Yu Darvish’s 2018 campaign can be summed up in one word: disappointing.
Expectations were high going into his first season on the north side of the Windy City, and for good reason. Over the course of his first five seasons in the bigs he’d won 56 games, held a sub 3.50 ERA, and averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Cubs fans assumed they were going to get similar, if not better production.
Of course, that’s not how things played out… not even close. After inking a deal worth north of $120 million, Darvish proceeded to have the worst year of his career. After eight starts Yu had just one win, and an ERA almost touching 5.00. Then an injury sidelined him, and after several failed attempts to rehab Darvish was forced to shut it down.
Just like that, $22 million was essentially set on fire. Poof. Gone forever. Wasted on a guy who threw 40 freaking innings. The guy made half a million bucks an inning, and we got nothing.
The whole thing sucked. For the fans, it sucked to see the front office let Jake Arrieta go, and then spend just as much money on a guy who couldn’t even play. Not to mention Darvish is older, so the whole “Arrieta is getting up there” wasn’t an excuse. It came across as betrayal, and unfortunately for Yu there was already a large group of fans with a stick up their ass about the whole situation.
You have to figure that Yu felt the pressure immediately. Things are a bit different in Chicago these days. There’s a sense of urgency, especially among the fan base, and that’s not something you’re accustomed to when playing for a team like the Rangers, whose fans typically only show up when a playoff spot has been locked up. A big contract and big shoes to fill definitely could cause a seasoned pro like Darvish to get a bit nervous. Maybe he pressed too hard from the start, who knows, but ultimately he broke down and wasn’t able to show out like he had surely hoped to.
There were a lot of reports last season of Darvish admitting he felt a little out of place, or that he was letting people down. To that I say: “good”. Yu let us down. This team could’ve won 100 games if Darvish had pitched even close to decent. Darvish at 70% is better than Tyler Chatwood at 200%. His inability to play let us all down, but the thing is, the guy couldn’t help it. Yu has no control over when his arm is going to go. He’s a professional athlete who is in the top physical condition of his life. Sometimes a guy’s arm starts to hurt. That happens in this game.
What I believe Yu doesn’t understand is that being disappointed does not mean Cubs fans were angry at him. Cubs fans want so bad a team to love. Simply putting on the jersey tends win them over, but if you’re an all-star caliber player, they still want all-star production.
Imagine what Wrigley Field would sound like after Yu retires the side. Chants of “YUUUUUUUUU” would shake the bleacher. Hell a bloop single might cause the place to erupt.
The reality is that the bar for Yu has been lowered quite substantially. Nobody is expecting a Cy Young like performance. 200 innings of near 3.00 ERA is no longer the objective. This year, Cubs fans want Yu to stay healthy, and play well enough to not lose games.
That’s it. If Yu pitches 150 innings, and doesn’t have five run blow-up innings then it will be considered a great year back.
At his best, Darvish could win a game by himself. I can recall his early days in Texas when he would follow a 95 mph fastball with a 68 mph curve. It was incredible to watch. While it would be nice to have THAT Yu, the Cubs just need him to be an okay version of that. He doesn’t have to be the guy that gets 250 K’s. He just needs to be tough to hit, and to not be walking batters.
2019 could be a big year for Yu, but I’d settle for just “Ok”. As long as it’s Yu’s version of “ok,” and not a Tyler Chatwood “ok”.