clause that Sabathia possessed; he had one of the greatest runs a starting pitcher has ever had for the Brew Crew in the second half of 2008. The 6-7, 290 pound workhorse became a free agent, though it was reported repeatedly that he had no intention of signing anywhere other than the West Coast. The Yankees thus made an offer that included an opt-out clause after the third year of Sabathia’s deal, assuring him that if he didn’t like life in the Big Apple, he could leave. The offer was 6 years and 140 million, then the largest ever made for a free agent pitcher. He accepted.

It was widely believed that Sabathia would use that opt-out clause this year, considering the fact that he was the 5th best pitcher in baseball over the span of those three years. His 16.2 bWAR* ranks behind only Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay.This certainly isn’t bad company. It was assumed that Sabathia would remind the Yankees of his record and of how much they needed him in an attempt to get more money. The Steinbrenners have money and are more than willing to spend it, so it would be bad business for him not to leave.

*bWAR is the www.baseball-reference.com version of a sabermetric statistic called WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which values a pitcher’s statistics versus a player who would be perfectly league-average and calculates how many more wins a team gains over a set period of time with this player. For more on Baseball-Reference’s formula, read here. Fangraphs has their own version, which will be referred to as fWAR if cited.

The Yankees and Sabathia essentially avoided the PR mess that could have followed an opt-out, agreeing to a $25 million dollar 2016 and a $25 million vesting option for 2017. Unless CC has a shoulder injury, he will remain a Yankee through 2017 and will be $50 million richer in doing so.

This deal obviously needed to happen. The Yankees won here, in my opinion, because they were able to lock up their ace and solidify a rotation in desperate need of that solidification. They have work to do, certainly, but their primary concern has been removed by November.

Indians Acquire Derek Lowe

The Indians made a splash at the deadline, trading for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians were major contenders for the first time in four seasons and looked to win a very attainable AL Central; however, they struggled down the stretch – as did Jimenez, who went 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA as an Indian. They missed the playoffs and were left with plenty of holes to fill.

They made their first attempt at filling those holes yesterday by trading for Derek Lowe of the Braves. According to the new agreement, the Braves will pay $10 million of the $15 owed to Lowe and will get 23-year-old Chris Jones from the Tribe.

I like the move for both teams, as the Indians are paying very little for a man who could catch lightning in a bottle and have a good run in a light hitting division. The Braves still have one of the youngest and most promising rotations in all of baseball,  and were able to free up $5 million in payroll.

Grady Sizemore Becomes a Free Agent

The Indians didn’t pick up Sizemore’s option, effectively ending his tenure with the team. The Red Sox are rumored to have interest in the fragile right fielder. Sizemore has only appeared in 210 games since the start of the 2009 season, and he has hardly been productive in those 210 games.

I suppose the Red Sox really don’t like J.D. Drew, which is something that I’ve never quite been able to understand. His time in Boston has been productive and he has generally stayed on the field, as well.

If I were Boston, I would stay away from Sizemore. He seems to be a reclamation project, despite his age, and would be a good gamble for a struggling team. Boston doesn’t fit that description, despite their collapse. Sizemore really hasn’t been good since 2006, and there is no reason for Boston to pursue him.

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters Eliminated

The Japanese team that is currently the home of 23-year-old phenom Yu Darvish was eliminated, meaning that the pitcher can now be posted. Now that Dice-K has most likely scared away huge posting fees, the going rate for Darvish should most likely be in the $35 million range, by my estimation. The contract itself will be lower AAV than that of an American free agent, since the Japanese pitcher should be considered a highly-touted AAA prospect. Expect more on Darvish to come.