Don’t Blame Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish “doesn’t fight,” wrote one Dallas-area media member earlier this week as the painful September slide of the Texas Rangers continued. “He’s crumbling under the pressure” and “not mentally tough,” added multiple fans commenting on the site of the Dallas Morning News.

It’s not particularly difficult to understand why Rangers fans are so agitated right now, because for the second season in a row, their team is collapsing down the stretch and ceding control of a division they once dominated to the rival Oakland Athletics. After consecutive World Series defeats in 2010 and 2011, the 2012 Rangers squandered a season-long run in first place by succumbing to a sweep in Oakland in the final series of the season.

This year, they spent 95 days atop the West and were within a half-game of first as recently as Sept. 6, but after dropping nine of 12 — including another sweep at the hands of Oakland — Ron Washington‘s team now finds itself 6 1/2 games behind the Athletics and on the verge of being knocked out of a playoff spot entirely.

There’s no shortage of places to put that blame, but the bulk of the frustration seems to be landing on Darvish, mainly because the Texas ace hasn’t pitched the Rangers to a win in any of his past six starts dating back to early August — including two painful losses against Oakland. So Darvish, as the narrative goes, doesn’t have “the will to win” and isn’t living up to his ace billing, right? Well, not quite.

No support

When Darvish lost to Oakland last Saturday, he struck out 10 and walked one in seven one-run innings, yet the Texas bats couldn’t muster anything against Bartolo Colon, and the Rangers lost 1-0. When Darvish lost to phenom Gerrit Cole and the Pirates on Sept. 9, he also threw seven one-run innings before leaving with a cramp, but the Texas offense again disappeared in a 1-0 loss. The losses made Darvish the first pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1989 — and only the fourth in the past century — to lose by a 1-0 margin four times in a single season.

Not only is the perception that Darvish has somehow been struggling inaccurate, he actually has been one of the best pitchers in the American League down the stretch, which means that the right question is not “why can’t Yu Darvish win,” it’s “would the Rangers even have been in the race without him?”

In 11 starts since the All-Star break, Darvish has allowed more than three earned runs only once, while holding opponents to two runs or fewer seven times. In the second half, he ranks fourth in the AL in ERA, fifth in WAR, eighth in FIP, first in strikeout percentage and first in batting average against. Those half-season rankings are similar to what he has for the full season, and only the presence of Max Scherzer and his 19-3 record is going to prevent Darvish from getting the recognition he deserves in the AL Cy Young balloting.

As Darvish heads into Thursday night’s start against Matt Moore and the Rays, he’s actually on pace to have a historically significant season. Over the past century, his current 11.9 strikeouts per nine mark has been topped by only three qualified starters – Randy Johnson, who did so six times, and once apiece by Pedro Martinez and Kerry Wood. There’s more to life than strikeouts, of course, but it’s difficult to look at the pitcher who is missing bats and not allowing runs and think that he’s your main problem here.

The real culprits

Rather than Darvish, Texas fans would do well to focus their contempt on Derek Holland, who just lasted a combined 7 2/3 innings in two September starts against Oakland, allowing 10 runs (nine earned). Or perhaps aim their vitriol toward failed midseason trade acquisition Matt Garza, who has allowed four or more earned runs in seven of his past nine starts — including six earned runs in a loss to Tampa Bay, their main wild-card competition, Monday night.

They might especially look at an offense that has scored just 55 runs in September, which is tied for the third fewest in baseball with the dreadful White Sox and Mariners. Texas has been struggling to support Darvish or any of its starters thanks to slumps by Adrian Beltre(.238/.304/.254), Ian Kinsler (.222/.253/.333, plus two outs on the bases Monday night) and Mitch Moreland (.154/.283/.410), and also because of the PED suspension to Nelson Cruz that deprived them of one of their top hitters.

Other than shortstop Elvis Andrus and outfielder Alex Rios, who came over from the White Sox in July, not a single regular Texas hitter is hitting at even a league-average rate this month. In the past seven games — all losses — they had played entering Tuesday, the Rangers never even held a lead. That’s not a typo — in seven full games, at no point did the Rangers have more runs than their opponent at any point.

It goes without saying that Darvish had nothing to do with most of those games, because this has been a team effort. Speaking after the most recent Oakland loss, the frustration from Darvish was evident, as he told reporters, “I can’t control it. I can’t do anything about it,” and “as a pitcher, you can’t control how many runs are scored. Am I going to go into the lineup and help the lineup? I can’t.”

Perhaps that’s a level of honesty that most aren’t comfortable with, because that borders dangerously close to the line of throwing your offense under the bus rather than simply spouting the company line that “we all need to do better as a team.” Maybe that’s why Darvish is taking the brunt of the blowback for this, or maybe it’s just mostly coming from those who still actually put importance in pitcher won-loss record despite all evidence to the contrary. Still, “crumbling under the pressure?” Far from it.




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and is an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

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