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Rangers: Yu Darvish in the Great Ace Debate

Rangers: Yu Darvish in the Great Ace Debate

by Joe Ursery

Posted on August 29, 2013 at 10:43 AM

People over this last week have questioned whether Yu Darvish is an ace.


These are actual baseball people.  Not, like, your kids' kindergarten teacher who just think Ian Kinsler is cute or that guy who wonders when Justin Thompson is going to move past throwing off flat ground. Eric Nadel was maybe chief amongst those voices. He cited Darvish's lack of a “killer instinct” keeping him from being an “ace.”


Just so you know, when I picture a religious supreme being, they look and sound like Eric Nadel. I love him and I would fight people for him, if I had to.  It's not easy for me to disagree with Eric Nadel. It hurts my upper spine, right between my shoulder blades.


Here's the thing: I don't understand how Darvish gives up hits. Major League baseball hitters are so good because they can get wood, any wood at all, on pitches Yu Darvish throws. Every time a run scores against Darvish, I think 'That guy should keep that ball, and tell his grandkids about it.' If I had to stand-in against Darvish, I would stand at the very back of the box and just look dismayed.


Darvish has struck out more people than anyone else in baseball. If you took Adam Wainwright's strikeout totals and added Tanner Scheppers' strikeout totals, you would have one more strikeout than Darvish has notched this season. Those two guys have combined to pitch 90 more innings than Darvish. He's struck out as many as them combined and they've combined to get 270 more guys out by means other than a strikeout.


But here's the scary thing.  There's a kernel of truth on the inside of Darvish criticism that we should all embrace; he's not perfect. He's not at the top end of his development path. He can get better. He most likely will get better.


One of the astounding things about Darvish this season has been that people actually homer off him. Not just the occasional hanger because he's bored or throwing a lot of bendy stuff, he's allowed 20 home runs this season. There are 60 qualified starters with a greater HR/9 rate than Darvish's 1.07.


There are not 60 pitchers better than Darvish in the world. There might not have been 60 pitchers greater than Darvish ever in the history of baseball.  He'll cut down on the homers like he cut his walk rate from 10.9% to 8.6% from last season to this season, partially because he's hypercompetitive and wants to destroy the world and partially because part of the HR rate is likely just a fluke or a bit of bad luck.  This season, 14% of fly balls Darvish has allowed have turned into homers. Last year, that rate was 9.1%. League average tends to cluster around 9% each year- which means it will likely slide back downwards.


That should make you feel very, very good if you're a Rangers fan. And if you're not a Rangers fan, what are you doing here because this is a Rangers-centric type thing? Are you just here to find things to make fun of me about? It's ok, I'm just curious. Still, if you're not a Rangers fan that should make you very afraid.


There's also the fact of when Darvish allows runs which has been a source of consternation from the traditional-stats crowd. There's a notion often espoused by current and former players, that some players respond to pressure and get better and some crater. I don't subscribe to this. In my experience, “high-pressure” situations are relatively few and far between and once  player accumulates enough of them, that sample starts to look more and more similar to the players' career sample. Not to mention that getting to the Major Leagues is really, really hard.  I don't think that there are many people with the ability, work ethic, and fortitude to make it there AND have some amount of success.  Maybe I'm just overvaluing the years of extraordinarily hard work and sacrifice players put in to develop themselves into Major Leaguers.  Then again, maybe others are underrating it.


For my part, I don't worry about the miniscule amount of runs Darvish has allowed, based simply off the fact that a number of them have come in late and close games.  I generally expect pitchers to do worse late in games. They're generally putting in more effort than the batters and the batters have had the chance to see them multiple times and adjust to what they're doing and or not doing on that particular night. Stats bear this out.  In the macro - the league itself has a half-run higher ERA in the sixth inning than the second.  The league's first inning ERA matches the sixth then it drops off in the seventh and eighth, when relievers come in, before coming back up another half-run between the eighth and the ninth. That’s closer magic, I guess.


In general, if you don't give up a lot of runs then it doesn't matter when you give up those runs because in the end you just didn’t give up a lot of runs and that's the important thing. So say Darvish goes 7 innings, allows two runs and strikes out 11.  I'm not going to fault him and his killer instinct for the fact the Rangers only scored two runs themselves and Tanner Scheppers gave up a run in the ninth.  He “kept his team in the game.” He “gave his team a chance to win.” Did we retire these clichés? And if so, did anyone save the paperwork because there's a lot more I'd like to retire?


Ultimately, if you want to criticize Darvish by saying “He's not at his best, he's probably going to get better,” I don't know how anyone would feel too cross about that. But the word “ace” was invented in baseball circles to describe Yu Darvish. The sooner we can all agree on that, the sooner we can move on to the real important issues like making fun of the Angels.


More than we already do, is what I mean.


Do you think Yu Darvish is an ace?  Where do you see him developmentally this time next year?  Do you have any jokes about the Angels that are funnier than their actual season record?  Join the discussion.  Download WFAA's Baseball Texas mobile app and follow along on Twitter (@BaseballTX) and Instagram (BaseballTX).