When you talk about who the best pitcher in baseball will be next season, there aren't many names that will get brought up. Clayton Kershaw's utter dominance makes him the default choice, and you won't find many other contenders for the title.
Once you start ranking pitchers beyond Kershaw, the list gets a little wider. Jake Arrieta will get a few votes; David Price will snag a few too; maybe Dallas Keuchel, Chris Sale or Zack Greinke will have their partisans as well. One name you won't hear right now is Yu Darvish as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. However, in terms of pure talent -- on a per-pitch basis -- Darvish might be able to give anyone beyond Kershaw a run for their money when he is at his best. And he just might be good enough to be worth the risk in Fantasy.
It is, of course, a huge risk to pin your hopes on Darvish. He is out until at least mid-May as he recovers from surgery, but any setback would start to push his recovery deeper into the summer. That alone makes him a risky pick, though with an average draft position of 126th overall, the positives start to outweigh the negatives.
And that's because Darvish has a chance to be historically great. In fact, he already has been; no player has ever posted a higher strikeout rate in his first three seasons (Minimum 500 innings) than Darvish's 11.22 mark. The last time we saw Darvish, he was absolutely carving batters up, striking out 30.1 percent of them; that is the eighth-highest mark of any individual pitching season over the last 10 years. It is also just Darvish's second-best mark, as he fanned 32.9 percent of opposing batters in 2013, the second-best mark for any pitcher in that time.
You can get a feel for how valuable Darvish can be even in a limited role by looking at that 2014 season. Despite throwing just 144 1/3 innings in 2014, Darvish still finished 23rd in the majors in strikeouts. He is one of maybe just two pitchers in baseball who could realistically challenge 300 strikeouts in a full, healthy season, which gives him upside comparable to anyone.
Since entering the league, Darvish leads the majors in K/9 by a healthy margin, and comes in 20th in FIP among 169 qualified starters, putting him squarely in the range of lower-level aces like Madison Bumgarner or Cole Hamels. However, there are reasons to be concerned that Darvish might struggle in his first year back from injury, even if he can return relatively healthy.
Darvish has always had somewhat questionable control, though that was trending in the right direction with every subsequent season. He lowered his walk rate to 3.06 per nine (8.1 percent) in 2014, a fact that didn't show up in his WHIP thanks almost exclusively to a massive .334 BABIP. Coming back from Tommy John surgery is likely to leave Darvish rusty as he tries to rediscover his mechanics, which could lead to plenty of control struggles.
Darvish has also had issues with fly balls, especially since posting a solid 46.2 percent ground-ball rate as a rookie; that mark moved in the wrong direction in each of his subsequent seasons, reaching a personal nadir of 36.3 percent in 2014. That could also be an issue for Darvish as he returns from surgery, which increases the riskiness involved in selecting him.
Even with those flaws, Darvish finished the 2014 season 25th in Fantasy points per game started, and it is probably fair to say the 29-year-old might have even more upside than that. However, drafting him is not for the faint of heart. As Jose Fernandez showed last season, setbacks aren't uncommon, even if the pitcher is capable of returning at something close to full strength from day one.
Ultimately, whether Darvish will be worth drafting is going to depend on a number of factors. If you're the type to play it safe, Darvish is hardly going to be worth selecting as the No. 36 starting pitcher off the board. However, if you buy into the old adage that fortune favors the bold -- and you play in a league with an IR spot to stash Darvish in, natch -- a Darvish-plus-streaming-spot plan could pay huge dividends.