Yu Darvish, the best pitcher in Japan, moved to the American major leagues in 2012 and quickly became among the best pitchers here as well, ranking ninth in Cy Young voting in 2012 and second in 2013, and posting ERA+ of 112, 145, and 130 in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively. He lost all of 2015 to Tommy John surgery, but picked up where he left off in 2016, putting up a 131 ERA+. So far in 2017, he has pitched very well, with a 3.11 ERA (147 ERA+); his 1.084 WHIP is tenth-best in baseball.
What he throws. Darvish throws everything. He has a ridiculous repertoire, with between six and eight distinct pitches, depending how you count. They include:
- Four-seam fastball (“FF”). His velocity is good, averaging 94.1 mph and reaching as high as 98.0;
- Two-seam fastball (“FT”), with a velocity similar to the four-seam (average 93.4 mph, maximum 98.5), but with more horizontal movement and somewhat less vertical “rise”;
- Cutter, averaging about 89.0 mph;
- Slider (“SL”), averaging 82.5 mph, with excellent horizontal movement;
- Curve (“CU”), with moderate horizontal movement and plenty of vertical drop. Darvish throws this pitch with a 14-mph range of speeds, from 63.6 to 77.6 mph. Brooks Baseball breaks this into two different pitches, a curve and a “slow curve”, but they blend into each other, unlike the distinct clusters that the other pitch types form;
- Changeup (“CH”), averaging 87.0 mph;
- Split-finger fastball (“FS”), averaging 86.9 mph. This pitch is very similar to his changeup, but has less vertical and horizontal movement:
Pitch usage and trends. Darvish primarily features his four-seam fastball and slider (35.1 and 26.6% of the time respectively), but his two-seam and cutter are not far behind (16.6 and 13.6%, respectively). His curve(s), changeup, and splitter are only rarely used, and then mainly to left-handed batters. Aside from those, he doesn’t change his repertoire much depending on batter handedness. When he is ahead in the count, he mixes his pitches up more, and is much more likely to use his slider (27.4%) than when behind in the count (19.2%). When behind, he almost completely abandons his curve, changeup, and splitter (0.23% each), going instead to his four-seam fastball:
Looking at his pitch usage on a game-by-game basis, the biggest difference has been his cutter usage; throughout April, it was one of his most-used pitches, but in May and June he used it much less. More recently, Darvish has been using his curve more than early in the season, and either throws it slightly more slowly, or mixes in more of the “slow curve” variant, since his curve velocity has been a couple mph slower in recent games.
Pitch value. Despite his diverse repertoire, almost all of his pitches are better than average in terms of total bases yielded per 100 pitches, and are just about average as far as balls per 100 pitches. Only the cutter has been slightly worse than average by TB/100 (which might be why he has reduced its usage recently); his rarely-used changeup and splitter are also rarely hit, but tend to not be thrown for strikes:
Pitch location. Unfairly enough, along with his wide repertoire and excellent stuff, Darvish shows the ability to locate his pitches very well. His four- and two-seam fastballs and slider all do a very good job of targeting the edges of the strike zone. His four-seamer to left-handed batters shows two distinct location clusters – down and in, or high and outside. His cutter to right-handed batters also targets the edge of the zone very well (down and outside) but to lefties it often ends up in the center of the strike zone:
Darvish’s curve also targets the outside bottom corner of the strike zone to right-handed batters but frequently drops out of the edge of the zone, leading to the very low TB/100 – but low strike rate – for this pitch. To left-handed batters, the curve often drops into the zone for a strike. His rare changeups and splitters show the effect of small sample size in the broad smear of locations, but both typically end up just outside the strike zone — either inside, especially to right-handed batters, or below the zone: