SportDFW is a Dallas/Ft. Worth-centric website that supports the Rangers, so the knee-jerk reaction might be to question why a Rangers-supporting site wouldn’t blindly support Yu in this situation. But an honest assessment of the facts and recognition of the truth isn’t a betrayal, and if we’re honest with ourselves, Yu Darvish deserves to be left off of this year’s All-Star squad.
When evaluating potential All-Stars, you should start by looking at the traditional statistics (wins, ERA, strikeouts, walks, WHIP, etc.) while keeping in mind that not all stats are equally important and some stats can even be misleading. If two players have similar numbers in the important categories, then you should look at the impact that each of them has had on their respective teams as a tie-breaker.
Let’s look at what Yu Darvish has to offer in each of these departments:
Darvish has two fairly impressive stats: wins and strikeouts.He’s fifth and third, respectively, in the American League.
Bluntly put: wins can be a misleading statistic. Any decent pitcher for a good team like the Rangers can rack up wins because they get good run support, while a good pitcher on a bad team will often pitch a great game and still get the loss or a no-decision. For example, think of Felix Hernandez’s 2009 season when he out-pitched everyone else in baseball and earned the Cy Young Award while compiling a 13-12 record. With pitch counts, relievers and four days of rest between starts, wins just aren’t as important of a statistic anymore. The four Cy Young Award winners with the fewest wins have all occurred in the the last 6 MLB seasons (Rick Sutcliffe is tied for fourth with Brandon Webb with sixteen victories.)
If pitchers with low win totals still receiving the Cy Young Award doesn’t convince you, then consider another example. Rick Porcello had more wins than David Price and Madison Bumgardner last year, but he is not a better pitcher. Price throws harder, has better off-speed pitches, and his numbers are significantly better in WHIP, strikeouts and ERA. Other than velocity, same for Bumgardner. A struggling pitcher with a WHIP over 1.4 (Porcello) can never be considered better than two perrenial Cy Young candidates (Price and Bumgardner) just because he has more wins, so using won-loss record to justify sending a pitcher to the All-Star Game is like steadfastly supporting a bill because of its CBO cost projections without realizing that the projections are often laughably inadequate. In both cases, you choose to look at the flashy numbers instead of realizing that neither number gives an accurate representation of its subject.
Strikeouts is a more important statistic as it is an indication of how much a pitcher dominates the competition. Last year, of the 14 pitchers with 200 plus strikeouts, only Brandon Morrow of the Toronto Blue Jays had an ERA above four, and he played in the AL East when the Yankees and Red Sox had two of the best offenses in baseball. Considering batters only hit .237 off of him, he was probably a bit unlucky to have such a high ERA.
But even strikeouts aren’t the only criteria for deciding who is more deserving of being an All-Star. There are two types of strikeout pitchers: those who control their pitches and those who don’t. Strikeout pitchers almost always have dominating pitches, whether 100 mile-per-hour fastballs, deceiving breaking balls or both. Take Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers. He has a better fastball than Darvish, once throwing one 99 mph in last year’s ALDS and often touching the high nineties, and he has, in my opinion, one of the league’s best change-ups. Typically, pitchers who have great fastballs and league best or near league best pitches (like Justin Verlander and all of his pitches or Aroldis Chapman and his slider) have highly successful careers and rack up awards. Scherzer is different in a maddening sort of way.
He has all of the physical tools to be a good ace or one of the best number twos in baseball, but his tendency to throw pitches away from the corners- either for a ball or right down the middle of the plate- has made his MLB career rockier than it should have been. Pitchers like Max rarely get invited to All-Star games because they don’t have enough control. Don’t get me wrong, Max Scherzer is not a bad pitcher. Actually, if you take out his awful outings in April, his ERA is about 3.90 and trending downwards. But his inability to control a baseball to an ace degree will stunt his career about where it is now: an ERA between 3.90 and 4.3, with high strikeout numbers and a high WHIP. In some ways, I think of him as the JR Smith of baseball- awesome talent, but one fatal flaw (in Smith’s case, his shot selection) has plateaued his career.
Currently, I fear that Yu Darvish is like a rich man’s Max Scherzer. Darvish dominates hitters more, and his stats back that up, but giving up so many walks could short circuit his progression. He is still adjusting to the American game and the American baseball, and in some ways he is dominating even while he adjusts. But don’t forget two things: 1) he has the same number of walks as Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher with comparable control to the Little League pitcher brought in to finish off blowouts. 2) he has a WHIP only .04 better than Barry Zito, a man whose ability to throw a whopping 88 miles per hour fastball and a sharp curveball died the day he signed his seven year contract.
Basically, until he improves his control of pitches so that he isn’t putting runners on base in almost every inning, he will only be a good pitcher. Good pitchers are a dime-a-dozen, and dime-a-dozen pitchers don’t make All-Star games. Great ones do. Yu Darvish is not a great pitcher. Yet.
Individual Value to Team
Since many pitchers have similar stats to Yu Darvish, it is also important to consider how important his contributions are to his own team. Ironically, teammate Colby Lewis has had a season almost identical to Darvish’s, but he has 27 fewer strikeouts and 41 fewer walks (Lewis only has twelve). Darvish holds runners to a lower batting average, while Lewis has a better WHIP and ERA. But here’s the reason this is a really short section: Darvish has the third ERA and WHIP on his own team. It’s not like he’s carrying the team on his back like Verlander did in his Cy Young season. For the most part, all the Rangers’ pitchers are carrying themselves.
The sad thing is, despite the logic and reasoning above, Darvish has a really great chance to make this year’s All-Star game. Fans vote for the starters while each All-Star team’s manager picks the rest of the staff, but usually all three of the starters selected by fans deserve to go. Darvish, though, doesn’t deserve to go this year. He just isn’t good enough.
Don’t be a homer fan this year. Don’t vote for the flashy name, and instead vote for someone who actually deserves it.
*I prefer WHIP to other metrics like batting average for two reasons. One, the pitchers’ job is to keep runs off of the board, and the easiest way to do that is to limit the number of runs that can score at any one time. Solo homers hurt less than three-run ones. The other reason is that I already talked about strikeouts, and strikeouts and batting average correlate closely, so putting in batting average I felt would be redundant.
**Not noted in the story but important to note: I am aware that Darvish has a terrific batting average against, and no, I didn’t exclude that so I could make my point. If you dig deeper, many (roughly 70%) of the pitchers that have extremely high walk numbers (those in the top 3 in total walks issued for the league) have fairly low batting averages, presumably because they don’t throw many pitches close enough to the zone to warrant being swung at. Going back through 2005, the highest batting average allowed by someone in the top three of walks allowed is .282 by Al Leiter, a number that put him in the bottom third of the league. The second worst is .270 by Barry Zito in 2008. That average was the 59th best among among the 100 best batting averages against. In other words, the seconds worst average by a top three walk issuer still had him in a middle of the pack. Pitchers among the lead in a bad category were average to above average in a good category, which seems like a mild correlation to me. Pitchers in the top three walk issuers had batting averages roughly .010 better than the median, and it’s not like these median pitchers are bad either. Last year the median pitcher in batting average against was Justin Masterson, and in 2008 it was Felix Hernandez. The worst was Cory Liddle in 2006, but than again, a 4.85 ERA isn’t awful in the Steroid Era. In my opinion, Darvish’s numbers are slightly diluted by this fact. If he threw more strikes, I’m convinced his ERA would be lower (because there would be fewer men on base,) but his batting average against would likely rise slightly to around .240-in other words, about the same as the other high-walk pitchers.