It's only been 224 innings, but Yu Darvish has already carved a place for himself in Major League Baseball. The Japanese sensation broke onto the scene with a phenomenal rookie campaign, posting 4.9 fWins with a 27.1 K%, 3.29 FIP, and .201 wOBA against. Although he stumbled a bit with a 10.9 BB%, but his kwERA of 3.60 and 2012 ERA of 3.90 portrayed a pitcher on the way up.
Now, almost a month into the 2013 season, it seems that Darvish is back to his tricks. He's already posted 1.7 fWins, a 1.65 earned run average, 29.8 K%, and lowered his BB percentage to 8.1%. He has yet to give up a home run, and has a 2.00 GB/FB ratio, up from 1.46 in 2012. Overall, Darvish looks like the real deal, the pitcher the Rangers paid over $100 million to acquire from the East Pacific Isle.
Still, despite the fantastic start from the 6 foot 5 inch right-hander, it would be historic for him to keep up this torrid pace. Eventually Darvish will yield home runs, he'll have a bad game, a start he wishes he could have back, but such is the life of a Major League pitcher.
In a piece on Yahoo! Sports, Tim Brown discusses Darvish's success, focusing on his pitching repertoire. As many baseball fans know, Darvish has a vast set of pitches he will throw at any time during a game. The average starting pitcher throws 3 to 4 different pitches, with the most typical collection being the fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, but Yu Darvish is not the typical anything, let alone MLB starting pitcher.
Brown quotes Darvish's catcher A.J. Pierzynski who says that he can provide Yu with 10 different options on any given pitch. Another teammate of Darvish's, veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe says Darvish throws 6 different pitches. Okay, so 6 may not seem like that many more than 4, but for a pitcher to feel confident in throwing 6 different types of pitches at any given time is quite impressive. Still, the most impressive aspect to Darvish's extensive repertoire of pitches is his ability to use all of those pitches successfully.
Brown puts it best:
"The game's best pitchers can throw a handful of pitches, but few absolutely command more than a few. Darvish can."
In the same piece by Brown, a comparison comes up between Darvish and Pedro Martinez. Martinez and Darvish don't have any obvious comparable traits. Darvish is Japanese, 6'5" tall, and pitches almost solely out of the stretch while Pedro was Dominican, 5'11", and did not throw 6 different pitches. Pedro threw the common 4-pitch set, mixing in both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball throughout his career.
So, do the two righties compare in any way? Well, using some PITCHf/x data, it seems as though both pitchers relied on one off speed pitch over others. Darvish uses his slider early and often, as it has almost curveball-like horizontal movement, while Darvish utilized his circle changeup as his go to. Darvish's Slider and Pedro's changeup both gave opposing hitters fits at similar rates, drawing between 40% and 50% of whiffs swing.
Pedro, despite his smaller stature was a power pitcher. His career 27.7 K% ranks second since 1950 with only Randy Johnson topping that mark, coming in at 28.5%. Pedro had more consistent command than Darvish, posting a career 6.4 BB%, and continually kept the ball in the ballpark, sporting a career 0.77 HR/9. Just as Pedro Martinez isn't Yu Darvish, Yu Darvish is not a carbon copy of Pedro Martinez. Darvish posts a higher ground ball percentage, and a lower fly ball percentage.
So, what would make anyone compare these two pitchers?
"Derek Lowe, who's in his 17th season and coming up on 40 years old, swears he's seen something like Yu before. The variety of pitches, the velocity, the savvy, the heartlessness of it all and the resulting workload, it reminds Lowe of Pedro Martinez."
So, it's the savvy, the workload, and the velocity that makes Derek Lowe think of Pedro when he sees Darvish throw. While I don't think Lowe hit the nail on the head here, he made an interesting point. The greatest similarity between these two righties is their nastiness. Darvish will throw a slow-curve at 64 mph followed by a 98 mph fastball, and Pedro was known for lighting up the radar gun after which he would drop in a 70 mph curve just because he could.
Do Darvish and Martinez compare perfectly? No, but Derek Lowe is in the right "ballpark" when he compares Darvish to a Pedro-caliber pitcher. Darvish has "ace" quality stuff, presence, repeatability, etc... He's the whole package when it comes to pitching. Yet, above all else, the clear message on Darvish that separates him from all other MLB pitchers is his arsenal, the 7 different pitches that every opposing hitter attempts but fails to prepare for. As Baseball Prospectus scouting guru Jason Parks noted of Darvish:
"The stuff is electric and explosive, and with his preternatural ability to manipulate the baseball, can show multiple varieties of each pitch, changing the speed and shape at will. It's really an incredible experience to see the ball come out of his hand and move around as it nears the zone. I've never seen anything like it. This is going to be fun"
That message Mr. Parks remains abundantly clear; Yu Darvish is a whole lot of fun, for everyone but enemy hitters.
Food for thought:
1) Is there any pitcher in the history of MLB who reminds you of Darvish?