Baseball

Yu Darvish Is Incredibly Weird

But you knew that. He’s also a hero, because he’s dunking on David Kaplan in a second language, when Kap can’t even manage his first.

Darvish’s entire Cub career has been hard to get your arms around. His first was ruined by an injury that at first even his own team wasn’t sure was actually there, until he proved it. Remember the whole Alex Rodriguez play-acting journalist thing? The eight starts he did manage weren’t all that impressive. Then this year started, and there were flashes of everything, from brilliant to helpless to utterly confusing. It was an amazing Javy Vasquez cosplay. It was infuriating, as Darvish couldn’t seem to harness any of his pitches, nor decide which ones to throw when.

And then there’s this recent strange of what should be insane dominance. And yet it’s not, because the thread through all of this season at least has been giving up home runs. And to most people, that means there must be a problem. We’re looking for something that isn’t there, or it’s just right there in front of us and we can’t see it. I don’t know, and neither do you. But considering everything else, there can’t be a problem. There doesn’t have to be a reason in baseball. Things can just happen to happen. It’s what makes it so fascinating and frustrating, and leads to all those metaphors for life that probably drive you nuts as well.

So let’s get into it. So here’s the big number. Since July 1st, Yu Darvish has a 35.5-to-1 K/BB ratio. That’s 35.5. He’s struck out 71 hitters. He’s walked two. In August, he’s struck out 35 hitters and walked none. So in August, he has an infinity K/BB ratio, because he might not walk anyone ever again. For reference sake, since July 1, the second-best K/BB rate is Justin Verlander’s at 11.5. And 11.5 is amazingly good! Darvish is over three times that!

So when you’re striking out that many hitters, and walking literally no one, it’s really hard to argue you’re doing anything wrong. And yet there are the homers, and homers come off mistakes, so something must be wrong. But if you look at the whole picture, the homers have to be an anomaly. A ghost in the machine. Just some sort of spasm of weirdness. The ultimate punishment for being mere millimeters off where a pitch should be. It’s disproportionally punitive.

In this stretch, hitters are batting .211 against Darvish. That’s incredibly good. He’s not getting hit at all, except for last night where he was clearly off. In August, it’s .222, still really good. And yet they’re slugging .544, which isn’t. Which means every single hit he’s giving up, or close to it, is getting hit hard. So I guess you could argue his mistakes are bigger than others, because they’re just sitting there to get whacked. But if you’re striking out 35 hitters for every one you walk, you really can’t be making that many mistakes. You’re probably making barely any at all.

The number on the other side is a 24.6% HR/FB rate for the season, which is almost twice Yu’s career-average. In four August starts, it’s 44%. There’s no “method” to that, it’s just extremely bad luck. Yu would have needed simply four guys to foul a mistake straight back, a matter of an inch or two to cut that in half, and 22% would still be abnormally high for him.

So is something going on with fly balls? I mean, sort of? Yu is giving up 40% hard-contact on the fly-balls he gives up, which his high, but it’s hardly amongst the leaders. Just so you know, when giving up fly balls, Tyler Beede’s 56.2% hard-contact leads, and Yu ranks 52nd. And it’s less than two percent of an increase on his 2017 season, y’know the one that netted him this big contract. It’s not out of line from anything he’s done before, it’s just that everything keeps floating out of the park.

I suppose an argument you can make is that when you’re walking no one, hitters know you’re around the plate all the time so they’re a little more tuned in? Or maybe all of Yu’s mistakes are in the zone instead of outside? Doesn’t seem to bother Kershaw much, but Yu isn’t Kershaw. But are we really going to advocate Yu start walking more guys? How would that really help?

Maybe it’s a certain pitch or two that’s the problem. Except it isn’t. Every pitch is going for a higher slugging this season, due to that inflated HR/FB rate. But the thing is, a majority of his pitches are giving up less fly balls than his career norms–slider, curve, and cutter. The fastball and sinker are getting lifted in the air more often, but not exceedingly so. And only his cutter is getting hit for more line-drives by a significant margin. Yet they’re all going out of the park at a higher rate. The big one is that his splitter has a huge jump in home run/put-in-play rate, which I guess you could point to as the pitch he’s making more mistakes with than others. But it also has a 40% whiff rate, so would you really ask him to drop it?

Essentially, what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Yu give up two homers the rest of the season without changing a thing simply because BASEBALL. You really can’t stress enough that when you’re striking out 35 hitters for every one you walk, there’s nothing to change, no matter what Kap’s galaxy dome has to say.

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