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What’s up with Yu Darvish?

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AKA “What I Write About Yu”

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

What I Write About Yu

Hey! Uh huh

What I write about Yu, he’s just not right

Walks and homers both are up, FIP is soaring out of sight, yeah

Baseballs whizzing right past his ear

It’s not the kind of thing the Cubs wanna hear, about Yu

That’s what I write about Yu (what I write about Yu)

Hey!

Seriously

With that out of my system, Yu Darvish has been one of the most disappointing pitchers in baseball this season. His 13.0 percent walk rate is the worst in MLB among qualified starters, and he leads the majors with 45 walks allowed. By comparison, he walked just 49 batters in 2014 while throwing nearly twice as many innings.

His 1.59 home runs per nine is a career worst. Even though he’s still striking out plenty of batters (26.4 percent strikeout rate), his overall numbers are pretty awful. With a 4.65 ERA and 5.06 FIP, the Cubs aren’t getting their money’s worth.

However, there is hope. On Saturday, he completed his best performance of the season against the Dodgers, striking out 10, walking just one, and allowing two hits over seven innings. On a broader scale, there’s even more room for optimism. His 3.48 DRA is very good, as evidenced by his 72.8 DRA-.

Clearly, there’s more than meets the eye. Darvish isn’t throwing enough strikes, but his advanced metrics show that he’s not as awful as he seems. What’s really going on here?

Four-Seam Problems

Looking at Darvish’s pitch usage, there is a fundamental departure from the norm:

The cutter had always been his fourth pitch, but in 2019 he’s throwing it more than ever.

He’s even using it more than his four-seamer. Given the increased cutter usage and poor overall results, it would be easy to draw a line from the cutter to the inflated walks and home runs.

However, the cutter has been his best pitch by far. He has allowed just a .224 wOBA and .251 xwOBA on the offering this year, generating a 39.0 percent whiff rate. Without a doubt, it’s an elite pitch, as shown here against the Marlins.

No, the cutter is most certainly not the problem. He’s throwing it more often and more effectively than ever.

The four-seamer, on the other hand, has been obliterated this year. He’s surrendered a .279 batting average, .662 slugging percentage, and .447 wOBA on the heater. For frame of reference, Mike Trout is hitting .286 with a .614 slugging percentage and .435 wOBA this season. The average MLB player is literally better than Mike Trout against Darvish’s fastball!

Out of Control

This is where the control problems enter the fray. Like most pitchers, Darvish throws his fastball much more often when he’s behind in the count. While the cutter is designed to generate swinging strikes, the four-seamer is intended to terminate in the strike zone. In other words, it just has to not be a ball.

Baseball Savant

Given that he’s getting rocked on the fastball, it’s imperative for Darvish to stay ahead of hitters. Seeing as he leads the league in walks, this mission has not been accomplished nearly enough. When he falls behind in the count, he feels compelled to throw fastballs, which either become ball four or get crushed.

When he was successful on Saturday against the Dodgers, he threw 47 cutters out of 109 pitches. Just as importantly, he was ahead or even in the count for the decision pitch against 17 of the 24 batters he faced.

Maybe this was a turning point in the season, and maybe not. Much of it depends on how well he stays ahead in the count, avoids his fastball, and relies on his cutter.


Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983