|Yu Darvish had an uneven rookie season, but could be in for a huge breakout this year. (US Presswire)|
Yu Darvish can win the Cy Young award. After a promising, but somewhat uneven, rookie year, Darvish is getting a lot of buzz as a potential favorite to take home the hardware. Our own Dayn Perry believes Darvish can beat out Justin Verlander, David Price and Felix Hernandez for the award. On the surface, this seems surprising. Darvish doesn't have the track record of those players, and his rookie season 3.90 ERA would be the highest of any Cy Young winner. But Darvish's ERA doesn't tell the whole story, and there's reason to believe he could be in for a major breakout.
First off, Darvish's debut season was actually pretty excellent. There's plenty of evidence suggesting ERA is not the best stat to use when judging pitchers, and that's absolutely the case with Darvish. His 3.90 ERA may not have been Cy Young-worthy, but Darvish's advanced metrics put him in some really great company.
The above chart shows some players who produced at a similar level during their age-25 seasons. Six players on that list won Cy Young awards during their careers. Darvish's 3.29 FIP also ranks well among the group, and is a much better indicator of what he's capable of going forward.
The chart also reveals Darvish's biggest weakness. His 10.9 percent walk rate ranked as the fourth worst among starting pitchers last season. It's the one flaw in his game that prevents him from being elite. But there's some evidence that control is not going to be a problem this year. It may have taken Darvish awhile to adjust to MLB's strike-zone, but he started to figure things out in September. During the season's final month, Darvish started throwing strikes more consistently, as FanGraphs' Jeff Zimmerman pointed out. Darvish's 52 percent Zone% in the season's final month was a season-high. His numbers during that month were fantastic. Darvish had a 2.21 ERA and a 1.89 FIP in September. More importantly, Darvish only walked seven hitters that month, a season-low.
It can be dangerous to use September stats as a harbinger of things to come. With teams using expanded rosters, Darvish could have been facing minor-league talent when he put up these numbers. His success during the season's final month comes with some qualifiers. Darvish never had control issues in Japan, so it could be a case of a pitcher figuring things out after a few months in the majors.
Given his elite strikeout numbers, and the fact that he'll be pitching for a good team, Darvish does have the talent to compete for the Cy Young award. If last year's September surge was a sign of things to come, Darvish could jump into the elite level of pitchers this season. He may be a surprising pick right now, but no one will be doubting his ability at the end of the year.