If you’re a subscriber to SiriusXM and have MLB Network Radio among the stations you receive, you may have heard former Mets GM Jim Duquette stating that he believes Yu Darvish is not an ace.
Duq on Darvish: "he's going to be an Ace, I have no doubt, but throw one complete game before we call you an Ace, just one!"
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) January 23, 2014
I imagine there are at least a handful of people that place this quote in the “preposterous” category. In defense of Duquette, Darvish tossed 55 complete games over his seven-year career when he played in Japan. He averaged 10 CG a season over his last five.
So is Duquette out of bounds in wanting this one CG in order to label Darvish as an ace? Sure seems like it, but then you wonder if Darvish is truly an ace.
In determining this, I always refer to an article from Beyond the Box Score written by Stuart Wallace. I’ve referred to that article here before and did the same on a couple of occasions over on Blog Red Machine.
So, with this in mind, let’s see if Yu Darvish is an ace…
There are three parameters Wallace set as factors: plus pitches, “FIPness”, and going the distance, or workload. Well look at each individually.
1. Plus pitches
Would anyone dispute that Darvish can display some truly nasty stuff? Unless you’ve never seen a highlight or watched him pitch, you’re answer is “yes”. Now, are at least some of his pitches “up to sunuff”? Let’s see…
Head to Davish’s page on Fangraphs and scroll down to the section “Pitch F/x Pitch Value per 100”. Here’s what Darvish rated for 2013:
(FA=fastball, FT=two-seam fastball, FC=cutter, FS=splitter, SL=slider, CU=curve, CH=changeup))
Wallace notes: “we want to find guys with three or more pitches that have a positive pitch value.” It seems that for last season, Darvish did not meet this criteria, which would, in essence, take him out of the running before we even look at #’s 2 and 3 (but we will anyway).
But there’s something amiss here. For his rookie campaign of 2012, Darvish had five plus pitches. The two above (cutter and slider), along with his splitter (0.48), curve (0.02) and changeup (5.71).
Or as Wallace defines this, “the ability to control the game and be responsible for the vast majority of the run suppression against the opponent”. He institutes four rates here: K% (strikeout rate), BB% (walk rate), HR/FB% (home runs to flyballs), and SwStr% (swinging strikes). He also attaches a certain percent.
How does Darvish rate in these areas (the percentage is parenthesis denotes Wallace’s use of MLB’s 2013 averages)?
K% (>19.9%): 32.9%
BB% (<7.9%): 9.5%
HR/FB% (<10.5%): 14.4%
SwStr% (>9.3%): 12.6%
Only pass in two of four categories (K-rate and swinging strike rate).
3. Going the distance
We’d like our aces to take the ball and go deep into ganes, wouldn’t we? If a starter can get to the 8th inning, he can hand the game over to the bullpen for the set-up man and closer. Sounds good. Give me 7 innings and we’re there. Or would we prefer him to simply get to that magical number of 200 IP? How about both, then. In reverse…
Darvish does pass the total IP in that he hurled 209.2 IP in 2013. Now, the other factor, averaging 7 IP an outing. Darvish made 32 starts last season. Taking his IP and dividing it by GS leaves us at…6.25, or less than 7 IP. Gets by in one, but not the other.
Is it fair to expect 7 IP from an ace? In these days of observing pitch counts – which at times can be a bugaboo for Darvish (16.5 pitches per inning) – and the specialization of bullpen arms, 7 innings shouldn’t be taken into consideration, should it?
I think it should. Isn’t that part of being a workhorse, limiting the work of your bullpen?
As weird as this is going to sound, Darvish, based solely on these set of conditions, took a step back in 2013 as compared to 2012. In many, many areas, Darvish displayed absolute progression (FIP, xFIP, WHIP, fWAR).
For Duquette to state Yu Darvish isn’t an ace because of zero complete games is a bit out of left field. It should have no bearing whatsoever. No question that Darvish is the ace of the Texas Rangers‘ staff, and even though in looking at some numbers, those suggest that he isn’t at the moment.
While Darvish may not fill the role of a “true ace” based on the previously discussed parameters, I have little doubt that he could eventually join this elite group.