Yu Darvish has grown into one of the better starting pitchers in all of baseball since the Texas Rangers signed him out of Japan in 2012. And yet there remains a healthy debate in North Texas in regards to where Darvish currently sits in the hierarchy of major league starters. But there should be no doubting the fact that Darvish is among the game’s elite.
Despite the lack of significant health concerns following Tommy John surgery in 2015, the on-field results for Yu Darvish in 2017 have been less than ideal. Darvish, in the final year of his contract, is performing admirably from a statistical standpoint. He has tossed the 6th most innings in all of baseball while not missing a start, and he currently ranks 11th in the league with 131 total strikeouts. Opposing hitters are hitting .220 off Darvish, which again is among the top 15 in the league.
However, elevated walk totals and power numbers have plagued Darvish at times. Darvish is on pace to finish the season with his highest ERA (3.45) since his rookie season (3.90). He currently averages more than three walks per every nine innings, and his 9.41 strikeouts per nine innings is the lowest of his career. It is worth noting that even with the decline in productivity, Darvish still ranks in the top 20 in ERA (20th) and strikeouts per nine innings (19th).
All of this begs the question, why are the Rangers struggling to find success when Yu Darvish takes the mound? Yu is 6-8 this season for a career worst winning percentage of .429. Even more concerning is the fact that the Rangers have won just eight of Darvish’s 20 starts this season for a paltry winning percentage of .400. As noted by Dallas Sports Fanatic, the Ranger’s loss to the Royals on Sunday marked the sixth straight loss for the Rangers with Darvish on the mound. The team has won just once in Darvish’s last 10 starts.
Darvish has certainly been hurt by a lack of run support. Texas is currently averaging less than 3.5 runs scored per Darvish start, and Sunday marked the eighth time this year Texas lost when Darvish allowed three runs or less. Texas did manage to go 4-1 in five Yu Darvish starts in May. Yet the team’s success was heavily reliant on Darvish himself who finished the month with a 2.90 ERA, his lowest mark in a month since posting an ERA of 2.51 in June 2014.
Success as a starting pitcher , however, is not always about how many runs you allow. Ill-timed runs can do damage to a team’s psyche just as much as any big inning. Early runs are a prime example. The long standing thought on Yu Darvish has been if he is going to struggle, he will do so early on. In the last three starts before the All Star break (all losses), Darvish gave up an early lead within the first two innings each time out. An early deficit combined with lack of run support is a dangerous combination in Darvish starts.
Another trend the Rangers have noticed lately is Darvish’s inexplicable struggles in completing the shutdown inning. In the 12 Darvish starts the Rangers have lost this season, Darvish took the mound following a Ranger score eight times. He managed to hold the opponent scoreless in the next half inning just twice. On the other hand, in eight wins with Darvish on the mound this season, he failed to convert the shutdown inning just three times in 19 tries. In his most recent start, a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Royals, Yu Darvish gave up the go-ahead run one half inning after the Rangers tied the ballgame on two separate occasions. What’s more, both runs came with two outs in the inning.
Which brings us to our next and final example of Yu’s tendency to allow runs at inopportune times, runs scored with two outs in the inning. Two-out runs can be demoralizing for a team. Especially with your best pitcher on the mound. In the eight wins this season, Yu gave up a total of 5 two-out runs. In the 12 losses, that number swelled to 14, more than 1.2 per game. Of the 15 homeruns that Darvish has allowed this season, more than half have come with two outs in the inning.
All of this seems to point to a potential focus issue with Yu Darvish. It can take him time to gain focus and get locked in, which can lead to early trouble. He has demonstrated a tendency to let his guard down at times, which prohibits him from putting teams away.
None of this is meant to be a condemnation of Yu Darvish as a pitcher. His place within this rotation is locked in, and he remains one of the primary keys for this team moving forward in 2017. The Rangers will be faced with a tough decision this off season when it comes to Darvish, and I believe the Rangers need to do what it takes to keep him in a Ranger uniform. On the other hand, if the Rangers are going to open up their checkbook to the veteran righty, they want to do so knowing that he will become the ace they need. The ace they know he is capable of becoming. And his chances at becoming that ace are directly tied to his ability to be more consistent and develop a killer instinct on the mound.
There is no denying that 2017 has been a strange year for the Rangers, and the up-and-down season for Darvish may typify that more than anything else. Weird things happen in baseball. Yu Darvish is not the first pitcher to struggle to win games despite what appears to be a healthy stat line, and he certainly won’t be the last. But this is a Ranger team that is dangerously close to making real noise in the American League. Fairly or unfairly, organizations ask more out of their top-tier pitchers, and it’s time for Yu Darvish to step up and become the true ace of this pitching staff.
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