Eric Nadel, Yu Darvish, and the Ace That Isn’t (Maybe)
PART ONE: WHO IS AN ACE?
There has to be a bar set. Someone must be an ace in the American League, right? For nominations, I went again to Nadel’s own Twitter account:
Max Scherzer: 35
Yu Darvish: 29
David Price: 19.5
Well, he didn’t finish last place. That’s a start.
HISTORY BY COMPARISON
Nadel also mentioned Jack Morris. So, let’s take a look at these 2013 AL Aces compared to Morris’ 1991 campaign (The year he won the World Series MVP). Also, since we’re writing about Texas Aces (Texaces?), let’s throw in Nolan Ryan’s 1989 season as well, since that was the only other time a Ranger has had 10+ starts with 10+ strikeouts. And just for kicks, since Jack Morris was name-checked directly, let’s also list Jack Morris’ entire postseason career. Since Morris only had 13 Postseason appearances, it would be unfair to give points for Games or W/L, so let’s throw those out, and only award points to the averaged/percentage stats:
Max Scherzer: 46
Yu Darvish: 38.5
Nolan Ryan: 37
David Price: 28
Jack Morris: 25
Jack-in-the-postseason: 23.5Something I noticed in these first two charts is that there’s a definite issue with the percentage of leads Yu is giving up, but not drastically so. Overall, I feel justified saying that holds his own just fine against these stalwarts.
But obviously, I’m just buttressing my own fort before the real explosions start: Nadel never said Yu wasn’t a great pitcher; I just wanted to put his season into perspective. He’s not the Cy Young winner, but he’s in the same atmosphere.
PART TWO: THE BIG GAME
Another widely-accepted definition of an Ace is someone who pitches well in big games and close games, right? So I broke Yu’s starts down into three categories: “Not-Big”, “Big”, and “Massive”.
I arbitrarily defined “Not Big” as games where the lead (or deficit) in the Division race or the Wild Card race was greater than 4 and the Rangers were not playing a division leader. Thus, “Big” games were those where the lead/deficit (Division or Wild Card) was 4 or less, OR the Rangers were playing a division leader.
The last category is “Massive” games. The perameters here are that the lead/deficit (Division or Wild Card) was one game or less, -or- the Rangers were playing head-to-head with a team who was within 4 games of them (Division or Wild Card).
I listed both 2012 and 2013, just for comparison.
Well, not yet.
PART THREE: CLOSE GAMES
I still have yet to address Nadel’s main concern. Namely, that Darvish was consistently giving up leads and runs in close games. There are some who like to use the “Games in which your team scored 4 or fewer runs”, but there are a lot of close games that end up 6-5, no? So for the sake of this piece, I am defining “close” by this criteria: any game which a pitcher leaves the game with an advantage or deficit of 3 or fewer runs. Here are Yu’s splits:
But I have one more set of comparisons for you. It wouldn’t be fair to examine Yu in close games unless we also went back to the other Aces: Ryan, Morris, Felix, Scherzer, and Price. How do their splits look? They are absolutely Aces, right? First, let’s look at how they stack up in games that were not close:
Yu Darvish: 42.5
Felix Hernandez: 42
David Price: 35
Nolan Ryan: 27.5
Jack Morris: 20
(Morris was probably dinged up a little by my gaffe with the HR/9. You can give him 7 additional points if you want, and he’s still in last and next-to-last.)
Dig into those numbers a bit. Darvish doesn’t lose in blowouts. (Neither does Max Scherzer this year.)
But that is irrelevant, right? How do they match up in close games?
Felix Hernandez: 38
Nolan Ryan: 37.5
Jack Morris: 29
Yu Darvish: 25
David Price: 23Maybe Nadel is right. Maybe Darvish does need to be better in close games. I’ll admit, I was surprised by the numbers I found (though I’m not at all surprised that Nadel would see something I didn’t).
But is he an Ace?
There is still learning to be done. He does need to improve his ability to hold leads in close games. Give the voice of the Rangers his due; he was unafraid to state an unpopular opinion that had some merit.
But for the record, I’ve not heard anyone anywhere question that David Price is an ace. If Price’s stats are the dress code for entry into the Ace Club, I can confidently say we have a bonafide member.
1. For “Run Support”, I changed the statistic a little, and only counted the runs that were scored when the starting pitcher was in the game. I know this is not the traditional method of calculating this statistic, but for the sake of this comparison, it seemed to make more sense. Later, when I began to calculate “Close Game”, I could have gone back and changed it, but I opted to stick with this iteration because it seemed more relevant to the question at hand.
2. I’m aware that the comparisons to Nolan in 1989 and Jack Morris in 1991 are absolutely arbitrary. I picked those seasons because at a quick glance, they appeared to be really good seasons that each guy had. If I had it to do again, I would have probably included the last 3-4 Cy Young winners in the AL.
3. I didn’t include any National League pitchers because Clayton Kershaw is either not of this planet, or is employing some manner of dark magic on the mound. Either way, he is thus disqualified from comparison.