Obviously, having read the title of this post, you’ll probably want me to jump right in and explain how the Cubs’ new pitching coach, Jim Hickey, seems to believe that a flame-thrower like Yu Darvish is, in any way, similar to the famously methodical Hall-of-Famer and former Chicago Cub, Greg Maddux … so I won’t beat around the bush.
Here’s what Hickey had to say about Darvish reminding him of Maddux, via The Athletic: “Not physically or not stuff-wise, but the [way the] ball really comes out of his hand,” Hickey explained. “Whether he throws five pitches or six pitches or however many pitches that he possesses, it’s all in that same release point, all in that same tunnel.”
Hickey went on to explain that all of Darvish’s pitches seem to travel down the same lane (often referred to as tunnels) and that each pitch in his arsenal – and there are A LOT in there – has its own variation. “Its got a little bit of this, and it’s got a little bit of that,” Hickey said about each pitch Darvish throws.
Translation? Obviously Darvish throws a lot harder than Maddux did, especially by the time he was in his 30s, but both pitchers featured robust arsenals with variations on multiple pitches. And, perhaps more importantly, Darvish’s pitches, like Maddux, all came from similar arm slots/release points and travel through the same tunnel.
Here’s a great example of the effect of pitch tunneling, from another Cubs starter who’s famously good at it (and gets Greg Maddux comps of his own, from time to time):
Kyle Hendricks, 2 seam Fastball/Changeup tunnel. pic.twitter.com/xQJDe5jUFo
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 11, 2018
That ability is extraordinarily important for any pitcher in the Major Leagues, but especially so for someone like Darvish, who has arguably the widest usable arsenal in all of baseball. Batters are already guessing between, what, 7-8 different pitches (slightly more with the variations) when they face Darvish? So when the pitches all come out of the same spot, it becomes even more difficult to adjust or guess correctly.
Like, look at this:
Just gonna share this amazing overlay GIF of five Yu Darvish pitches at once. No reason at all. pic.twitter.com/05a581DZp4
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) January 23, 2018
That is NOT an easy thing to face, especially when the guy can pump upper-90s fastballs at any minute.
In any case, the point is clear: if you’re not crazy excited about Darvish’s potential with the Cubs yet, get there. He’s already been a great pitcher throughout his career, but his new pitching coach seems to think there’s another level waiting to be unlocked.