Yu Darvish Feeling Much Better This Year, Velocity is Strong, Pitch Mix Could Change

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Yu Darvish Feeling Much Better This Year, Velocity is Strong, Pitch Mix Could Change

Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish’s debut season with the Cubs is most kindly described as “lost,” after ineffectiveness and then injury turn the whole year into a nothingburger.

But, after many painful months and a shocking lack of clarity, Darvish recovered from his injuries, had a cleanup procedure in his elbow, and started throwing on a mostly normal schedule in advance of this season. When you factor in his health, the bullets he arguably saved on his well-used arm, the comfort he now feels in a less-new situation, and the desire to bounce back, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect big things this year from the talented righty. He was, after all, a big-time free agent signing for a reason.

To that end, there are a few things about Darvish’s spring that I wanted to share – they’ve been building up in a draft – so I’m just gonna do some Darvish bullets …

  • Darvish will make his Spring Training debut tomorrow, and it’ll be hard not to keep an eye on the radar gun. Last year, Darvish was sitting around just 90-91 mph in Spring Training, despite – he says – “throwing like 100 percent.” (Daily Herald) In his batting practice sessions, he’s been throwing 92 to 94 mph already this Spring. That’s quite speedy this time of year for anyone, I gotta say, much less a 32-year-old starting pitcher coming off of elbow surgery.
  • At an emotional level, Darvish concedes that last year, he just never quite felt settled, while he tried to do too much to justify the team’s commitment (NBCSC). Darvish remains uniquely open about his feelings, as he was last year, but now he feels more like part of the family.

  • Obligatory physical comment: Darvish has reportedly added 10 to 15 pounds of muscle.
  • There are, of course, always mechanical tweaks being worked on, including the way Darvish uses that strength and the speed of his arm:

  • This is an older piece from back when Darvish was an early reporter to Spring Training – he’s been working there on and off since way back into January – and something really stood out to me about Darvish’s pitch mix:

  • Although it’s not clear just what changes Darvish wants to make with his pitch mix, he notes that his cutter and slider usage have increased over the past few years, with his fastball and curveball usage declining. He said, “I want to change the percentage. I will be meeting with (coach) Mike Borzello.” Borzello, of course, is one of the coaches who helps put together the scouting report and how the pitchers will strategically deploy their pitches from start to start.
  • As you can see, Darvish’s four-seam usage is down a bit from his earlier (pre-Tommy John) days, and his curveball usage has nearly entirely vanished:

  • A quick scan through his results on various pitches over the years doesn’t yield any obvious takeaways on what should be changed, and that’s probably for the best anyway – when you have a guy with so many usable pitches like Darvish, it’s not always about which individual pitch is doing damages. Instead, it’s about how all of the pitches work together to improve the end results. In other words – as a simplified exampled – you might start throwing your four-seamer more, even if it’s your least effective pitch, if doing so makes your other pitches disproportionately MORE effective.
  • Also, it’s not as simple as looking at the chart, noticing the mix in 2013 and saying, “Hey, he was awesome in 2013, let’s do that again” – because Darvish is now six years older and two surgeries later. The past can be a helpful guide, but everything changes. The arm changes. The batters’ approaches change. The ball changes!
  • I’m very excited to watch Darvish this year. If he’s healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him being his dominating self again. Last year, with a deep postseason run following a trade (in his first full year back from Tommy John), and then a very late signing, and then immediate minor injury issues to work through, you could see how unsettled things were long before his season-ending injury ultimately materialized. Just hope for health, man, and I think the rest will take care of itself.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.