For the second time in as many years, Yu Darvish narrowly missed a perfect game. Friday night, Darvish came just one out away from clinching his first career no-hitter, before David Ortiz beat the shift with a single to right. While the performance had been asterisked by some due to a controversial error call in the seventh, Darvish was still nothing short of dominant, as he struck out 12 and walked two in 8 and 2/3 innings pitched. The night exemplified what has been a phenomenal start to the Japanese native's big league career.
When the Texas Rangers signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million contract* (plus a $51.7 million posting fee) in January of 2012, few imagined that he would become one of the best pitchers in the game right out of the gate.
*The sixth year (worth $11 million) can become a player option if Darvish reaches certain Cy Young voting thresholds. With a top-two finish already in the bag, he has a strong shot at obtaining the option.
Darvish' impact was immediate on the Rangers, as his 2012 season was strong enough to earn him a third place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year award balloting (second in the non-Mike Trout division). In just over 191 innings pitched, the right-hander posted a 4.9 WAR, 16-9 record, 3.90 ERA (112 ERA+), 3.29 FIP (75 FIP-), 4.2 BB/9, and 10.4 K/9 en route to his first big league All-Star appearance. His 221 strikeouts ranked 5th in the AL, while his WAR was second among all rookies.
He followed up his strong freshman performance with an even better sophomore campaign, in which he emerged as quite possibly the most dominant pitcher in the American League. In 209.2 innings, Darvish tallied a 2.83 ERA (145 ERA+) and 3.28 FIP (78 FIP-). He improved both his walk and strikeout rates, decreasing from 4.2 to 3.4 BB/9 and increasing from 10.4 to 11.9 K/9. His 277 strikeouts were the best in baseball, and if it weren't for Max Sherzer, Darvish may have won the AL Cy Young award, as he was a runaway second with 93 vote points.
So far this year, Darvish has picked up right where he left off despite a neck injury that caused him to miss the first week of the season. In seven starts this year, Darvish has thrown 46.1 innings with a 2.33 ERA (178 ERA+) and 2.56 FIP (64 FIP-). While his strikeout rate has regressed slightly to 10.5 K/9, his walk rate has taken another step forward, as he is now walking just 2.5 per nine.
The classic characteristic of the game's best pitchers is strikeouts, which of course is Darvish's forte. Earlier this season, Darvish managed to become the quickest player to reach 500 career strikeouts in terms of innings, besting the prior record held by Kerry Wood, who just so happens to own the second best career strikeout rate in major league history. Darvish is now up to 552 strikeouts in 447.1 innings. Were he eligible, his career 11.1 K/9 would be the best ever, ahead of the current leader, Randy Johnson (10.6). In fact, since his rookie season, Darvish has the most strikeouts in baseball, and is one of just two (Max Sherzer being the other) to surpass 500.
Of course, Darvish's biggest flaw is his tendency to allow runners to reach base via the walk. Since his debut, Darvish's 3.7 BB/9 is the 11th highest mark in baseball, and his total of 182 walks is 5th. However, Darvish seems to have made significant improvements in the area. As previously alluded to, Darvish's walk rate has declined in each of the past three years, from 4.2 to 3.4 to 2.5 this season. If he can continue this progression, Darvish could wind up with one of the best K/BB ratios in all of baseball factoring in his outrageous strikeout numbers. The fact that Darvish may not be fully developed is scary in itself.
For the Rangers, Darvish's contract has been a flat out steal. Under the assumption that one WAR is equivalent to roughly $6 million on the open market, Darvish's performance has far exceeded the value of his contract.
|WAR (Fangraphs)||Actual Worth|
Even factoring in his posting fee (which brings the total tally to $111.7 million), the Rangers still come out way ahead, as he has already been worth well more than half that total ($69 million), and Texas still has him under contract through 2017 (assuming sixth year is still intact). If Darvish maintains his performance over the life of the contract, the potential excess value for the Rangers could be enormous.
Darvish has given the Rangers a reliable, dominant ace, something that they really haven't had (excluding the half season of Cliff Lee) since the days of Kevin Brown and Nolan Ryan in the early 1990's. For Rangers fans, he's a true boon.