Friday, October 12, 2007

The Importance of Being Darvish - Going Stathead on the NPB

I posted this originally to the forums as a reply to "Who's more likely to get the Sawamura award, Yu Darvish or Yoshihisa Naruse?" But, I want to have this around to work with as an article later, so I'm reposting it here.

For those who don't follow the NPB, Darvish is the best Iranian-Japanese pitcher in the history of baseball, and the ace pitcher for the Nippon Ham Fighters. The tall lanky right-hander just turned 22 two months ago, and his line for this year is 15-5 with a 1.82 ERA, 210 strikeouts and 49 walks in 207.2 IP.

Cherub-cheeked Yoshihisa Naruse is The Boy Who Can't Lose for this year's Chiba Lotte Marines. He's a young lefty -- his 23rd birthday is tomorrow -- and his line for this year is 16-1 with a 1.82 ERA, 138 strikeouts and 27 walks in 173.1 IP.

Yes, Darvish and Naruse both have amazing real ERAs, and are tied for the lowest ERA in Japan this year. But for those who also like being sabermetric statheads, there's a statistic called "fielding independent ERA", which you calculate based on things which the pitcher can control -- walks, strikeouts, home runs. I ran the numbers for all pitchers in Japan who logged over 100 innings, and Darvish comes out ahead in that with a 2.64 FIP.

Top 5 FIP (using ((13*HR + 3*(BB+HBP) - 2*K) / IP) + 3.2)

1 NHF Darvish 2.64
2 CLM H Kobayashi 2.71
3 OB Kishida 2.76
4 FSH Sugiuchi 2.87
5 CLM Naruse 2.89

In addition to running the FIP numbers, I also examined a statistic called WHIP: Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched. This is basically an indicator of how many baserunners a pitcher is allowing in general. It's important because, after all, if a pitcher doesn't allow a lot of guys on base, then there aren't a lot of guys to score runs. Right? Generally, if a guy posts around a 1.1 or lower, that's great, meaning they allow slightly over one runner per inning. Darvish had a 0.83 WHIP, which is just amazing.

Top 7 WHIP: (everyone under 1.1)

1 NHF Darvish 0.83
2 NHF M Takeda 0.87
3 CLM Naruse 0.92
4 TYS Greisinger 1.03
5 NHF Glynn 1.05
6 CLM S Watanabe 1.06
7 FSH Sugiuchi 1.08

Another way to look at pitchers' strikeouts is in the number of strikeouts per 9 innings they have, not just the total. If a starter is managing to strike out over 1 guy per inning, that's really really good. Usually relievers have higher K/9 ratios because they come out and throw harder for a shorter period of time, but starters have to sustain their ability for a longer outing. Darvish is one of only three pitchers in Japan who logged over 100 innings and managed to strike out over one batter per inning:

Top 5 K/9:

1 RGE Tanaka 9.48
2 CD Nakata 9.37
3 NHF Darvish 9.12
4 TYS K Ishii 8.83
5 FSH Arakaki 8.67

The only place where Darvish is weak is specifically in walks - his BB/9 and K/BB ratios are a little weaker than Naruse's. Darvish walked 2.13 guys per 9 innings, where Naruse walked 1.40 guys per 9 innings, so Darvish's ratio of strikeouts to walks is only 4.29, where Naruse's is 5.11, just from the lower ratio of walks.

But on the other hand, only three pitchers in Japan logged more than 200 innings: Wakui at 213, Greisinger at 209, and Darvish at 207 2/3. Darvish also has a Japan-leading 12 complete games to Naruse's 6, though Naruse has 4 shutouts to Darvish's 3.

What does this all mean? It basically means that it's pretty difficult to tell who's going to get it. I think there's a good argument for Darvish even on the "normal" stats -- IP, K, ERA, W -- but it's really not clear-cut. The only thing for sure is, if either of the Giants lefty aces get it, then something bizarre has transpired.

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