How Yu Darvish's move to Chicago affects his fantasy value

ByTristan H. Cockroft ESPN logo
Saturday, February 10, 2018

Someone signed!!!

A significant someone, too, and with a team that is sure to beef up his fantasy baseball stats, as Yu Darvish reportedly fetched a $126 million guarantee over the next six seasons from the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.

Darvish immediately moves to the head of the Cubs' rotation, and seeing as they're a contending National League team just two years removed from a World Series championship, he's sure to get a noticeable perceived bump in value, perhaps to the point where some will draft him a top-10 starting pitcher. In reality, not a whole lot changed as a result of the signing -- for him, at least.

We've already seen what Darvish could do in the National League, with pitchers hitting instead of designated hitters and a greater volume of pitchers' parks -- nine of the 15 NL parks favored pitchers over hitters using five-year (2013-17) data in terms of run-scoring environments as well as inflated strikeout potential. In nine regular-season starts following his July trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he posted a 3.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 30.2 percent strikeout rate, the latter pacing to 203 whiffs over a 30-start campaign.

Wrigley Field was one of those nine strikeout-inflating environments, though it played mostly neutral as a run-scoring park during that time span, with some of the greatest year-over-year inconsistency in the latter department of any venue in the game. Darvish's primary gains by landing with the Cubs is premium run support and a boost in terms of strikeouts, considering he spent much of his U.S. career pitching at Texas' Globe Life Park, which severely deflates them. A pitcher with a 3.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and a 28.8 percent K rate since his March 2015 Tommy John surgery, Darvish shouldn't have much trouble repeating the ratios, perhaps shaving a quarter-run off his ERA and finishing with a K rate right around 30 percent, meaning a good 200 strikeouts if he stays healthy again.

That Darvish will be backed by one of the top defenses in the league also supports his case for an ERA drop into the 3.25-3.50 range. The 2017 Cubs, after all, had the fifth-most defensive runs saved (30) and fourth-best team ultimate zone rating (22.8).

That's not quite a top-10 fantasy starting pitcher, but since he signed in about the most favorable situation one could at this stage restores him to where he began the offseason, as my No. 13 starter between Justin Verlander and Chris Archer.

Darvish's arrival does diminish potential opportunities for other Cubs who could matter on the lower fantasy value tiers: Mike Montgomery is now a virtual lock for the bullpen and might remain in that role all season, making him NL-only end-game material, and Eddie Butler, who is out of options, will probably have to settle for the same, scratching him from draft lists even in that format. In addition, prospect Adbert Alzolay is now much less likely to breeze his way from Double-A to the majors at any point in the season, as the Cubs can be more patient with him in the minors.

Darvish's gain is also the other big-name free-agent starters' loss, as the Cubs were also linked to Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb, both of whom are now significantly less likely -- and I'd argue long shots at best -- to also sign with them. Both pitchers, as well as fellow free agent Lance Lynn, have skill sets that are more dependent upon their circumstances than an average pitcher's would, so scratching a neutral-to-slightly-pitching-friendly landing spot off their lists is a negative (especially this late in the game).

The Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays have all been connected to at least one of the three in recent weeks, and all of them play in much less pitching-friendly ballparks. With the increasing likelihood that Arrieta, Cobb and Lynn will either end up in one of those cites and/or have difficulty finding a team at all before March, all of them are in danger of slipping gradually down the rankings as the days pass.