Fantasy Baseball Impact: Yu Darvish Traded To Padres
Yu Darvish wasn’t working in an ace role during his first year and a half with the Cubs. He certainly wasn’t living up to the six-year, $126 million contract that he signed after 2017. He had made just eight disappointing starts in 2018 and was in the midst of another lackluster campaign to begin 2019.
Walks were a major issue. On May 9th, 2019, Darvish allowed six free passes in just four innings. This gave him a total of 33 walks in 36 2/3 innings (eight starts). He was borderline droppable in standard redraft fantasy leagues by this point. Since then, over his following 218 innings (35 starts), Darvish has allowed just 37 walks. His 4.7% walk rate in 2020 ranked within the 92nd percentile of Major League Baseball. This transformation has elevated Darvish from near waiver-wire fodder into a 2021 second-round pick. How did this happen?
Darvish is known for having a huge repertoire when it comes to his pitch mix. This can help make him look dominant when he has command of all those pitches, but it can also cause him to struggle with control if he loses his feel for any of them. Let’s take a look at his arsenal’s recent history:
There are a few obvious changes here. Darvish has wildly increased his cutter usage at the expense of his four-seam fastball and slider over the last three seasons. In fact, it was the slider, in particular, that was giving Darvish so many issues through his first eight starts of 2019. He couldn’t locate it, which led to him gradually relying more on his cutter and the newly rediscovered splitter. Once he got this new pitch mix down, the results have spoken for themselves:
Yu Darvish since July 12th, 2019:
157 2/3 IP
21 BBs (!!)
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) December 29, 2020
Now Darvish is on the Padres. On Monday night, we received confirmation the Cubs were sending him and catcher Victor Caratini to San Diego in exchange for RHP Zach Davies, SS Reginald Preciado, OF Owen Caissie, OF Ismael Mena, and SS Yeison Santana. If most of these names sound unfamiliar, that’s okay. While the Padres’ recent acquisition of Blake Snell was a financially driven move by the Rays, Tampa Bay still executed what more or less amounted to a “baseball trade.” This transaction by the Cubs appears more like a salary dump.
Regardless, should fantasy managers view Darvish any differently today than they previously did? San Diego is obviously a great place to pitch, and Darvish should have a better chance at wins playing for one of the best teams in baseball. There’s always some risk with a player changing environments, especially for a 34-year-old, but these could be mitigated by the fact that his personal catcher is coming along with him. He certainly took advantage of lesser competition against the Central divisions in 2020, but his mid-2019 breakout demonstrates that this wasn’t solely opponent-driven.
I spent the majority of this blog writing more about Darvish’s past two seasons as opposed to the impact of his move to San Diego because it’s more relevant. There were reasons for his newfound success, and he hasn’t just been on a hot streak. When a player starts performing differently, fantasy managers should wonder if there’s a reason or if it’s just a fluke. If you viewed Darvish as your SP4 before this trade, he should still be your SP4. If he was your SP8, he should still be your SP8. We will once again want to take starters early in 2021, and Darvish’s return to the west coast keeps him locked into the upper echelon of early-round aces to choose from.
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