Can Yu Darvish Be One of Most Dominant Strikeout Pitchers in MLB History?

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Can Yu Darvish Be One of Most Dominant Strikeout Pitchers in MLB History?

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish has been racking up strikeouts this season at an impressive rate.

Strike that—he's put himself up among the all-time greats in terms of whiffs.

Before his start on Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Darvish was on pace to post one of the greatest single-season strikeout performances in history.

By the time Darvish was done on Thursday against the Diamondbacks, he had another 14 strikeouts in seven innings, boosting his K/9 rate to 12.07, which moves him from 10th to eighth on the above list, courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. 

It puts him in rarefied air for sure, but is he going to be just a one-hit wonder like Kerry Wood, or can he continue his dominance for many years like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez?

Let's take a closer look at Darvish's achievement on Thursday and where it put him among the greats:

It's probably safe to say that ESPN was more than impressed with Darvish's efforts. Still, there are going to be those who argue that it's way too early to start putting Darvish up on a pedestal along with some of the all-time greats in terms of whiffs per nine innings.

Let's take a look at where Johnson and Martinez were early in their careers. Last year, Darvish posted a 10.4 K/9 rate in his first year in the majors. Just to be fair, we'll look at Martinez and Johnson's first full season with at least 200 innings pitched. 

Player (age that year) Strikeouts per 9 IP Year
Randy Johnson (26) 7.9 1990
Pedro Martinez (24) 9.2 1996
Yu Darvish (25) 10.4 2012

It's pretty clear that Darvish matches up quite favorably in that regard. To better illustrate just what Darvish has achieved this season, it's important to look at just how impressive his four separate starts with at least 14 strikeouts are in the grand scheme of things.

Those facts alone obviously put Darvish in elite company. But is it enough to earn him the right to be mentioned among the likes of Martinez and Johnson?

 

Dominance Doesn't Have to Take into Account Longevity

Looking back at the career of Randy Johnson, it's easy to see why he'll go down as one of the greatest pitchers in history. He led the league with the highest K/9 rate nine times during his 22-year career and posted a K/9 rate of at least 10.0 a whopping 15 times.

Martinez led the league five times with the highest K/9 rate, seven times finishing seasons above 10.0. Darvish, meanwhile, has already posted at least a 10.0 K/9 rate twice—barring injury or a complete collapse this season. 

In addition, Darvish doesn't just do it with the fastball. According to BrooksBaseball.net, he threw his four-seam fastball on Thursday at an average velocity of 93.67 mph and peaked at a high of 98.18 mph. But he only registered four strikeouts with the heater. 

It was Darvish's slider that did much of the damage. He struck out eight batters with that pitch, inducing an 18.18 percent whiff rate as well. 

The great pitchers don't just get by with the four-seamer. Johnson and Martinez were famous for it, but they relied on great secondary pitches to complement their signature pitch. 

Darvish can use his four-seamer, slider, two-seamer, curveball, cutter and changeup to keep batters off-balance and guessing. Dominance isn't just about the ability to strike out batters at a tremendous pace. It's also about having guile, knowledge of hitters and a terrific array of secondary pitches to get the job done.

Darvish hasn't even hit his peak years yet, and he's already shown the ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done. And there's no reason to think that at this point Darvish can't continue to carry that dominance into the next several seasons. 

 

No-Hitter Watch

Johnson threw two no-hitters in his career, including a perfect game at the age of 40 in 2004. Martinez retired 27 straight San Diego Padres hitters in 1995 before allowing a double to start the 10th inning. He also threw several dazzling one-hitters during his career, including a superb 17-strikeout effort against the New York Yankees in 1999.

In his first start of the 2013 season, Darvish was nearly perfect himself.

Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media, via MLB.com.

There's no question that Darvish has the capability to throw a no-hitter or perfect game on any given night. Darvish's array of pitches combined with his power makes him dangerous every time he takes the mound. 

What made Johnson and Martinez so unique was that they both had overpowering fastballs and an outstanding repertoire of secondary pitches. 

It's easy to see now that Darvish matches them in that department. And the way that opposing hitters have continually flailed at his offerings, they would begrudgingly agree. 

 

Doug Mead is a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

Feel free to talk baseball with Doug anytime on Twitter.

 

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