The Padres have been without an ace atop their starting rotation for years, but they have one now in Yu Darvish.
When Jake Peavy descended from the pitcher’s mound at Petco Park on June 8, 2009, after seven solid innings, it was his last start in a Padres uniform. He had won a Cy Young and a pitching Triple Crown with the club and been selected as an All-Star twice. Then, after that start against Arizona, he was traded away to the Chicago White Sox. No one knew at the time just how long it would be until the Friars had another bona fide ace in their uniform on that same mound.
Exactly 12 years later, the Padres have found the true heir to Peavy. Yes, several others flirted with the title “ace” for a spell. Guys like Mat Latos and Tyson Ross showed flashes of what an ace looks like at the big league level, but none have been able to sustain it or show the consistency that San Diego’s new Japanese-born, blue-chip hurler has. Neither of them had the track record, repertoire, or technical skill of one Yu Darvish. While the Latos and Ross were like unto sleek-looking mid-tier sports cars, neither of them were a top luxury model.
Darvish is a Lamborghini with all the bells and whistles.
What qualifies a pitcher in this league as an ace? The term is thrown around with such regularity, it has lost its shine. The first question has to be- in an elimination game, or Game 1 of the World Series, is he unequivocally your choice among your team’s starting pitchers?
That cannot be the end-all-be-all definition, since all 30 teams have varying degrees of good starting pitching, the best starter on one team might be the third or fourth-best on another. The next qualification is- is he routinely better than the pitcher from the opposite dugout any given night?
Lastly, can he pull your team out of a rut and slap a bandage on an open wound, that is, a long losing streak?
The Padres have not been able to confidently answer all of these questions in the affirmative for over a decade. Now, Yu Darvish checks all the boxes. San Diego had the pick of the litter in choosing their Opening Day starter between Darvish, former Cy Young winner Blake Snell and the hometown rising star, Joe Musgrove. They opted for Darvish to get the honor.
Darvish has been consistently better than the pitcher the Padres are facing at the plate during his starts, as the Friars are 11-2 in games he pitches. Thus far, he has halted losing streaks of two and four with solid pitching performances to get the Padres back on track.
Peavy, in his prime, from 2004 to 2008 in San Diego, posted a 2.95 ERA and 133 ERA+ in 150 starts. Through 13 starts in his young Padres career, Darvish boasts a 2.28 ERA and 161 ERA+. In other words, while the sample size is still very small, he is pitching on a level that exceeds even peak Peavy in San Diego. He is as reliable as any starting pitcher the Padres have had in over a decade. He has exceeded six innings pitched in seven of his 13 starts while allowing two runs or less.
Here is a side-by-side look at Darvish’s season thus far compared to Jake Peavy’s historic 2007 season when he won the triple crown and Cy Young Award.
Clearly, Darvish is on a pace that has not been seen at Petco Park in some time.
It goes beyond just Padres history. Among qualified pitchers, Darvish is sixth all-time in strikeouts-per-nine innings (11.07). He is in the company of Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Shane Bieber, and just ahead of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. His career ERA of 3.39 is better than Hall of Famer John Smoltz (as a starter) as well as Curt Schilling and Orel Hershiser.
In this new era of Padres baseball, it’s imperative they have a true ace atop their rotation. Any team that has, not only postseason hopes, but dreams of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy, must have a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber on their staff.
This is the ace you’re looking for.