I knew just from writing about baseball for so long that a pitcher adding a completely new pitch to his repertoire in-season, and then taking it into games, is pretty rare. Frequently, you hear about tweaks to existing pitches, or about a grip or mechanical change finally allowing a pitcher to deploy a pitch he’s mostly held in reserve and been working on in the background.
What you don’t hear about often – or almost ever – is a pitcher working out a brand new pitch one week, and then boom, bringing it into a game the next week. That’s kinda nuts. You shouldn’t be able to do that.
But Yu Darvish can do it.
Darvish’s pitch diversity is legendary, and when he found himself with a new teammate who sports a uniquely excellent type of curveball, Darvish figured why not take advantage of the opportunity?
Thus, Darvish got together with Craig Kimbrel for a hot minute and picked up a knuckle curve in a dang week:
Craig Kimbrel, on Yu Darvish learning his knucklecurve in less than a week and taking it into games already as a wipeout pitch: “He’s amazing. He can do anything he wants.” pic.twitter.com/gFkkfAWIk6
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 28, 2019
The knuckle curve, which, as the name suggests is gripped differently than a traditional curve (and the arm action is slightly different, as I understand it), is viewed as kind of a power curveball, that is going to come in a little hotter than a traditional curve, and it’s generally going to drop more aggressively. It’s definitely a wipeout pitch, not a get-me-over pitch. Kimbrel throws one of the best in the game. Rowan Wick added it in Spring Training, and his is fantastic.
But for Darvish to pick it up one week and then be wiping out big league hitters with it the next week? I mean, that one to Jeff McNeil there could not have been executed more perfectly. And that guy has a 14.0% strikeout rate! 19th lowest in baseball! For him to look that foolish on a pitch in the dirt … yeah, I’d say Darvish threw it as well as you can.
Jordan Bastian has a great write-up on Darvish’s new addition, with quotes from his teammates and manager, completely impressed (but unsurprised) that Darvish could do this.
Joe Maddon, summing it up: “It doesn’t happen. As a Major League pitcher, I know they experiment with stuff all the time, but to take a pitch like that that requires a lot of feel, from a teammate, and just bring it into a game that quickly and effectively, that doesn’t happen.”