It has been 11 years since a Major League pitcher struck out 300 batters in a single-season. After decades in which the 300 “plateau” was easily attainable from the best pitchers in baseball, there has been a gradual decline in punch-outs, and while the reasons range from declining innings to caps on pitch counts, the fact that strikeout numbers are down for individual pitchers is undeniable.
In 2013, Yu Darvish is bucking that trend.
Through his first 11 starts, Darvish has 105 strikeouts in 74.1 innings, and, depending on which “estimate” you favor, has a real chance at cracking 300 strikeouts. He is currently averaging 9.55 strikeouts per start, and if he matched the league-leaders in starts at 33, he would arrive at 315 strikeouts. However, the Rangers’ right-hander made only 29 starts last season, and since 33 starts is the absolute peak of his availability, it would be safer to assume 31 starts, which would place him just short of the mark at 296 K’s.
A different estimate would be to take his gaudy strikeout ratio of 12.71 per 9 innings, and project that over a “normal” workload for a pitcher like Darvish. If this rate held true for the duration of the season, Darvish would need to throw “only” 213 innings to surpass the 300-K plateau, and if he can make 30+ starts, that number is certainly within reach.
What does it all mean? Well, in short, Yu Darvish is one-of-a-kind in today’s MLB landscape. Yes, pitchers like Clayton Kershaw (career-high of 248 K’s) and Justin Verlander (career-high of 269 K’s) are outstanding, but neither has shown the capability to realistically approach 300 strikeouts in a single season. Furthermore, Darvish’s career strikeout rate of 11.04 per 9 innings would easily surpass the active leaders in the category if he had enough MLB innings to qualify. For perspective, Tim Lincecum currently leads all active starting pitchers in K/9 with a rate of 9.75, and with Darvish’s rate of over a full run higher, he is simply in another class.
It remains to be seen whether Darvish can keep up this tremendous pace, but in the first two months, he has put together an outstanding run. Prior to the 2013, the consensus seemed to be that the 300 strikeout mark would never be approached again, but with Darvish’s blazing arsenal of pitches and his willingness to go deep into games, Randy Johnson’s “last pitcher to reach 300” title is certainly in danger.