Arlington, Texas – The Texas Rangers announced today that the club has agreed to terms with free agent right-handed pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year contract through the 2017 season. Financial terms were not disclosed, per club policy.
Darvish, 25, will be seeking to make his major league debut in 2012 after a seven-year career with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). A two-time Pacific League Most Valuable Player (2007 and 2009), he is one of 10 pitchers in the history of Japanese professional baseball to win multiple MVP awards in a career. Darvish won the Eiji Sawamura Award in 2007, which honors the top starting pitcher in NPB each year, and also won a Pacific League Golden Glove Award in 2007 and 2008. He is a 5-time NPB All-Star (2007-11) and was twice named to the Pacific League’s Best Nine (2007 and 2009).
On December 8, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters officially granted permission for Darvish to participate in the posting process as outlined in the agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball. On December 19, Hokkaido informed Major League Baseball that it had accepted the highest bid, submitted by the Rangers, for the negotiating rights to Darvish. As a result, the Rangers had a 30-day period in which to negotiate an agreement with the pitcher.
Over his seven-year career in Japan, Darvish has gone 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA (281 ER/1268.1 IP) in 167 games/164 starts, posting a 0.98 WHIP figure, 55 complete games, 18 shutouts, and 1250 strikeouts. Opponents in Japan have batted just .204 against Darvish in his career. Since joining the Fighters at the age of 19 in 2005, he leads all NPB pitchers in ERA, wins, innings, opponents average, complete games, and shutouts. He also has the lowest average of home runs allowed per 9 innings (0.41) among qualifiers (minimum 667.0 innings) in that span, in addition to the lowest on-base (.266) and slugging (.281) figures of any pitcher. His 1.99 career ERA is nearly a run lower than the next-closest active pitcher with at least 1200.0 innings in Japan (Toshiya Sugiuchi, 2.92).
The 6-foot-5, 216-pound Darvish won Pacific League ERA titles in 2009 and 2010, and led that circuit in strikeouts three times (2007-10-11). He was born August 16, 1986, and bats and throws right-handed.
Darvish has accumulated minimums of 200.0 innings, 200 strikeouts, and 10 complete games in four different seasons (2007-08-10-11). He has posted qualifying ERA figures under 2.00 for 5 straight seasons, the first pitcher ever in Nippon Professional Baseball (established in 1950) to accomplish that feat. The previous longest streak of that kind in Japan had been 4 consecutive years, done by a pair of pitchers in the 1950’s. Only 3 pitchers in the modern era of Major League Baseball have compiled 5 straight seasons of sub-2.00 ERA’s, and each of those streaks occurred prior to World War I. Since at least 2004, Darvish owns 5 of the 14 lowest single-season ERA figures in Japan. He posted quality starts in 27 of his 28 outings in 2011, all of those consecutive to end the year, and has registered quality efforts in 109 of 126 starts (86.5%) over the last 5 seasons.
He was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA (37 ER/232.0 IP) for Hokkaido in 2011. The 1.44 ERA was the lowest of his career, as he also posted career highs in wins (18), strikeouts (276), innings (232.0), starts (28), and shutouts (6). The 276 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher in NPB since former major leaguer Hideo Nomo had 276 in 1993. After losing his first start of the year in 2011, he won his next 8 starts, including a stretch of 46.0 consecutive scoreless innings from May 10-June 15.
Following the season-opening loss, he went 13-1 with a 0.99 ERA over his next 14 starts from April 19-June 20. Darvish had 4 shutouts in a span of 5 starts from May 10-June 8, including a pair of 1-0 wins to end that stretch. He posted a trio of 15-strikeout games in 2011, all matching his career high, this after never having more than 14 K’s in any outing in his career. Darvish tossed at least 7.0 innings in every outing last season, with his lone outing of more than 3 runs coming in his first start.
Over the last 5 seasons, Darvish has gone 76-28 with a 1.72 ERA (196 ER/1024.1 IP) and 1083 strikeouts against 221 walks while serving as the Fighters’ Opening Day starter in each of those campaigns. The opposition has batted .192 against him in that span. He has allowed 10 home runs over 434.0 innings the past 2 seasons for an average of 0.21 HR per 9 innings, easily the lowest figure of any pitcher in that period.
By joining the Rangers, Darvish is in the same organization as his former Hokkaido teammate Yoshinori Tateyama. The pair pitched in the same game for the Fighters on 23 occasions from 2005-10, including Tateyama’s final Japanese appearance on September 28, 2010 against Orix at the Kyocera Dome.
Darvish pitched for Gold Medal-winning Japan teams in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2007 Asian Baseball Championship, and also appeared for his country in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA (3 ER/13.0 IP) in 5 games/2 starts for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, earning the win and recording the last out to secure the championship against Korea. He had also closed out Japan’s win in the semifinals against the United States, with each of those final 2 contests taking place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Darvish has pitched in the Japanese postseason in 5 of the last 6 years, including 3 seasons in the Japan Series, which is that country’s equivalent to the World Series. He earned the win in the finale of the Fighters’ 2006 Japan Series championship, which was the franchise’s first title since 1961. With his victory in that series’ Game 5, he became just the fifth pitcher in NPB history to win a Japan Series game prior to turning 21 years old.
In 11 career postseason games/starts in Japan, he has gone 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA (13 ER/85.0 IP), totaling 5 complete games with 22 walks against 91 strikeouts. He allowed just one home run in 85.0 career postseason innings.
Darvish attended Tohoku High School in northern Sendai, a school which also produced major league pitchers Kazuhiro Sasaki and Takashi Saito. He had a 1.10 ERA in his high school career, and pitched a no-hitter against Kumamoto Technical High School in the first round of the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament on March 26, 2004. He was drafted by the Fighters in the first round on November 17, 2004 and signed on December 17.
Darvish is expected to be introduced in a press conference at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington later in the week.