Yu Darvish criticism: Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish has been one of the lone bright spots of the 2014 Texas Rangers season. He pitched a scoreless inning in the All Star Game on Tuesday, and has been one of the best pitchers in the A.L. through the first half of the year.
Darvish currently is sporting an ERA of 2.97 and a 2.76 FIP, with a 136 ERA+ and a bWAR of 3.0. He's 9th in the A.L. in ERA, 6th in FIP, 8th in ERA+, 8th in pitcher bWAR, 1st in K/9, and 4th in Ks. If you prefer fWAR to bWAR, his fWAR is 3.5, and he's 4th in the A.L. in fWAR.
So Yu Darvish has been one of the best pitchers in the A.L. this season. He struggled over a five start stretch leading up to the All Star Game, resulting in his ERA going from 2.11 to 2.97, but that just meant that he's been one of the best pitchers in the A.L. this year rather than the best (or one of the two or three best). He's still had a really good season.
However, it hasn't been good enough for Gerry Fraley. As Fraley explains:
When the Rangers needed Darvish at his best, he did not respond.
And when was that? During this 25 game stretch when the Rangers went 3-22:
Darvish made five starts during the club’s 3-22 collapse leading into the All-Star break. The Rangers went 1-4 in his games, and Darvish was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA. A team with an ace does not have a 3-22 stretch.
How much of a difference would five well-pitched games by Darvish have made in this historically bad stretch? Would the Rangers simply have gone 7-18 instead of 3-22? Or would the security of a strong pitching performance every fifth game by the All-Star have provided a needed emotional lift?
Fraley goes on to point to Darvish's poor performance against Oakland on June 17 as the tipping point, saying that "[n]either Darvish nor the Rangers has been the same since that game."
Now, I'm not a professional writer for one of the biggest newspapers in the country. I'm just a fan with a blog.
But I've got a real hard time believing that the Rangers would still be a playoff contender if Yu had pitched better in those games. I've got a real hard time believing that the bats would have been more productive, that Miles Mikolas or Nick Martinez or Scott Baker would have had better starts, if only Yu hadn't dropped the ball on June 17.
This scapegoating of Yu Darvish, of course, isn't anything new. I wrote last year about how many in the media seemed to view winning close games as a matter of toughness or mental fortitude, rather than random variation, though it seemed earlier this year that this issue had been put to bed.
And yet, here it is again, rearing its ugly head.
It just seems too convenient to me to go back, pick a bad stretch, and say, "That's when the team needed Player X the most, and he let them down." I feel like, if Yu had been pitching great during that 25 game stretch, the criticism would be, well of course Yu is pitching well when the team is going poorly and the games don't matter, when the Rangers are out of the race and there is no pressure. Where was this last year, when he was losing 1-0 in a pennant race?
The fundamental ridiculousness of the "teams with aces don't go 3-22" statement was revealed by Scott Lucas's research earlier today:
"A team with an ace does not have a 3-22 stretch." http://t.co/DKhHCgzPuE -- The '72 Phils had a 3-22 stretch with Steve Carlton.— Scott Lucas (@scottrlucas) July 17, 2014
Steve Carlton pitched six times in Phils 3-22 stretch in 1972. All six were losses. Carlton had a 4.77 ERA, opponents slugged .444.— Scott Lucas (@scottrlucas) July 17, 2014
'04 D-Backs had a 3-22 stretch with Randy Johnson. He pitched well, mostly: 2.38 ERA, 3 QS out of 5.— Scott Lucas (@scottrlucas) July 17, 2014
And of course, aces go through bad stretches. 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA over five games? Big deal. As someone pointed out (I forgot who, but will give credit if I get that person's i.d.), Felix Hernandez ended last season on a 6 game streak with a 1-5 record and a 6.46 ERA. No one is claiming that Felix isn't an ace.
Justin Verlander had a five game stretch last season with an ERA of 7.43. Is he not an ace?
Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball, had a five game stretch in 2014 where he had a 4.55 ERA -- pitching for an N.L. team with a pitcher-friendly park -- and the Dodgers went 2-3 in those games. Is he not an ace?
Zack Greinke had a five game stretch last season where he had a 6.08 ERA -- is he not an ace?
Or we can look at Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee, who seems to be the Platonic Form of the "ace," at least in the eyes of the local media and the local fans. Cliff Lee, who one local columnist proposed the Rangers trade Jurickson Profar last year, despite Lee's expensive, back-loaded contract.
Between August 11 and August 31 of 2010, while pitching for the Rangers, Cliff Lee had a five game stretch where he posted an 8.28 ERA. The Rangers lost all five of those games.
And yet, for whatever reason, no one questions whether Cliff Lee is an ace.
But hey, ripping Yu Darvish seems to sell papers, and get hits, for whatever reason. A portion of the fanbase seems to respond well to that. And one wonders if there isn't another factor at play, that has Rangers fans so eager to bash one of the best pitchers ever to wear a Ranger uniform:
Losing: pic.twitter.com/pAZiS2jiFQ— Tepid Participation (@TepidP) July 17, 2014
Yu, of course, has been criticized for being "aloof." He does his press conferences via an interpreter. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, is a good ol' boy from Arkansas who talked to the media in English. And so one can't help but wonder if the fans who criticize Yu for not being a "winner" would be as agitated about his performances if he were, like Lee, a good ol' boy from Arkansas who spoke to the media in English after every game, rather than being an aloof guy with an interpreter.