Yu Darvish is having an unreal sophomore season for the Rangers. In seven starts and 45 2/3 innings, Darvish has a 2.56 ERA, accrued 1.9 fWAR, and has struck out a league-leading 72 hitters. To put in perspective how vast the 15 strikeout difference between Darvish and second-place AJ Burnett is, consider the fact that Burnett could throw a nine inning complete game at his current K/9 ratio (which is 12.21), and still trail Darvish. A friend posed an interesting question on Twitter about Darvish: could he strike out 300 hitters this season?
While it seems easy to imagine Darvish striking out 300 hitters, you need a bit of historical perspective. The last pitched not named "Johnson", "Martinez", or "Schilling" to strike out as many as 270 hitters was Roger Clemens, who struck out 271 in 1998. Over the last 40 years, the only pitchers to strike out 300 hitters in a season were those three aforementioned starters, along with Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, and JR Richard. 300 strikeouts seems like an easily attainable number because of how accustomed we were to Randy Johnson's dominance, but only three active pitchers have struck out 250 hitters in a season: Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, and Tim Lincecum.
Back to Darvish. The way things have fallen this year have greatly benefited him. In his seven starts, Darvish has faced just one above average offense: the Boston Red Sox, who Darvish limited to three runs on four hits yesterday while striking out 14. He's also faced the struggling Angels offense twice, and has struck out 17 in 11 innings and picked up wins in both.
You might also want to think that the Rangers' schedule is going to be getting a little tougher after they've kicked the crap out of the third-weakest schedule in the league. And while it will, it's not exactly going to get ramped up to ten immediately. Darvish's next start is against the Astros, who he ravaged in his first start of the year. His next four starts after that will be against the Tigers, Athletics, Diamondbacks, and Royals, a pair of good offensive teams and a pair of not so good offensive teams. None of those teams strike out very much however, and that could put a major damper on Darvish's efforts to continue to average ten strikeouts per start.
If Darvish wants to make history this year, he'll also need to stay healthy. Even if he keeps up his otherworldly pace of 14.10 strikeouts per nine innings this year, Darvish will need to throw at least 190 innings to reach 300 strikeouts. If he can only match Max Scherzer's league leading 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings from last year, Darvish will need to throw 243 innings to hit 300 strikeouts for the season. At Darvish's current innings per start pace, he'll finish with about 209 innings. He'll need to finish with a 12.91 strikeout rate for the season in 209 innings to strike out 300, which translates to 228 strikeouts in his final 163 innings at his current pace, or 12.59 per nine innings.
It'll definitely be an uphill climb for Darvish and the Rangers, especially with Texas beginning to face some competent offenses in the month of May. But with five series still left against the strikeout-happy Astros, you can never say never…but it's a long shot if Darvish doesn't finish with 230 innings, something that would need him to average a full inning more per start over the rest of the season.