Ace Stuff

Yu
Do aces ever experience a 3-22 stretch?

For the last two and a half seasons, some local DFW media and fans have argued whether Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish is an “ace”. Darvish is a pitcher who seems to be appreciated more by a larger majority of baseballs fans outside of his own market, but seems to be thought of as a mediocre starting pitcher who is at fault when the team struggles by many in the DFW market. Arguing whether Darvish should be considered acey is in the author’s opinion a redundant exercise because the term “ace” is largely subjective and the numbers provide evidence Darvish has been one of the more valuable pitchers in baseball.

So, what exactly is an “ace”? Well, that is open to interpretation, but a pitcher is usually considered ace material by many after he has won an important game, or some type of award. Many fans and writers are also advocates of seeing a pitcher display proper body language while dominating the opposition.

The so-called “ace mentality” of attacking a hitter with the electric stuff the ace wields. While Darvish has yet to win a playoff game with the Rangers, he has yielded a career ERA+ of 129, accumulated 12.7 rWAR, led the league in strikeouts in 2013, and finished second in Cy Young Award voting last season. Darvish has also been an All-Star all three years he has played in the United States.

Despite Darvish generating excellent production far exceeding what he is currently being paid, we still hear complaints about his stubbornness, #AceStuffButNotAceTough nonsense, his record against Oakland, and today in an article by a baseball writer at The Dallas Morning News, a nascent grumble regarding Darvish that teams with an “ace” do not have stretches in which they go 3-22. I am not here to be critical of the beat writer because the beat writer is more successful at writing than I ever will be, but I found this criticism very odd and unfair. Darvish has not exactly been marvelous during the 3-22 stretch, but he has also not been terrible, posting an xFIP of 2.78 since June 1st (Yay arbitrary endpoints!), right around the time the Rangers began playing poorly. Darvish is the least of the Rangers problems in 2014, and to throw any blame Darvish’s way for this disastrous season is ludicrous. Darvish was one of the reasons the Rangers were able to stay afloat as long as they did.

The beat writer’s usage of selective endpoints to construct a narrative and assertion that teams who go 3-22 during a season do not have any “aces” led me to question this because with all the random fluctuation in baseball, surely plenty of great starting pitchers have been a part of a 3-22 stretch. So, I decided to use the wonderful Play Index over at Baseball-Reference to find out how many “aces” have experienced a miserable stretch like Darvish has in 2014. The following is the list of Hall of Fame (Yes, Hall of Fame) pitchers who have been on a team which has at one point during a season gone 3-22.

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Yes, a Hall of Fame pitcher has not been a part of a 3-22 team since 1972, and baseball was a MUCH different game in these eras, but it turns out legendary pitchers being on a 3-22 team is not so unprecedented. These twelve pitchers make up 17% of the pitchers enshrined in Cooperstown. Red Ruffing and Early Wynn accomplished the dubious feat twice before they reached their Hall of Fame peak. Also, you may have noticed three of the most revered pitchers in history appear on this list in Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and the man who has a pitching award named after him in Cy Young. I guess baseball has to rename their pitching award because you cannot have an award named after a non-ace. And, hey, how about those 1902 Giants? That team featured two Hall of Fame pitchers in their rotation and still managed to go 3-22 during a 25 game stretch! Herb Pennock was no longer a member of the A’s when they went 3-22 in 1915, so maybe his exit caused the A’s to spiral out of control before #AsMagic I guess.

As previously mentioned, “ace” is a subjective term, but not just limited to pitchers in the Hall of Fame as plenty of “aces” have been unable to be elected into Cooperstown. Jack Morris is a pitcher who immediately come to mind and then causes debate among many. Sadly, much to the dismay of the analytical crowd, Morris was never on a 3-22 team, so his status as an “ace” is safe. However, these notable “aces” did tote the rubber at one time for a team which went 3-22.

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The majority of this list were either past or not yet in their prime. Schilling and Kaat were in their first seasons in 1988 and 1959, respectively, and combined to pitch in seven games. However, Schilling was pitching really well in 1997 and 1999, yet the Phillies still managed to lose 22 of 25 both years. Three years after Schilling and Johnson dominated the postseason, Johnson was part of a dreadful Diamondbacks team which lost 111 games. Johnson also threw a perfect game in 2004. Schilling and Johnson’s name should both be on the first list soon. Viola won the Cy Young Award in 1988. Larsen threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and Podres won the 1955 World Series MVP. Sanchez was arguably the best pitcher in the Detroit rotation last year, and Keuchel appears to have become a top of the rotation type pitcher in Houston in 2014. Were all of these pitchers “aces” in the season their teams went 3-22? No, but the majority of them still pitched well enough one would think to avoid 3-22, and they had the reputation of an “ace”, were already an “ace, or became an “ace” shortly afterwards.

So, we have learned that “aces” can indeed play for teams which go 3-22 during a season. This can be due to a variety of factors including random fluctuation, and the team just simply not being very talented. There are several reasons why the Rangers are struggling in 2014 including injuries, underperformance, and bullpen regression, but Yu Darvish is certainly not one of them. Could he have performed better during this 3-22 stretch? Sure, and he is aware of that. Darvish is not absolved of some responsibility, but he also does not play every day, and his recent performance can certainly not be considered dreadful. So, let’s stop the Darvish is not an “ace” nonsense because the argument is both stupid and subjective. Enjoy Darvish while he is here. He’s awesome. Also, “aces”, top of the rotation pitchers, or workhorses, or whatever the hell the reader wants to call them, have played on 3-22 teams, so let’s stop that narrative as well because it is also false.

Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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