Yu Darvish: 4 Reasons Texas Rangers Rookie Will Win AL Cy Young
It’s highly unlikely for a rookie to win the Cy Young award—only former Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela has accomplished the feat (1981)—but Rangers ace Yu Darvish has a legitimate shot at becoming the second rookie ever to win the Cy Young.
Before making the transition to the MLB, Darvish was a highly decorated pitcher in Japan’s most prestigious baseball league, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). While playing in the NPB, Darvish won two Pacific League MVP titles (2007, 2009) and a Sawamura Award (2007), which is awarded to the best pitcher in the NPB.
Since his MLB debut back in mid-April, Darvish has shown flashes of greatness. His play has already placed him as a front-runner in early season Rookie of the Year discussions.
The pitching competition in the AL is pretty stiff. Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox currently owns the American League’s best starting record (8-2) and ERA (2.05), according to ESPN.com. Darvish will also have to outshine last year’s AL Cy Young award recipient, Justin Verlander, who has been red hot with 95 strikeouts in 2012.
However, Darvish has the ability to surpass everyone’s expectations and reel in a highly coveted AL Cy Young award.
While earned run average may provide the most accurate depiction of pitching performance, there is no pitching play more impressive than the strikeout. Darvish excels in this statistical category with 77 strikeouts in 2012, placing him sixth among starting pitchers in the American League (via ESPN.com).
Darvish is the only pitcher in the AL with at least 75 strikeouts in less than 74 innings pitched, and he can attribute many of those strikeouts to his fastball. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Darvish’s four-seam fastball usually ranges from 91-94 mph, but tops out at 97. Darvish is on pace for 204 strikeouts on the season (via ESPN.com), but with that kind of heat, the young ace may toss many more.
In addition to posting 77 strikeouts, Darvish has been especially stingy when it comes to giving up hits. With 66 hits allowed in 72.2 innings pitched, only four AL pitchers have given up fewer hits while playing more or an equal amount of innings (via ESPN.com).
In his first 12 MLB starts, opposing batters have had a tough time hitting off of Darvish, as the Ranger has limited his opponents’ batting average to .237. Darvish has also been reluctant to give up the long ball, allowing only six home runs in 2012.
Darvish’s 101 opponents’ total bases places him in the top 10 fewest for American League pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched (via ESPN.com).
Some may argue that winning is the only thing that really matters. If the AL Cy Young voters feel that way, then Darvish may be in luck.
With a 7-4 record on the season, only teammate Matt Harrison, White Sox pitcher Chris Sale and Rays pitcher David Price have more wins (eight each). In the past decade, AL Cy Young winners have averaged just under 20 wins (via Baseball-Reference.com). According to ESPN.com, Darvish is on pace for 19 wins on the season, which places him in proximity of the past decade’s winners.
If Darvish can heat up in the final two-thirds of the season and break the 20-win barrier, his chances of earning an AL Cy Young award will increase exponentially.
However, winning 20 games is extremely unlikely for a rookie. The last player to do so was former Reds pitcher Tom Browning in his 1985 rookie campaign. The last rookie to tally 20 wins before Browning was former Yankees pitcher Bob Grim in 1954 (via Baseball-Reference.com).
Room for Improvement
At 25 years of age, Darvish still has a lot to learn. The fact that he’s played as well as he has thus far is impressive since it’s still only his first season in America. With much room for improvement, Darvish can become an extremely dangerous pitching threat if he continues to improve.
In the Nippon league, players use a smaller baseball. They also have a smaller strike zone. Although the differences between the NPB and MLB are minute, a position like pitcher requires a great deal of precision. Even the smallest details could make an incredible difference.
If Darvish is still working on adjusting to American regulations, he can become a true contender for the AL Cy Young award once he is fully accustomed to the differences.