Nobody in baseball today knows the agony of just missing a no-hitter quite like Yu Darvish.
But here's something you can count on: It won't be that way forever.
If you missed what happened on Friday night, you missed the Texas Rangers ace flirt with history in an 8-0 drubbing of the Boston Red Sox. First by chasing a perfect game, and then by chasing a no-hitter.
There was a time when it looked like the perfect game was going to happen, as Darvish seemed to be moments away from having a perfecto through seven innings when David Ortiz lofted a harmless fly ball to right field with two outs. All Darvish needed was for either Rougned Odor or Alex Rios to catch it.
Neither did. The ball dropped, allowing Big Papi to reach first. No more perfect game...but since the official scorer ruled the play an error on Rios, his no-hitter was kept intact.
Right call? Wrong call? In my opinion, it was a defensible call. Rule 10.12 states it is "not necessary" for a fielder to touch the ball in order to be charged with an error, and also allows for errors to be charged on outfielders who don't catch balls that can be caught with "ordinary effort."
It doesn't matter, though. The argument became academic when Big Papi came up again and did this when Darvish was just one out away from a no-hitter in the ninth inning:
A nice, clean base hit.
That was it for Darvish. With his pitch count at 126, Texas manager Ron Washington came out to get him. What could have been either a perfect game or a no-hitter ended as just another excellent outing by Darvish: 8.2 innings, one hit, two walks and 12 strikeouts.
It's OK to feel bummed for Darvish. As MLB.com's Richard Justice noted, Friday's near-miss was hardly his first:
Yu Darvish has taken no-hitters into the 7th inning or later four times in his three big league seasons.— Richard Justice (@richardjustice) May 10, 2014
Poor guy. No pitcher should have to suffer that many near-misses.
But one way to look at it is that Darvish is due for a no-hitter eventually. And given what we know about what he can do, it's more than a fair bet that he will indeed get one.
As much as we like to treat no-hitters as super-special occurrences, they're really just ordinary dominant outings with a little extra luck sprinkled in. Anybody can pitch one. Even Bud Smith.
But it helps to be good. As guys like Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and many other aces who have pitched no-hitters can vouch, any pitcher who dominates often enough stands a good chance of running into a no-hitter eventually.
And that's the thing about Darvish: Dominant outings are what he does. Better than any pitcher in the American League, as a matter of fact.
Friday night's start works as a solid guideline for what we're talking about. In it, Darvish did the following:
- Struck out at least 10 over at least seven innings.
- Allowed three or fewer hits over at least seven innings.
- Compiled a Game Score over 90.
Want to know how often Darvish has done the first thing since he entered the league in 2012? Friday night's game was his 16th such start, seven more than any other American League pitcher.
Want to know how often Darvish has done the second thing? Friday night's game made it 13 for Darvish, three more than any other American League pitcher.
As for that last one, Friday night's game was Darvish's third start with a Game Score—a stat created by Bill James that measures the quality of a pitcher's outing by adding and subtracting points based on innings pitched, strikeouts, hits allowed, etc.—of at least 90. Since 2012, the only American Leaguer with that many 90-plus Game Score starts is James Shields.
Point being, it's no wonder that Darvish has had a tendency to flirt with no-hitters. That's an offshoot of him being very good at putting together the kinds of starts that are liable to turn into no-hitters.
And that, in turn, is an offshoot of Darvish being a really, really good pitcher.
Yeah, that's probably obvious at this point. But since it's fun to review the numbers of the greats, here they are (via FanGraphs):
|Split||K/9||Opp. AVG||Opp. OPS||ERA||FIP||WAR|
Note: Darvish's opponents' OPS is from Baseball-Reference.com, with the minimum set at 200 innings.
It's beyond easy to argue that Darvish is one of the 10 best starters in the American League. It's very easy to argue that he's actually one of the five best starters in the American League.
And between the strikeouts, the low opponents' average and the low opponents' OPS, there's absolutely a case for Darvish to be made as the least hittable pitcher in the American League.
And here's the kicker: These numbers aren't even updated to include Darvish's domination of the Red Sox on Friday night. They'll look even better in the morning.
Bottom line: If you're sitting there hoping, wishing and praying to see Darvish throw a no-hitter in your lifetime, I really wouldn't worry yourself too much about it. He hasn't had the necessary luck just yet, but if there's a pitcher in the American League who's a sure bet to throw one eventually, it's him.
So just wait. And be patient.
And make sure you're always tuned in when Darvish is on the bump.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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