Yu-mania (and all the associated “Yu” puns that go with it) is upon us. While tensions continue to mount with North Korea, America and its pastime are falling in love with another Asian import, and for once it’s not an electronic product, a car, or this guy. Major League Baseball has an odd habit of having a big opening day of games followed by a relatively light slate, which was just fine as Yu Darvish’s performance against the Astros was more than enough to captivate all audiences.
The stat line is impressive: 8.2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 14 K’s.
Darvish faced twenty-seven batters (we must use the term liberally when referring to the Astros), and it wasn’t until that twenty-seventh man hit a grounder up the middle that Darvish’s bid for the twenty-fourth perfect game in Major League history came an end. It would have been Mon-Yu-mental…See, it’s just too easy with this guy’s name, and damn is it annoying. I’ll take the pledge now to avoid anymore awful “Yu” puns.
Darvish is a trendy pundit selection for A.L. Cy Young coming into the season because: A) He’s on a good team and should get some wins, B) Has a gaudy strikeout rate (2nd in the A.L. in 2012 among qualified starters with a 10.4 K/9 rate), and C) is a classic “I’m smarter than you” pick. It’s no fun for writers and analysts who follow the game to pick Felix Hernandez (2010 winner), Justin Verlander (2011 winner), or David Price (2012 winner) even though all three of those guys are still in the prime of their career. That would be so passé. No, the analysts need to pick someone just slightly off the beaten path (even though that path is paved, well-lit, and privately maintained) because if it hits, the analyst gets to puff their chest and walk around with a smug sense of self-confidence often seen on Fox News shows. It also helps that Darvish is a very, very good pitcher.
Enter tonight’s start. The analysts mentioned in the paragraph above love to talk “sample size” and not taking any one start too seriously. Don’t you dare suggest that spring training darling Yasiel Puig is legit to these guys. They will figuratively, and if close enough to them in a Home Depot literally, take out their pitchforks and attempt to stab you for suggesting spring training results matter or that 60 at bats have any meaningful correlation to long-term success. All of that, naturally, goes out the window when discussing their pre-season crush’s start versus the lowly Astros. Sure, they might pay lip service to “it’s only one start,” but similar to the flow of this sentence their quote too will have a “but” attached to it. As in:
“It’s only one start, but Darvish was absolutely brilliant tonight.” Or..
“It’s only one start, but the movement and command of the zone Darvish displayed tonight is why [I] am so excited about him this year.”
To be fair, both of these sentences could be true. They also contain absolutely no added value because at the end of the day, one game, is one game, is one game. Since 2000, there have been four perfect games in the American League. They were thrown by: Mark Buehrle (2009), Dallas Braden (2010), Phillip Humber (2012), and Felix Hernandez (2012). Exactly zero of those guys won a Cy Young the same year. Only Felix Hernandez even received a vote for Cy Young the same year. Hell, it’d be more correct based on the previous 4 perfect games to assume Yu Darvish was facing the Tampa Bay Rays (3/4 occurred versus the Rays), then to assume this near perfect game is any indicator of Cy Young success. Of course, this wasn’t a perfect game, and Darvish wasn’t facing the Rays. Instead, he was facing an Astros team that is more popular than a Yu-Darvish-Cy -Young-prediction to finish with the worst record in baseball this year.
Were I to have to select between predicting Yu Darvish to win the Cy Young or the Houston Astros to actually be no-hit this year, I’d select the latter. As a matter of fact, I think the Astros might get no-hit multiple times this year. I don’t want to pile on the Astros. This is a team taking a radical, aggressive approach to rebuilding not just their major league team but their entire method of operation. Short-term be damned.
In 2012, the Astros led all major league teams with a 22.7 K% by their batters. Since 2005, only the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks had a team K% higher than last year’s Astros. While strikeout loving players like Jordan Schafer and Bryan Bugosevic are no longer getting consistent at-bats, the Astros have added some other impressive human fans to their everyday projections. Barring injury, the Astros will likely give at least 400-500 at bats to Rick Ankiel (25% career K-rate), Carlos Pena (26.8%), and Chris Carter (32.5%). Small sample-size recognized, the Astros have struck out on 42.86% of their at bats over these first two games. The guy the Astros faced in game 1, Matt Harrison, matched a career high with 9 strikeouts in just 5.2 IP. Harrison has appeared in 127 major league games and has recorded 7 or more strikeouts in only 10 of those appearances. It was 2011 the last time Harrison recorded 8 or more strikeouts in a single game.
Just before the season began, the Astros trotted out most of their regulars for a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves and faced Braves rookie Julio Teheran. The line-up for that game varied very little from the one Darvish faced tonight, and the Astros made Teheran a very happy guy by solidifying his place in the Braves rotation after he managed to throw 6 hitless innings while striking out 10. This Astros team is bad. Like, real bad. And they have the potential to be historically bad. It’s hard to imagine that they will manage to go 160 more games this season without putting up a goose-egg in the hits column over 9 full innings (as opposed to doing it over just 8.2).
Yu Darvish probably just had the best start he’ll have all season versus an awful line-up. While it’s fair to applaud his efforts, let’s hold-off on passing out the Cy Young ballots just yet,