Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/9/14

Last night, Yu Darvish took the mound against the Red Sox, and not surprisingly, he racked up a lot of walks and strikeouts. This is a common trend for Darvish, who has ended 39.6% of opposing plate appearances with a walk, hit batter, or a strikeout. Darvish is the kind of pitcher who succeeds or fails on his own, relying less on his defense than just about any other pitcher in the sport.

It’s not unusual for guys with premium stuff — which Darvish definitely has — to struggle with command early in their careers. However, as Bill Petti showed back in May, normal aging curves for starting pitchers don’t show a drastic improvement in command. Is it any different with high walk, high strikeout guys who simply need to learn to harness their stuff? Or, to put it another way, have other Darvish-like starting figured out how to throw strikes and take advantage of their velocity and movement?

To look at this, I applied the new filters available on the leaderboard to restrict the list to guys who matched three variables – walk rate, strikeout rate, and fastball velocity. Since we’re relying on velocity as an input, that means we can only look back to 2002, so our sample is smaller but we’re more likely to get a better match in terms of stuff, so that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. To come up with a list of guys who have had similar seasons to what Darvish is having now, I filtered using a minimum of 100 IP, 12% BB%, 20% K%, and FBv of 91.0 mph. While Darvish is well above the 20% strikeout mark, we do want to account for the fact that strikeout rate has been trending upwards, and so slightly lower K% in prior years were similar in terms of difference to league average. The list of names who match those inputs aren’t all that flattering.

Those filters return 14 seasons, but three of them belong to 2012 pitchers — Darvish, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez — which doesn’t really help us in understanding how pitchers like this develop in later years. Here are those 11 seasons, with Darvish’s 2012 left in for context.

Season Name Age IP BB% K% ERA- FIP- xFIP- 2009 Clayton Kershaw 21 171 13.0% 26.4% 69 75 91 2006 Carlos Zambrano 25 214 12.5% 22.9% 73 88 94 2005 Daniel Cabrera 24 161.1 12.2% 21.9% 104 94 94 2012 Yu Darvish 25 134 12.4% 25.8% 106 87 94 2009 Jonathan Sanchez 26 163.1 12.4% 24.9% 103 100 98 2006 Daniel Cabrera 25 148 15.7% 23.7% 103 92 102 2005 Scott Kazmir 21 186 12.2% 21.3% 88 88 102 2003 Oliver Perez 21 126.2 13.3% 24.4% 135 122 103 2011 Edinson Volquez 27 108.2 13.3% 21.3% 145 135 106 2008 Daisuke Matsuzaka 27 167.2 13.1% 21.5% 64 90 107 2008 Oliver Perez 26 194 12.4% 21.3% 101 111 110 2005 Oliver Perez 23 103 14.9% 20.6% 140 149 124

You’ll note a couple of repetitive names on there, as Daniel Cabrera and Oliver Perez both had multiple seasons that fell within the bounds of this type of year, so we’re not dealing with 11 unique pitchers. However, the fact that both show up on the list more than once illustrate the fact that neither really conquered their command problems as a starter. And neither did most of the other guys on the list.

Kershaw is obviously the huge success story, as he went from a 13% BB% as a 21-year-old to a 6% BB% as a 23-year-old, and has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball despite early problems throwing strikes. He is what people hope for when they see a guy with bad command of good stuff.

But the rest of the list essentially serves as a cautionary tale. Zambrano had a nice career as a quality starter, but he never really got past his inability to throw strikes. He only managed to get his BB% below 9% in one season — last year, at 8.8% — but also posted his lowest K% in that same season, and his career best K/BB ratio in any year was 2.35. He had a four year stretch where he was extremely good despite mediocre walk rates, so he’s an example of how a pitcher can be effectively wild, but his command problems have stuck around for most of his career.

The rest of the list is essentially filled with guys whose command and health issues kept them from consistent production. Cabrera, Kazmir, Perez, Sanchez, Volquez, and Matsuzaka all had individual seasons where they were effective despite the walks, but none of them ever put together long stretches of success, nor did they develop into guys who could throw strikes with consistency. Whether we can learn anything from the fact that all of these guys had arm problems is still an open question — it would make logical sense that one significant mechanical issue could lead to both high walk rates and a propensity for injuries, but we don’t know enough about biomechanics to substantiate that kind of claim.

With only eight “similar” pitchers in the last 10 years, we shouldn’t be making any kind of definitive claim about whether Darvish can overcome his command problems. That said, given the Rangers investment, they probably would have rather seen a better success rate than two for eight, with only one of those two successes actually becoming a strike thrower. Unless Darvish is Kershaw 2.0, it seems like his problem finding the strike zone might not be so easily fixed.


GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Michael Sam: 'I'm not the only gay person in the NFL'

More international NFL games could be on the horizon

Tyler Ulis on West Virginia: We wanted to crush their spirit

Former No. 1 pick Brady Aiken undergoes Tommy John surgery

Ortiz: 'Nobody in MLB history' tested for PEDs more than me

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Sam Dekker scores career high after Aaron Rodgers' challenge

Brey Day: Notre Dame’s coach makes first Elite Eight after a vintage performance

Ronda Rousey on having kids: 'I'm an ovarian goldmine'

Pedro Martinez: Rose should be allowed in Hall of Fame

Pablo Sandoval 'cut things off at the root' with Giants

Scott Boras taking shots at Cubs' history over Kris Bryant

Ranking the NBA's hottest coaching seats

The beginning of the end for Notre Dame

An identity in flux: Harden and the collective consciousness

LeBron James makes Fortune’s list of 50 greatest world leaders

Five under-the-radar National League MVP candidates

Five bizarre NFL offseason moves that don't add up

Texas to Rick Barnes: Change your staff or you will be fired

First 'National Fantasy Football Convention' to star Tony Romo

Teams that don't deserve to win Connor McDavid Sweepstakes

How a basketball-themed art exhibit changed perceptions

Bucs admit they’ve been getting calls about Mike Glennon

The last Expo standing

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Hottest coaching seats in NBA

Under-the-radar NL MVP candidates

Notre Dame’s coach makes first Elite Eight

The last Expo standing

Five under-the-radar AL MVP candidates

Michigan sent recruit's GF a letter

MLB teams that could disappoint

25 years ago, the best Sweet 16 of all time was pure madness

The 2015 bad quarterback carousel

17 facts to know before the Sweet 16

Agent: Sam was horrible at veteran combine

Keeping judo ‘pure’ in Europe means keeping MMA out

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.