When the defending American League West Division champions, the Texas Rangers, announced that Japanese superstar ace Yu Darvish would be on the bump for their Opening Day clash against pennant-winning Cleveland, it came as a sort of a shock.
Given the excellence of Cole “Hollywood” Hamels last season and his position as the A1 option in the rotation, the emergence of Darvish over Hamels is surprising. Hamels went 15-5 with 3.32 ERA (eighth in AL) in just over 200 innings, whereas Darvish struggled after returning from Tommy John surgery and recorded a 7-5 record in 17 starts with an ERA over 3.40.
But I’ll tell you why the team with their ninth different opening day starter in nine years made the right decision in tapping Darvish’s shoulder, and it is no hot take. The 30-year-old native of Habikino, Osaka, is the greatest strikeout artist in the history of baseball.
Darvish didn’t debut in the major leagues until he was nearly 26, and he has missed over 50 starts to injury in the past three season, so in terms of cumulative stats, he will of course fail to catch pitchers such as Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, who successfully pitched well into their 40s and are both among the career leaders in innings pitched. However, I’d like to introduce the best stat to evaluate strikeout kings, and that’s strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9 or SO/9), a measure that tracks a pitcher’s strikeouts per start and rounds them out to nine innings each.
If Player X were to have five strikeouts in seven innings of work in three straight games, his average K/9 would be 6.42, which is about league average. Here’s where the stats Darvish can pump out get insane.
You see that? In four seasons of baseball, Darvish’s K/9 rate is 11.32. What’s staggering about this stat is that Darvish is first overall in the history of baseball — not by just a little bit, or a couple of points, but nearly seven percent higher than Johnson’s second-place. The gap between Darvish and Johnson (.71 strikeouts) is higher than the divide between ninth-ranked Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw and 20th-ranked Jonathan Sanchez (.70), which is absolutely ridiculous.
If Darvish were to continue at his 11.32 K/9 pace while pitching the same number of innings (4,135.2) as Johnson, the Rangers righty would finish with 5,201 strikeouts, second all-time behind Ryan. Now, Darvish would have to play until he’s 53 to accomplish this at a 200-inning per year pace, but that kind of average is absurd.
With Darvish being healthy (hopefully all year long) this 2017 season, the pride of Japan could bolster his ratings in more ways than one. The former Cy Young runner-up to Max Scherzer in 2013 has another shot at capturing the trophy this year.