Eric Nadel, Yu Darvish, and the Ace That Isn’t (Maybe)

Darvish
I start with an admission: I revere Eric Nadel more than any single person who has ever been affiliated with the Texas Rangers. As a college freshman, my application essay (I wanted to be a play-by-play announcer at the time) was about him. He was the voice of my youth; the narrator for my romance with the game of baseball. Even as an adult, I am in awe of his knowledge of the game; his ability to explain baseball an a way that doesn’t patronize the uninitiated, but engages the experts.There are few minds in the game that I have respected more. 
But during Yu Darvish’s start against the White Sox, Twitter began to chirp about Nadel’s tone regarding Darvish: 

My initial reaction was to ignore it. Surely this was a misunderstanding of tone. But after the game, a series of tweets from Nadel’s own account laid out pretty clearly what he thought:

Well, then.Anyone else, I would have dismissed outright. Yu has been phenomenal, right? But this critique was coming from someone I respect as much as anyone who has ever worked with the organization. I couldn’t shake the doubt that maybe Nadel saw something the rest of us didn’t.I disagreed with my hero. So I took to baseball-reference.com and started digging to see who was right. Either I would bow again to the master, or I would become the coward Robert Ford.

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:

That sounded like a fair place to start. We want to know how Yu measures up against David Price, Felix Hernandex, and Max Scherzer this year, specifically in regards to his abilities to hold a lead and shut down the other team in an inning after the Rangers have scored. Let’s see:
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Darvish leads in only two categories: number of starts, and K/9. But let’s assign points. 4 points for 1st place, 3 for second, and so on: Your leaderboard looks like this (In keeping with the spirit of the “No Decision” stat, no points awarded for that category). I’ll also only award points for Percentage of Leads Protected and Percentage of SDIs (Not opportunities given), and Run Support is just there for looks. Here’s your AL Cy Young Leaderboard for the 2013 Season:Felix Hernandez: 36.5
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:

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First place is now worth 7 points, and so on. I’ll save you the math, here’s the scoreboard:Felix Hernandez: 54
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.

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Look at the three bottom rows. The bigger the game, the higher Darvish’s percentage of leads protected. But as “Leads Protected” goes up, the percentage of SDI conversions behaves alternately. There are a few other categories that support my claim of Darvish as an Ace (Fewer walks in big games, WAY fewer HR/9 in Massive Games than the Non-Big ones), and a few that land in the Nadel camp (ERA, WPA).At very least, you can say that the numbers are inconclusive, they’re relatively consistent across the board. Darvish doesn’t shrink away from big-pressure games.So it appears that Eric was wrong. Right? Have I flexed my analytical muscles and walked away from High Noon, smoking pistol in hand?

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:

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Ah. Here we are.” the young gunslinger whispers to himself as the quickly fading earth rises to greet him.Across the board, Darvish is better in games that aren’t close. Every single category.There is consolation here: Yu hasn’t lost any blowouts. Every single “Not Close” game has been one that the Rangers have scored more than seven runs. And really, I’m not sure you can blame Yu for the fact that the Rangers have averaged a mere 2.06 runs in Yu’s “close” starts. (Maybe he should have hit a home run in his start in Arizona?). But every other statistic is markedly worse.

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:

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First point of order: I forgot to add up the HR allowed in close / not-close games, so I’ve eliminated HR/9 as a category. I’ll punt that one and say that Darvish finishes last; it wasn’t an intentional omission, but somewhere around 5am, it got messy.At any rate, the leaderboard (with HR/9 omitted) for Not-Close Games looks like this:Max Scherzer: 45.5
Yu Darvish: 42.5
Felix Hernandez: 42
David Price: 35
Nolan Ryan: 27.5
Jack Morris: 20
Jack-in-the-Postseason: 11.5

(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?

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The totals, please:Max Scherzer: 41
Felix Hernandez: 38
Nolan Ryan: 37.5
Jack-in-the-Postseason: 30
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.

NOTES:
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.

Levi Weaver is a Special Contributor to ShutDownInng.com. He can be reached on Twitter@ThreeTwoEephus.
Levi Weaver

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