Ace Among Rangers
Why Texas Ranger Yu Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in baseball right now
Last year, Yu Darvish finished the month of April as the American League Pitcher of the Month, a nod to his 4-0 start as a Major League rookie and, by extension, the Texas Rangers’ scorching start to the season.
This April, Darvish went 5-1, nearly threw a perfect game against Houston, and was not named AL Pitcher of the Month for April. Instead that nod went to Boston’s Clay Buchholz, who was 5-0 last month.
I suppose that’s fine. Baseball isn’t built on monthly awards. But one could build a case that Darvish is not only baseball’s best pitcher right now, but he is also pitching better than he did a year ago at this time when he was “award worthy.”
Usually a pitcher’s second year is tougher than his first, but Darvish is a more efficient pitcher today than he was at this time last year.
Entering play on May 7, Darvish had started seven games. His 2.56 earned run average was in the top 30 in all of baseball. His 72 strikeouts led the majors. His five wins were second only to Buchholz. His WHIP (walks and hits allowed per nine innings) was 0.92, good for eighth.
But what happens when you start to compare his numbers from his first seven starts a year ago, when Darvish was just starting to learn how to pitch in the majors? You start to see his growth as a player.
For instance, after seven games last year, Darvish had just 51 strikeouts. So he’s struck out 21 more hitters through seven games this year than last. The walks look better too. He gave up 24 walks in his first seven games last year. This year it’s 15.
What does that tell us? Darvish has grown into a more efficient pitcher. A deeper dive into the numbers bears that out. Through seven games in 2012, Darvish faced 197 hitters. Through seven games in 2013, Darvish has faced 178. His ERA through seven games has also dropped three-tenths of a point.
He’s thrown practically the same number of pitches in 2013 (750) as he did in 2012 (754), but he’s thrown more strikes (468 to 453) and thrown more strikes with the hitter looking (136 to 129) in 2013.
Darvish has done all of this while throwing practically the same number of innings through seven games in 2013 (45.2) as he did in 2012 (44.1).
Now let’s look at when Darvish exits games. Last year he was lifted from the game in the middle of an inning five times (in seven starts). Sure, the Rangers still went 6-1 in those games, but you’re usually lifted from a game when you’re in trouble.
This year, Darvish has left a game during an inning only one time, and that happened when the Astros spoiled his bid for a perfect game in his first start.
Darvish is a more efficient pitcher today than he was at this time last year. It’s not by much, mind you, but it’s enough to allow him to better dominate opponents.
It might surprise some to see that improvement. Usually a pitcher’s second season is tougher than his first because of opposing hitters. They have a year’s worth of tape to watch and learn from. Hitters are pros, just like Darvish. They have a way of figuring things out.
But opposing hitters haven’t caught up to him yet. Chances are hitters will have their moments, but it’s looking more and more like Darvish is emerging as exactly the pitcher the Rangers had hoped he would be when they spent more than $100 million in salary and posting fees to extract him from the Japanese League two years ago. Simply put: He’s an ace.