Try to frame the conversation by pointing at Yu Darvish’s individual stats, and there’s a faction of people who will tell you that all the strikeouts in the world don’t matter if your team doesn’t win. So after yet another Yu Darvish start in which his offense scored a grand total of nada, let’s ignore the fact that Darvish is now the franchise leader in strikeouts-per-nine innings, strikeouts-per-walk, adjusted ERA+, Base-outs saved, and after today is just two strikeouts short of passing Nolan Ryan for 4th in franchise history. More on that in a minute.
Let’s talk about wins, something the Rangers did not do today. Here’s the sum total of scoring on the day: in the first inning, Albert Pujols hit his 604th career home run. In the fifth inning, Ben Revere blooped a single into left-center field and stole second, but after Darvish had him picked off, the infield botched a rundown, allowing him to advance to third. He later scored on a sac fly. Then in the top of the ninth, Anaheim scored a run off Alex Claudio. That’s it. 3-0.
About wins, though. There's a very specific comparison I want to make.
Yu Darvish is basically Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan went 16-10 in 32 starts in his first year with the Rangers in 1989. The team record in his starts was 20-12. And in games where the Rangers scored 3 or fewer runs, Ryan was 4-8 (the team was 4-9).
Yu Darvish went 16-9 in 29 starts in his first year with the Rangers in 2012. The team record in his starts was 19-10. And in games where the Rangers scored 3 or fewer runs, Darvish was 3-8 (the team was also 3-8)
Year Two: (1990, 2013)
Ryan was 13-9. So was Darvish. Ryan’s Rangers were 18-12 in his starts, Darvish’s were 17-15. In those low-scoring games, the Express’ team was 4-7, Darvish’s 5-12.
Year Three: (1991, 2014)
Ryan: 12-6, Darvish 10-7. Their teams, respectively: 16-11 / 13-9. And in the low-scorers: 3-8 / 4-6
Year Four: (1992, 2016, after Darvish had missed a year due to Tommy John)
Ryan 12-5, Darvish 5-7. Team records of 11-16 and 10-7, respectively. And Ryan’s Rangers went 1-12 in his starts in which they scored 3 or fewer. Darvish’s Rangers were 2-5.
Year Five: (1993, 2017)
5-5 for Ryan. 6-7 for Darvish. 5-8 for the old Rangers, 8-10 for the new. And 1-3 for Ryan vs. 1-9 for Darvish in those low-scoring games.
Add them up: Ryan was 51-39 as a Ranger, and his team went 70-59 in his starts (13-39 when they scored 3 or fewer for him). Darvish is now 52-38 as a Ranger, and his team has gone 67-51 in his starts, 15-40 in low-scoring affairs.
You keep hearing that old narrative that Darvish is always the one that blinks first, or that he’s not an ace because he can’t put the team on his shoulders when they’re up against a tough pitcher. And sure, you expect that once in awhile from a pitcher if you’re going to be calling him (and perhaps after this season paying him like) an ace.
But I can’t help wonder why I never hear Nolan Ryan’s name invoked in these "Not Ace Tough" conversations. After all, their records are remarkably similar. Maybe it's because Yu Darvish hasn't gotten into any fistfights. Maybe it's because he hasn't taken a line drive to the lip. Maybe it's because he doesn't have a ranch, or a Texas drawl, or doesn't pose in a duster and a Stetson. All of those things are pivotal to helping a baseball team win games, for sure. People who watched the game know that. Statheads can't find a way to measure it. But they're all definitely real and important.
Did Ryan play for worse teams than Darvish? Absolutely. The Rangers weren’t perpetual contenders in that era, and Darvish’s Rangers have been. But that’s exactly my point: the numbers I’m pointing out (and you can make further comparisons if you want over at Ryan’s and Darvish’s Baseball Reference pages) show what success each pitcher had when their team was not scoring runs. Darvish, on these 2012-2017 teams, has pitched in 55 such games. Ryan only pitched in 52.
When Darvish is on the mound, the new Rangers are playing like the old Rangers. (And just to remind you, that has nothing to do with his pace on the mound.)
Blame that on him if you want. But just make sure you include Nolan Ryan’s name in that conversation.
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