Yu Darvish is the best power pitcher in baseball right now hands down. With 277 strikeouts, he has more than anyone in baseball by a staggering 37 (Scherzer, 240). That’s also the most in the American League since some dude named Pedro Martinez in 2000 (284), and most in baseball since Randy Johnson in 2004 (290). Both of those pitchers won the Cy Young in 2000. Just a fun fact. (Johnson was the runner-up to Roger Clemens in 2004 because wins wins wins)
Since he came over from Japan, Darvish has been nothing less than electrifying. He has a repertoire like no one else in the game and in just 61 big league starts has established himself as one of the game’s elite arms. His 2012 rookie season was terrific in its own right, good for third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, behind Yoenis Cespedes and some dude named Mike Trout. In 2013, Darvish was an even better pitcher. He lowered his BB/9 from 4.2 to 3.4 while raising his K/9 from 10.4 to an absurd 11.9. Not only is Darvish throwing more strikes in 2013, he’s making more of his misses, as batters are making contact on just 51% (compared to 57% in 2012) of pitches that they swing at outside the strike zone, the lowest such figure in the MLB. Darvish also leads the majors in overall contact percentage, with hitters connecting on just 70.5% of pitches they swing at. Here’s Yu Darvish striking out various Angels with various pitches.
Darvish also leads baseball in Power/Finesse Ratio, also known as the Darvish stat. He has led the league in this both years in the MLB, with a 1.62 in 2012 and a 1.70 this season. The impressive thing about this jump is that, when you look at the way PFR is calculated [ (BB + K)/IP ] we see more evidence of true improvement. Less walks and more strikeouts equals more power. Gotta love it.
Why is Darvish better this year? Well he’s walking less hitters and striking out more of course. Awesome. Simple enough. But how. What’s he doing differently? Pitch selection. That’s what. (via fangraphs.com)
Now that we have two full seasons at over 191.1 and 209.2 innings pitched, we can compare his pitch selection breakdown. Less fastballs, way less fastballs; more slider, way more sliders. There will always be some variability in a pitcher’s pitch selection, but this is significant. In 2012, nearly half of his pitches were fastballs, with just less than 15% were sliders. It worked, but wasn’t perfectly efficient. In 2013 however, his selection dropped to less than 40% fastballs and jumped to almost 1/3 sliders (he also sacrificed a slight percentage of curveballs for more sliders). Darvish has arguably the best slider in the game, and because there are stats for everything, we can actually measure that. Darvish’s slider is worth 26.6 runs above average, with Justin Masterson’s sitting at a distant second (19.2 runs above average). Take that, Max Scherzer’s slider (15.4 runs, although Scherzer’s fastball value [23.3] blows Darvish’s [-6.2] away by this metric). Anyway, by changing his pitch selection, he actually improved the value of all of his pitches. Here’s all of those compared between 2012 and 2013, for your convenience. (via fangraphs.com)
So Darvish is better than he was in 2012. Go figure. What am I writing about again? Oh right… the Cy Young race.
So obviously the biggest names in the AL Cy Young discussion this year are Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish. Koji Uehara deserves to be in the talks for his ridiculous work at the back of the Red Sox pen, and Hisashi Iwakuma certainly shouldn’t be slept on either. Bartolo Colón is not a real person.
I’ll deal with Scherzer first. Of course the number everyone wants to talk about when the Cy Young discussion comes around is Scherzer’s 21-3 record. Darvish, in terms of record, doesn’t even compare at 13-9. I, for one, think the Cy Young voters’ obsession with wins is insane. Pitchers don’t actually have an innate ability to win games. Fact. People smarter than all of us have done that research. But I’ll go ahead and try to discredit Scherzer’s 21 wins anyway. To be clear, Scherzer is a ridiculously good pitcher, but his 21 wins shouldn’t have everyone engraving his name on that coveted Cy Young plaque. Let’s just compare their run support. Scherzer is backed by 5.59 runs per game, the highest in baseball aside from two sub-par Red Sox pitchers (Dempster and Doubront). Darvish meanwhile, receives 4.28 runs per game on average, good for 36th in the league. I mean come on the poor guy lost four games by a score of 1-0. Only nine pitchers in baseball history have been so unfortunate. He’s also lost four games in which he recorded double-digit strikeouts. That one doesn’t so much prove anything significant, but still. Let’s not look so much at win-loss, considering that has about as much to do with a pitcher’s ability as how many Phiten necklaces he wears.
Darvish of course leads the AL in strikeouts and every strikeout related stats, because how do you hit a guy that can throw a 96 MPH fastball followed by a 67 MPH curveball. He sits at fourth in ERA with a 2.83, behind the likes of Anibal Sanchez (2.57), Jabba the Hutt (2.65), and Hisashi Iwakuma (2.66). His WHIP of 1.07 falls in behind Scherzer (0.97) and Iwakuma (1.01). Not exactly the pitching triple crown winner that Clayton Kershaw is (he has a good chance of winning the NL Cy Young again), but let’s look at some other stats. ERA is a flawed statistic anyway, so let’s look at some adjusted versions of earned run average in order to get a better picture of how Darvish stacks up in the AL. One stat we’ll look at is xFIP. Darvish owns a 2.84 xFIP, which is second best in the AL behind Felix Hernandez (2.66). Anibal Sanchez sits third (2.92), with Scherzer fifth (3.16) and Iwakuma eighth (3.28). Darvish also owns the best SIERA (skill interactive ERA) with a 2.83, just edging out Felix Hernandez (2.84). Again, Scherzer and Iwakuma sit well below Darvish, with a 2.98 and 3.40 respectively. The AL ranking for adjusted ERA+ again shows Darvish above other Cy Young contenders: Sanchez (163), Darvish (145), Scherzer (145), Colon (141), Sale (140), Iwakuma (138).
Aside from run-prevention stats, Darvish leads the American League in opponents-batting average (he and Scherzer were the only AL starters to hold hitters below the Mendoza Line: .193 and .196), and of course he strikes out 1/3 of the batters he faces (32.9% - best in MLB). Looking at some win probability stats, Scherzer leads the AL in total win probability added 3.67, with Darvish fourth at 3.20. However, Darivsh holds the highest REW (run expectancy wins), adding 4.10 wins to his team over the course of the season. Scherzer and his 21-3 record added a total of 3.17 wins to the 2013 Tigers based on this metric.
I mentioned Koji Uehara. There is certainly a case for him to win the Cy Young. His numbers as a reliever are right up there with guy’s like Eric Gagne and Dennis Eckersley and the other elite relievers to win the Cy Young award. He does only have 21 saves, but the guy absolutely dominated (37 batters in a row, are you kidding me?). In my opinion, I think some of the AL starters are still more deserving than Uehara simply based on the value they provided to their teams. Uehara’s REW of 2.58 is evidence of this. But I won’t go further with the argument of Darvish vs. Uehara.
Basically, Yu Darvish is Filthy McNasty (insert Japan highlights http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLGB69siot8) and has dominated big league hitting in just his second year in the majors. He regularly makes professional hitters look like little leaguers and its unreal to watch. His performance this year is certainly deserving of significant recognition, and in my opinion the appropriate recognition is the AL Cy Young award. Plus, Max Scherzer has two different colored eyes and that scares the sh*t out of me.
Here's Yu Darvish feigning happiness in the face of near perfection. (http://24.media.tumblr.com/4ecf30ba40515e7829d8ea5891836d2f/tumblr_mknulzRYqh1rj4e7ko1_400.gif)