Yu Darvish and the 130 Pitches That Aren’t a Big Deal

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Yu Darvish is the Rangers Ace. More than that, Yu Darvish is an Ace. There are less than ten of those in baseball now, and probably at any one time, always. Aces are precious jewels, rare gems, treasures to be held onto and cherished as they sparkle and shine. That is what Yu Darvish is for the Rangers. He came with a hefty price tag, but he is well on his way to be worth every single dime. 
In last night’s 10-4 runaway win over Detroit, Darvish struggled to get through three innings. Then, he didn’t look too sharp in the fourth inning. By that point, Texas was up 8-4 and it looked like a night where he would go the obligatory five innings to collect a pitcher win and throw in the towel. So he pitched the fifth. And the sixth. And now he came out for the seventh, and punctuated his night with a 95 MPH fastball on the black to strike out Torii Hunter. What a performance. But wait, now here he is pitching the eighth inning as well.

When it was all said and done, Darvish finished eight innings, and threw 130 pitches, in what amounted to a blowout win.

Oh boy, did the Internet think that was a bad idea.

“It’s not about Darvish throwing 130 pitches. It’s about him pitching the eighth up 10-4 with a high pitch count and an eight-man bullpen.” – Joe Sheehan

“Darvish goes to 130 pitches, new career high. First Ranger to throw 130 pitches since 2004. Why he has thrown that many, I have no idea.” – Evan Grant

“Darvish approaching 130 pitches in a game where his team has a 6 run lead because ________?” – Jason Collette

“If this was a 1-run or 2-run game okay leave Darvish in there, but it’s 10-4.” – Mike Peasley

“Is Darvish being punished for something?” – Bob Sturm

“Darvish is a horse. I say screw pitch counts right now, let him ride. He isn’t human.#nolanryansextrainning” – Peter Ellwood

Wait, that last one is mine, and also quite unlike all the others.

I get the concern over 130 pitches. That’s a big number. I get that it was a blowout win. I get that the Rangers bullpen could have pitched more than one inning in this game and preserved the lead. Those are all good reasons that Darvish didn’t need to pitch that eighth inning.

But if the only reason is concern that Darvish can’t handle that many pitches, that’s where you lose me.

Much of the concern about high pitch counts in today’s baseball world stems from how Mark Prior was handled in 2002 and 2003 as a top prospect. After 2003, he was never the same, as injuries plagued the rest of his career. Prior wasn’t like a Chris Sale pitcher, where it just looks painful to watch him pitch and you expect his arm to snap off with every motion. He was supposed to have perfect mechanics, invulnerable to injury.

Here are the number of starts Prior made in 2002 and 2003, and what level of pitch count they fell into – less than 100, 100-115, or 115+:

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And here is what those same numbers look like for Darvish in his career, including last night:
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You can see in their rookies seasons (2002 and 2012, respectively), Darvish endured a larger workload than Prior. So far this year, Darvish is on pace to not be strained as much as Prior, but it is not too far off, either. If Darvish was built the same as Prior, there could be a cause for concern here.

Except that prior to his call-up as a rookie in 2002, Prior had pitched a total of 51 minor league innings. He was drafted out of USC in the 2001 draft, and spent a month and a half in the minors in 2002 before getting the call up. He was 21 at the time.

By contrast, Darvish was a 25-year old rookie last year who spent the last six seasons in Japan throwing 150 innings or more, going over 200 innings in four of those seasons. Darvish has proven he can bear a workload, and the Rangers believe in that.

Top to bottom, the Rangers organization looks at Darvish as a stud, and last night, they treated him like one. Those 130 pitches were a statement. It was a statement that said Darvish can handle it, that the Rangers believe in his makeup, in his #want enough to trust him to handle that kind of workload.

There has been no studlier stud in baseball in recent history than Darvish’s counterpoint last night, Justin Verlander. He’s been the best pitcher in baseball for the last four years. Here are the same pitch count charts for Verlander since 2009:

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Those are just gaudy numbers. Darvish isn’t close to that kind of usage. And it hasn’t slowed Verlander down at all.

Aces do things like pitch eight innings in six-run games to give the bullpen a rest after a long trip back from California that got a late-night detour in New Mexico because of tornadoes in Texas.

Darvish said he thought Washington was going to take him out after the seventh inning. Wash asked if he could go another. Darvish said he felt good. He went out and got a 1-2-3 inning from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez, throwing his fourth-fastest pitch of the night at 97 MPH.

Yu Darvish is the Rangers’ Emmitt Smith. He is the anti-Josh Hamilton.

Yu Darvish is the Rangers Ace. If he says he’s good to go, give him the ball, and watch him sparkle.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM

Peter Ellwood

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