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    The So What? How much can Yu Darvish help the Cubs? (2/9/18)

    By Ryan Fowler

    How does one reward a 31-year-old starting pitcher after he allowed 10 earned runs in 14 2/3 playoff innings last fall? According to a recent Ken Rosenthal report, Yu Darvish is considering several nine-figure contract offers. So, these suitors are reportedly willing to shell out and reward Darvish with $100,000,000+ to help their World Series chances despite his career 5.81 playoff ERA.

    Whether Darvish tipped his pitches or not, he definitely regressed in 2017 - two years removed from Tommy John surgery. His 10.08 K/9 rate was down nearly two strikeouts-per-9-innings when compared against his 17-start campaign of 2016 and while his 3.86 ERA (3.65 xFIP) was not a huge cause for concern, his career-high 15.1% HR/FB rate was and still is worrisome. Darvish allowed the 15th-most (tie) home runs among starting pitchers last season (27). He allowed 26 dingers during his sophomore MLB season, but mitigated damage with a 11.89 K/9 rate and 83.9% LOB rate to post a 2.83 ERA (2.84 xFIP) by season's end.

    The So What?

    Depending on which way the wind blows the rumor mill, more than a half-dozen teams are reportedly in the running to win the Darvish free agent sweepstakes. While most of the interested parties are large market clubs with big wallets and in a position to cover $100-million-plus, two teams from medium markets remain in the hunt for Darvish's services this season. What do simulations of seasons with and without Yu Darvish look like?

    At 34-years-old, Ervin Santana was a big reason why the 2017 Minnesota Twins won 85 games and advanced to the win-or-go-home wild card matchup against the Yankees. Santana finished 16-8 – the most wins for him in a season since 2010 – with a 7.11 K/9 and 3.28 ERA (4.77 xFIP). Now 35 years old, he will miss the next 10-12 weeks due to finger surgery on his pitching hand. The Twins were in need of rotation help before the injury. So, Darvish would be a much-needed upgrade to a young rotation where four of the five projected starters are under 25 ½ years old.

    After 50,000 season simulations, Prediction Machine's MLB engine projects a +4.5 win increase with (84.0 wins) versus without (79.5) Darvish in the Twins rotation. Where he pays off in the simulation run is in October. Without Darvish, Aaron Slegers is projected to be the Twins primary No. 5 starter. In that scenario, Minnesota only has a 10% shot of earning a playoff berth. With Yu as the No. 1, the Twins' playoff chances soars to 36%! Plus, their World Series titles odds double from 0.4 to 0.8%.

    The Milwaukee Brewers missed a National League wild card bid by one game last fall. In an effort to close the gap in the NL Central and qualify for the 2018 playoffs, the Brewers recently made two aggressive moves when they traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain to upgrade an outfield already featuring Ryan Braun.

    Their ace, Jimmy Nelson (12-6, 3.49 ERA & 10.21 K/9), is not expected to return to the rotation until June as he continues his shoulder surgery rehab. Chase Anderson, 30, and Zach Davies, 25, won 29 games combined last season. However, Davies struggled with control a little as evidenced by a 1.35 WHIP. The current back-end of the rotation would include Jhoulys Chacin, Yovani Gallardo and Junior Guerra. In other words, they could use Darvish, like yesterday.

    With Yu, Milwaukee's projected win total improves by 3.5 (85.8 to 82.3), while the Brewers' playoff odds improve by 29% from 27% to 58% and World Series championship chances nearly triples from 1.0% to 2.9%.

    The Texas Rangers are believed to be on the outside looking in due to Darvish's asking price. So, a reunion is unlikely. Based on the 2018 season simulation projection, it wouldn't appear his return would be a game-changer anyways. With Darvish, Texas' win total improves fewer than four games to 81.2 from 77.9, while playoff chances improve slightly from 9-to-13%. Their World Series odds remained static at 0.1% even with Yu in the rotation.

    Note: without Darvish, the Rangers' No. 5 starter would be a combination of Mike Minor and Bartolo Colon. Yum.

    The big market contenders – Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs – are all projected to win 93+ games. However, according to PM's MLB engine, Chicago would benefit most from signing Darvish. Not only does their win total improve, but their playoff chances jump to 94% from 89% should they sign Darvish. Los Angeles', New York's and Chicago's World Series championship chances with Darvish of 21.1%, 16.8% and 15.4%, respectively, illustrate Darvish's biggest impact on these teams.

    With Jake Arrieta also on the hunt for a new team, the Cubs' 2018 starting rotation is currently made up of Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood, and Mike Montgomery. While Lester's and Hendricks' regression (3.85, 3.76 xFIP's) expects to continue this season, Chatwood is a different case. After spending the past five seasons with the Rockies, his Home/Away splits come into focus. Last season at Coors Field, he carried a 6.02 ERA vs. 3.49 ERA on the road. Chatwood's new-found lease on life should benefit the Cubs' back-end of the rotation. So, if Darvish came aboard, it would bump Montgomery back into the bullpen. Although, he's made some starts in two years with the Cubs, he hasn't made 17+ in one season since being called up from the minors.

    In New York, the addition of Darvish would bump 25-year-old Jordan Montgomery from the rotation, but could also provide some insurance should C.C. Sabathia break down. In 29 starts, Montgomery was 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA (4.45 xFIP) and 8.34 K/9 rate.

    For many, the Dodgers' abundance of starting pitching wealth is annoying. By the time Los Angeles acquired Darvish and Clayton Kershaw returned from injury, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu were bullpen options. With Darvish a free agent, Maeda and Ryu are currently the No. 4 and No. 5 starters. However, 26-year-old Brock Stewart could carve out a starting role, too. He posted a 3.41 ERA in 17 appearances last season.

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    NFL GameChangers: Divisional Playoff Edition (1/14/18)

    In this edition of GameChangers, we will utilize our Live ScoreCaster technology to review the game-changing plays from 2018 Divisional playoff matchups.

    EXW% = expected win percentage

    The Situation

    What-if Stefon Diggs was tackled at the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds left?

    The Take

    Unfortunately, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams won't be remembered for picking off Case Keenum late in the third quarter - a turnover that led to a Saints touchdown - but rather whiffing on a tackle of Diggs, which resulted in the Vikes receiver scoring the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

    However, had Williams made the tackle, Diggs would have been down around the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds remaining and the Vikings would have burned their final timeout.

    Trailing 24-23, Minnesota would call on Kai Forbath to attempt the game-winning field goal. When we run that scenario through our NFL engine tens of thousands of times, the Saints' EXW% is 48.2%.

    It was a hell of a catch by Diggs. It was a hell of a game by both teams. This one isn't solely on Williams.

    The Situations

    The Steelers' pair of failed 4th-down play calls.

    The Take

    Pittsburgh converted 4-of-6 fourth downs against the Jaguars. However, it was the missing two that really cost them.

    Trailing 14-0 with 1:07 remaining in the first quarter, the Steelers faced 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 21-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% before the fourth-down play call was 31% (assumed field goal attempt), but after they failed to pick up the one yard, it dipped to 23.6% - a win expectancy swing of 7.4%.

    The NFL gurus of Twitter believe Ben Roethlisberger should have used his size to pick up the measly one yard. Had he done that and picked up the first down, Pittsburgh's EXW% would remain 31%.

    Fast forward, Jaguars now lead 28-21 with 12:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Steelers now face 4th-and-1 from Jaguars' 39-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% is 24.4% right before Roethlisberger THROWS an incomplete pass *thud* EXW% dips to 16.7%.

    Now, if Ben snuck for the first down at this point in the game, the Steelers' EXW% jumps to 30.4% - a difference of nearly 16%.

    Bonus: a lot of chatter on social media regarding Pittsburgh's decision to onside kick down 42-35 with less than 3 minutes to go in the game. After the onside (and penalty), the Steelers' EXW% was 7.8% versus 8.1% had they kicked off normally.

    The Situation

    With the Patriots pinned back and in punt formation, a questionable neutral zone penalty on Tennessee.

    The Take

    In case you missed it, the penalty was originally a false start against the Patriots, but changed to a Titans' neutral zone infraction. Watch …

    So, to recap, instead of the Patriots leading 14-7 and about to punt from their own end zone, the neutral zone infraction handed New England a first down, which they parlayed into a 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead.

    Before the punt, the Titans' EXW% was 16.6%. Had they received the punt – with presumed great field position – their odds improved to 21.8%.

    After the Patriots scored their third touchdown of the first half, Tennessee's EXW% dipped to 5.9% - a swing of 15.9% - and the momentum they enjoyed early on was gone.

    The Situation

    Instant replay reversed a “running into Atlanta's kicker penalty” on Philadelphia before halftime.

    The Take

    To review, with Atlanta leading 10-6 and under a minute remaining in the first half, Falcons' punter Matt Bosher punted the ball to the Eagles. Philadelphia was called for roughing the kicker, which should have resulted in an Atlanta first down, but instant replay indicated that the Eagles got a finger tip on the ball and, thus, no roughing the kicker infraction applied.

    The punt counted and it was 1st-and-10 Eagles from their own 28-yard line and Atlanta's EXW% is 56.7%. Nick Foles and Co. picked up 37 yards in a jiffy and Josh Elliott booted a 53-yard field goal as the 2nd-quarter clock hit triple zeroes. With the Falcons up 10-9 at the break, Atlanta's EXW% fell to 50.5%.

    What-if the roughing the kicker counted and the Falcons picked up a first down at the Eagles 45-yard line with 55 seconds before halftime?

    Their EXW% would have soared 10% to 66.8%.

    Now imagine if the roughing the kicker counted and the Eagles would NOT have kicked the last-second field goal to end the first half. The Falcons would have trailed 13-10, instead of 15-10, on their final drive.

    For as bad as that shovel pass play call to Terron Ward was, if Atlanta had the option to attempt a field goal on 4th-and-2 from the 2-yard line instead of roll Matt Ryan right and try to jam it into Julio Jones for the game-winner, Atlanta's EXW% would have improved by more than 20% (EXW% 46.0% down 13-10 vs. 25.7% down 15-10 on 4th-and-2).

    It's one of those cases where replay did its part, corrected the call on the field and the benefiting team wound up with improved odds before ultimately winning the game.

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