Yu Darvish's Especially Robust Arsenal: Velocity, Pitch Mix, and Pitch Values

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Yu Darvish’s Especially Robust Arsenal: Velocity, Pitch Mix, and Pitch Values

Chicago Cubs

In just a few short days, we’ve already covered the heck out of the Cubs’ newest starting pitcher, Yu Darvish (give the people what they want!), and there’s still a press conference coming to make things official, but in case you missed the boat, there was …

One of the areas we haven’t really discussed much yet is Darvish’s pitch mix, velocity, and overall pitch value. And that’s really important, so I want to talk about it a bit, but first, let’s discuss why I find it especially important for Darvish, in particular.

Soon after the signing broke, we started thinking about how a high-velocity starter like Darvish is not necessarily the type that this front office has targeted for the Cubs in the recent past. Darvish doesn’t necessarily rely on velocity (he’s got a robust arsenal of pitches), but he’s certainly a high-velocity pitcher. Still, thinking of Darvish as simply a “high-velocity guy” is pretty limiting. And not accurate.

In other words, although Darvish is certainly the type of pitcher who benefits from his high-velocity fastball, he’s not a one-trick pony. He’s got a lot of pitches in his bag, and we wanted to explore how often each of them are used, how hard they’re thrown, and, generally, how good they are. Cool? Cool.

Altogether, Yu Darvish has pitched in parts of five Major League seasons (he missed 2015 with Tommy John surgery), amounting to 131 starts and 832.1 IP. Here’s his pitch mix and average velocity throughout all that time (data via Brooks Baseball):

  • Four-seamer (33.6%): 94.1 MPH
  • Slider (21.8%): 82.5 MPH
  • Cutter (15.4%): 89.8 MPH
  • Sinker (14.3%): 93.6 MPH
  • Curveball (6.61%): 77.67 MPH
  • Slow curve/eephus (3.75%): 69.73 MPH
  • Split-finger (2.39%): 88.9 MPH
  • Changeup (2.13%): 87.8 MPH

Although some of the percentages are small – and things have changed over the years – clearly, we were not mistaken in calling his arsenal “robust.” A couple visuals to underscore the point from Brooks Baseball:

Last season, as you can see, Darvish wound up using his four-seamer (34.4%), slider (25.0%), cutter (16.2%), and sinker (16.4%) primarily, while mixing in his curveball (5.8%), slow curve (0%), split-finger (0.4%) and changeup (1.7%) less often. He did change teams halfway through the season and was yet another year removed from Tommy John surgery (both of which muddy things up a bit), but it seems that a little added velocity may have been part of the pitch-mix calculus in 2017:

  • Four-seamer: 94.7 MPH (+0.6 MPH)
  • Slider: 82.9 MPH (+0.4 MPH)
  • Cutter: 89.1 MPH (-0.7 MPH)
  • Sinker: 93.9 MPH (+0.3 MPH)

It’s important to note that, while his velocity readings from last season are more or less in line with his career rates, they are all much better than 2012, 2013, and 2014, when he lost a tick on his fastball just before needing Tommy John surgery the following year. In fact, Darvish is pretty much throwing as hard as he ever has (give or take some decimal places, depending on the pitch), including his first season in the Major Leagues as a 25-year-old starter.

And that’s really good news, especially as the Cubs seemed to deal with four different pitchers losing velocity at the same time last season (Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey).

Of course, that also leads us back to my original point: Sure, it’s great that Darvish is throwing as hard as ever, but even if he does lose a tick or two from here, he has many more off-speed pitches to mix in and keep hitters off balance.

In case you’re wondering (I know I was), Darvish was technically at his best from 2012-2014, even with a fastball more than a MPH slower than he’s throwing today:

2012: 3.90 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 4.6 fWAR
2013: 2.83 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 4.5 fWAR
2014: 3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 3.7 fWAR

Now that we’ve gotten his general usage and velocity in the bank, let’s move on to each individual pitch’s quality. Of course, before we even go there, there’s one upfront thing to remember: sometimes, the value of a pitch isn’t necessarily shown by the Pitch Info pitch value score you’ll see below. Instead, some pitches are used just as effectively to set up others.

And it sounds like for Darvish, that’s especially true – at least, according to his good friend and former catcher, Chris Gimenez: “I heard [the Dodgers] took his breaking ball away from him [Darvish threw just three curveballs in the World Series after throwing the pitch 6 percent of time during the regular season]. I can understand, it’s not like his slider, but it does effectively set up other pitches. I watched him pitch in the World Series, and it wasn’t necessarily him.”

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

On to the pitch values (Pitch Info Pitch Value data via FanGraphs) from 2017:

  • Four-seamer: -1.3
  • Slider+12.8
  • Cutter: +3.5
  • Sinker: -1.2
  • Curveball: -0.4
  • Split-finger: +0.2
  • Changeup: +0.2

Compared to the beginning of his career (in the -5.0 range), Darvish’s four-seamer last season was much-improved. And while his slider wasn’t quite as devastating as it was during his Cy Young runner up season in 2013 (+27.5!), it was the 10th best slider in baseball last season among starting pitchers.

The one notable difference – maybe this shouldn’t have been a surprise – comes from his curveball. The 2017 version was the first to post a negative Pitch Value in any of his seasons in the Major Leagues, and, in fact, it used to be one of his best pitches.

Perhaps as he works with a new pitching coach and a familiar catcher in Chris Gimenez, Darvish will begin to creep that curveball usage up a bit in 2018, and the value vis a vis the other pitches will come along for the ride.

But in the end, that’s basically Darvish in a nutshell: he has a ton of pitches, he has great velocity, he has an especially devastating slider, and, when the time comes, he should be perfectly fine falling back on his especially robust arsenal of pitches. And if he could throw it all at once, it would look like this:

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami