Yu Darvish burst onto the scene last season for the Texas Rangers as the prized import of the offseason. He baffled hitters with a variety of pitches and arm slots en route to an impressive first season.
But Major League hitters these days have access to so much video footage that they’re able to study an opposing pitcher’s tendencies incessantly. That being said, it was almost a given that Darvish would not experience that same level of success as his rookie season.
Darvish, though, has had other plans. His early body of work has brought him into the conversation as the AL’s best righty -- if not best pitcher.
Through eight starts, Darvish is 6-1 this season with a 2.73 ERA. He’s leading the bigs with 80 strikeouts, 14 more than the next closest pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates’ starter A.J. Burnett, who has the same amount of starts.
He’s had double-digit strikeout performances in half of his starts. In fact, there’s been only one start this year in which Darvish struck out less than seven batters -- a game in which he only last five innings yet still got the win against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Opponents are hitting just .163 off Darvish, which is the best mark in the AL and second only to Matt Harvey of the New York Mets (.133). He’s so filthy that opposing hitters are swinging and missing at his pitches over 40 percent of the time.
Of course, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander will always be among the top performers as the AL’s best righty. This season, Clay Buchholz and Darvish’s countryman Hisashi Iwakuma are off to scorching starts.
But what’s made Darvish’s start to this season so impressive is that he’s gotten even better following his rookie season. He finished 16-9 last year with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts. Those are impressive numbers any season for a pitcher, especially in a rookie year.
Again, though, hitters eventually figure out a starter after detailed preparation. Look at the case of Hideo Nomo, who like Darvish was unhittable his first season.
Nomo won Rookie of the Year in 1995 after finishing 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA and a league-leading 236 strikeouts in 28 starts. The following year, he still had a good record at 16-11, but his ERA crept up to 3.19. By his third year, he was a middle-of-the-pack starter at 14-12 with a 4.25 ERA.
The thing about Darvish that makes him so unpredictable is his variation of pitches. He throws at least seven pitches effectively, and since he’s able to maintain the same delivery, opposing hitters have no idea what to expect.
He’s also shown impeccable command of all those pitches. It’s a small sample, but his walk numbers are already down this year.
If he keeps up this pace, Darvish will have a special year that will be remembered for the ages. Now we’re seeing why the Rangers broke the bank to sign this guy.
With the stuff he has, don’t be surprised if comes through with the final out of a no-hitter or perfect game that he was so close to achieving in his first start this year.