I’m in Phoenix this weekend, doing a interview with NHK television, primarily talking about the prospects for Japanese players in the US…which this year means lots of Yu Darvish. If you’ve seen the projections I’ve made, then you already know I’m very bullish on him. Simply put, he has the best statistics of any pitcher we’ve seen leave Japan – better than Matsuzaka’s – and, yes, I know about and have accounted for the extreme drop in Japanese offense last year. The only negative thing I have to say concerns his workload, where he exceeded 31 batters per start last year. That would normally be a very large concern, but let me make two points. One, that extreme offensive decline meant that a higher than usual number of these batters should have come with the bases empty – so pitching from the windup, and less likely arm strain. Two, every scouting report glows over his smooth, repeatable mechanics, which we also think leads to a higher pitch capacity.
I’ve been doing these interviews with NHK for about eight years now, we think since Hideki Matsui first signed with the Yankees. They are always a lot of fun to do; they feed me really open-ended questions (So, Norichika Aoki?) and just let me go, and I’ll rattle off whatever I can think of, with digressions into whatever sabermetric points I think have relevance to the case or explanations of my process or…really whatever. We did the interview outside, at the Dodgers’ training camp offices, with Clayton Kershaw throwing warmup pitches on a mound right behind me, and various players staring out windows right at us while running on the treadmill inside. Pleasant as I make it sound, the conditions were actually kind of nasty – there was a 25-30 mph breeze blowing in with the occasional grain of sand or dust, and temps only in the low 50s. We had to seek a more sheltered location because the sound man couldn’t hear anything but wind through our mics.
And in the middle of the interview, I made a point about the ongoing discussion about expanding to a second wild card team this year – a decision that was officially announced while I was being interviewed. It took a little while to sort through the logic changes that come with having two wild cards, but the post-season odds calculator is now running that way. The biggest thing to like about it, for me, is re-introducing a real race for something like the expected Yankee-Red Sox collision – it really matters who wins the division and who gets the wild card, beyond just a one-game home advantage.