Is Yu Darvish or Josh Hamilton More Important to Rangers Winning World Series?
It's still very early in the 2012 Major League Baseball season, but the Texas Rangers have established themselves as the best team in baseball. The two biggest reasons for the team's fast start are new ace pitcher Yu Darvish and monster masher Josh Hamilton.
Obviously both players will play an integral role in the long-term success of this Rangers team, but if you were to single out one as vital to them getting over that World Series hump in 2012, who would it be?
On the surface, the answer would seem to be simple: The Rangers have had Hamilton the last two years but have been unable to win that final series of the year, so it has to be Darvish.
While there might be some merit to that, you have to factor in that Hamilton was not healthy in the postseason last year.
There are a number of different variables that you have to consider when examining a question like this. We are going to break down those variables and tell you our conclusion.
Pitching vs. Hitting
There seems to be a myth that makes its way around all of baseball around playoff time, where all you need is great pitching to carry you to a championship.
It does make it easier, but the Philadelphia Phillies had the best pitching staff in baseball last year and were eliminated in the Division Series by eventual champion St. Louis.
Before you throw out the San Francisco Giants from 2010, they averaged over 4.7 runs per game in the National League Championship Series and World Series combined.
You do need a deep, dominant pitching staff to win in October, but you also need an offense that is capable of scoring runs. There has to be some kind of balance, or else one side will be asked to do far more than it is capable of against the best teams in baseball.
However, there is one thing that gives Darvish an edge over Hamilton in this category: depth. The Rangers boast one of the deepest lineups in baseball, with Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus at the top, Mike Napoli (assuming he starts to hit like he is capable of), Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz.
The starting rotation can be very good. Derek Holland, mustache and all, is a top-of-the-rotation arm, though his walk rate has always been a little too high to put him in that No. 1 starter area.
Which Player Is More Vital To The Success Of Texas This Season?
Moving Neftali Feliz from the bullpen to the starting rotation was a move that should have been made long ago. He has an electric arm with an easy, repeatable delivery. However, he is still trying to get a feel for all of his pitches, and his 4.36 BB/9 IP won't serve him well against patient lineups you see in the playoffs.
Plus, Feliz will have to be observed carefully as the year goes on and his innings total climbs; his career-high is 69.1, set in 2010.
Colby Lewis doesn't have the power stuff you like to see at the top of a rotation. He is missing a lot of bats (8.13 K/9 IP) and has slashed his walk rate nearly in half (2.52 in 2011 down to 1.38 this season).
Darvish gives the Rangers that horse at the top of the rotation they haven't had during this run of dominance in the American League. Cliff Lee was outstanding for them in 2010, but he just doesn't have the stuff to match the 25-year-old Japanese ace.
There have been times where Darvish has tried to be too fine with his pitches, hence his 4.50 BB/9 IP. Despite that, you can see him get more comfortable each time he takes the mound, and when he learns to stop being so careful, his numbers will get even better.
Ultimately, for every team with playoff aspirations to succeed, they have to make it through the season with their best players healthy.
Everyone knows about Hamilton's injury history. He is one of the most fragile players in Major League Baseball, having played in an average of 114 games the last three seasons. Durability has never been one of his strongest attributes.
Darvish, on the other hand, has never had a significant injury. Whether he is pitching in Japan, at the World Baseball Classic, for the Rangers, or anywhere else he has been throughout his career, he has been on the mound when his turn comes.
(Side note: I am knocking on wood as I write this to make sure that nothing happens to Darvish or his arm.)
That dependability is the kind of thing that teams need, especially from their superstars, if they are going to win a World Series.
When Hamilton is on the field and healthy, there might not be a better hitter in baseball right now. He has tremendous bat speed and generates such easy power with a simple flick of the wrists that it's almost not fair.
But there is always that fear: Is today the day Hamilton is going to break down?
With Darvish, there is no real cause for concern with that because he has no significant injury history.
Going back to the first topic, the Rangers have enough pieces in the lineup to score enough runs to win should something happen to Hamilton. They don't, however, have another pitcher like Darvish to put in the rotation if something were to prevent him from taking the mound.
In an ideal world, the Rangers wouldn't have to choose. They would cruise to an American League West title, have home-field advantage throughout the postseason and Hamilton patrolling left field with Darvish starting Game 1.
If there was a scenario where one of them had to miss time in the playoffs, Hamilton would be the one they could afford to be without and still capture a World Series.
It's not what anyone wants to see. We want everyone's best lineup and pitchers able to go to determine who is the best team in Major League Baseball.
It does say something about the team the Rangers have built that they can be without a player like Hamilton as often as they have been the previous two years and still have the success they have.
Final Answer: Darvish
For more analysis on baseball players who might someday eventually get hurt, be sure to check me out on Twitter: Follow @adamwells1985
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