Yu Darvish Is Rather Unbeliveable

This is hardly news, but … Yu Darvish is very good. Or rather, he remains very good. In his first year facing Major League competition, Darvish has been exceptional, finding himself listed among the very best pitchers in the league in several important categories. Perhaps most impressive though, is that Darvish has been the best pitcher for the best pitching staff in the American League.

We write and talk a lot about the Texas Rangers and their powerful lineup, but the team’s pitching staff has somewhat quietly ascended to the pinnacle of their league, even with Neftali Feliz out until after the All-Star break. This, in large part, is because of Darvish.

When the Iranian/Japanese pitcher was first acquired and signed by the Rangers, we calculated that he’d have to end up being among the top twenty pitchers in the league to justify the total investment. I thought that would be unlikely, but sure enough, almost a third of the way through the season, and he currently ranks 20th in fWAR among starting pitchers.

However, even more remarkable than the numbers that prove his surprisingly easy acclimatization to the Major League level, is that Darvish has become a spectacle. No, it’s not some weird, vaguely racist, foreigner freak show. Yu Darvish, with seven different pitches all of equally phenomenal velocity and movement, is fun to watch. Unless of course, you’re an opposing batter.

Witness Saturday night’s matchup with Howie Kendrick in the sixth inning of Darvish’s start against the Los Angeles Angels. Down 2-0 in the count, Darvish threw this ridiculous 91 miles per hour two-seamer to Kendrick.

Darvish puts his hand on the back of his head like a mere mortal might in a moment of empathetic embarrassment. It’s as though he almost feels sorry for the pitch he just unleashed on Kendrick.

This, is far from the norm, as Darvish had an even more devastating pitch earlier in the inning, this time against Kendry Morales. With a full count on the Angeles’ designated hitter, Darvish threw an 85 miles per hour slider that moved more than a fugitive on the lam.

Take a look at those two pitches, against different handed batters bearing different ways, and it sort of explains why those whiffs look so violent. Darvish could be throwing any of his seven pitches at a batter.

According to BrooksBaseball.net, this is how his repertoire has been used versus right handed batters:

  • Four-seamer: 43%
  • Two-seamer: 15%
  • Cutter: 6%
  • Slider: 25%
  • Curveball: 8%
  • Changeup: 1%
  • Splitter: 2%

And versus left handed batters:

  • Four-seamer: 29%
  • Two-seamer: 16%
  • Cutter: 19%
  • Slider: 6%
  • Curveball: 20%
  • Changeup: 8%
  • Splitter: 4%

Let’s ignore velocity and vertical movement for the time being, and think of the above lists like this: If you’re a right handed batter, 61% of the pitches you see are coming in on you, and 39% are going away. If you’re a left handed batter, 45% of the pitches you see are coming in on you, and 55% are going away.

Again, even before accounting for velocity changes, and the varying vertical movement, it must be so confusing for the opposition. Instead of having one or two dominant pitches, we look at Darvish’s whiff rates, and see that his least swung and missed at pitch is his two-seamer, which still induces a miss on 20% of the swings that batters take at it. That’s his lowest! His highest is his cutter which is missed more than 44% of the time that hitters (and I use the term loosely) swing at it.

Suggesting that Darvish’s astounding repertoire is what makes him amazing isn’t necessarily false, but it’s only half the story. The rest of it can be found in how dominant each element of his arsenal is. Again, we’re hardly breaking new ground by suggesting that the pitcher is very good, but I’m not sure that we realize just how rare his talent is.

While single pitches in GIF form might make us shake our heads or exclaim, “Nasty!” in a way that makes co-workers turn their heads, those result pitches likely aren’t possible without all the others, all coming in to confound batters and continue to keep GIF makers busy.