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Milwaukee Brewers Free Agent Targets: Yu Darvish

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Perhaps a remote target, but...

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The Milwaukee Brewers have let it be known that they want to add starting pitching, and that they have offers out. One of those offers has been accepted, but if Yovani Gallardo is a part of the rotation next season my expectations will be diminished. But you never know, Derek Johnson might just be a magic man.

Yu Darvish is either 1A or 1B on the list of available free agent starting pitchers, along with Jake Arrieta. MLB Trade Rumors not only rates Darvish as the top available free agent pitcher, but as the top player available on the open market, period. Because Darvish was dealt to the Dodgers at the trade deadline last year, he was ineligible for a Qualifying Offer and as such will not cost his new team a draft choice. That’s the good news.

The disconcerting news is that MLB Trade Rumors projects him to get a six-year, $160 million dollar deal. That’s a big investment for a pitcher that is two seasons removed from Tommy John surgery and will be 37 by the time that hypothetical contract ends.

Darvish’s effectiveness appears to have declined slightly in each of his two seasons after returning from his missed 2015 campaign. His rookie season (2012) saw him post an xFIP of 3.52 and an fWAR of 4.6. In 2013 and 2014 he turned in xFIPs of 2.84 and 2.96, with an fWAR of 4.5 in ‘13 and 3.7 in ‘14 - when he fell from 32 starts (‘13) to 22 starts (‘14). Then came the lost ‘15 season.

2016 had Yu back for 17 starts, an xFIP of 3.09, and a fWAR of 2.7. He pitched a full workload last season, making 31 starts and producing an fWAR of 3.5. But his xFIP climbed to 3.83. This was mostly due to a higher home run rate (1.3 per nine innings, up from 0.7, 1.2, and 0.8 in his first three full seasons), but that higher homer rate for 2017 is a constant theme for us when analyzing pitchers for last season. Darvish’s HR/FB ratio jumped from those first three seasons (9.1%, 14.4%, and 8.6%) to 15.1% last year.

Darvish’s strikeouts per nine stayed very good last season - 11.84 against a career number of 11.04; walks were at 2.80, below his career mark of 3.32. His average fastball velocity of 94.2 MPH last season was actually the hardest he’s thrown in his career, and his slider continues to grade out as one of the league’s best. Darvish battled some wildness during his first three seasons in the majors, but in his two seasons since returning from surgery he’s managed to post walk rates of 7.5% and 7.6% after averaging a 9.6% free pass rate from 2012-14.

Darvish had an effective NLDS and NLCS against the D’Backs and Cubs, winning both of his starts while allowing eight hits in 11.1 innings, walking just one while fanning 14. He allowed two earned runs. He imploded in the World Series, giving up nine hits and nine runs (eight earned) in 3.1 innings. He walked two and didn’t strike out a batter.

What to make of this? I am dismissing the World Series as two bad starts, and looking at his body of work. I’d say he is a safer sign than Arrieta, over the next three years, but Yu will get at least one more season than Jake, and probably cost from $4 to $10 million more per season.

I have seen nothing that connects the Brewers to Darvish other than the fact that the Brewers need starting pitching and Darvish is available. My Spidey Sense tells me that he won’t be coming to Milwaukee next year. Or for the following five.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference