Yu Darvish Now Officially Abusive

Alternate headline: Yu Darvish Stops Being Polite, Starts Getting Real

Yu Darvish pitched again on Thursday, and Yu Darvish dominated again on Thursday. Unlike when he dominated the Mariners in his previous outing, this time he dominated a good team on the road, allowing a run over eight innings against the Angels. The Rangers beat the Angels, which the Angels found particularly devastating, and while it wasn’t all Darvish’s fault, it was a lot Darvish’s fault. Said Michael Young afterward:

“Yu has just been awesome,” said 3B Michael Young. “I hope people are appreciating what they are seeing, because rookies don’t usually get stronger as the season goes on. It’s usually the other way around. Guys are running on fumes as the season is ending. Not Yu. He’s getting stronger and better. He’s just been rock solid.”

Plenty of players keep from wearing down during the stretch run, but few pick up their games as Darvish has. Darvish has unquestionably gotten stronger and better, and what he’s done lately has been Medlenesque. Before we get to that, a pitch sequence against Vernon Wells from Thursday’s eighth inning. The count is 1-and-1.

Realistically I could’ve chosen any Darvish strikeout, because they’re all esthetically pleasing. I liked this one because I’m a fan of the lollipop curve, and because I like Wells’ helpless body language. In truth, the pitch was off the plate and Wells was probably expressing his exasperation over the call, but had I not told you that, the body language still would’ve made sense. Darvish can make batters feel helpless when he’s on, and these days he’s more on than the ceiling fan in my kitchen. (The ceiling fan in my kitchen is always on.)

By the numbers, Thursday’s was Darvish’s sixth outstanding outing in a row. Since August 17, Darvish has started six times, throwing 44 innings and allowing ten runs. Over that span he’s got nine walks and 52 strikeouts, throwing two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. This is the sort of performance stretch some people expected when Darvish first signed on with the Rangers. This isn’t the sort of performance stretch people saw coming after Darvish got some big-league innings under his belt.

Darvish, you’ll recall, was the author of some statistical obscenity in Japan. Based on those numbers, and based on his stuff, the Rangers spent a small fortune to sign him to a contract. That’s when the comparisons to Daisuke Matsuzaka really took off, and for a while Darvish did little to separate himself. Matsuzaka was the easy and lazy comparison, sure, but he was also an appropriate comparison. Darvish, for months, showed inconsistent command of the strike zone.

Through August 12, Darvish walked nearly 13 percent of opposing batters while throwing 61 percent of his pitches for strikes. Since August 17, he’s walked under six percent of opposing batters while throwing 66 percent of his pitches for strikes. Out of his 28 starts, Darvish has walked two or fewer batters 11 times. Six of those times have come in Darvish’s most recent six starts.

The obvious follow-up question is: so what’s changed? Comparing Darvish’s most recent six starts to his previous 22 starts, he’s nearly tripled the use of his cutter. He’s thrown fewer sliders and splitters. He’s been caught by Geovany Soto instead of Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba, and Soto has now basically been designated as Darvish’s personal catcher. There’s a correlation between the Soto acquisition and the Darvish hot streak, although clearly we can’t prove causation. No one can know if there’s causation; people just know that things are working for now.

Interestingly, while Darvish’s rate of pitches in the strike zone has gone up, it hasn’t gone up by as much as his strike rate. Batters, though, have been swinging a lot more often — 44 percent of the time through 22 starts, and 49 percent of the time through these last six starts. Seems to me there’s a reason for that. Announcers like to say there’s no more important pitch than the first pitch, and while that’s clearly untrue — the most important pitch is the last pitch! — the first pitch is important, and here’s what’s been happening with Darvish’s first pitches.

1st Pitch Result Through 8/12 Since 8/17
Begin 1-0 43% 35%
Begin 0-1 47% 57%
In Play 10% 8%

First-pitch-strike rate is meaningful, but it includes first pitches that are put in play, and it’s better to have this sort of breakdown. During his hot streak, Darvish has done a much better job of getting ahead of the hitters, and Darvish is lethal when he gets out ahead. Some AL league-average numbers:

After 1-0: .268/.377/.446, 14% BB, 15% K
After 0-1: .226/.265/.350, 4% BB, 27% K

Some Darvish numbers:

After 1-0: .244/.404/.378, 21% BB, 18% K
After 0-1: .170/.226/.269, 5% BB, 40% K

There’s not even much in the way of BABIP to blame for those batting-line splits. When Darvish has fallen behind early, he’s had a devil of a time fighting back. When Darvish has gotten ahead early, he’s reduced opposing hitters to pitchers. Darvish has done better getting ahead early of late, and over his last six starts he’s allowed a .394 OPS. I’m just going to go ahead and let that sentence sink in.

Darvish’s turnaround isn’t as simple as saying he’s thrown more quality first-pitch strikes — these things are always incredibly complicated, and I imagine Darvish has just been doing a better job of everything. A better job of getting ahead, a better job of staying ahead, and a better job of fighting back after falling behind. He has a repertoire such that, when a hitter is in a pitcher-friendly count, he can’t have any idea what’s going to be thrown to him. Darvish’s location isn’t quite good enough for him to be able to consistently make up for first-pitch balls, but that’s been less of an issue. Command is less important when you’re ahead and you throw a dozen different pitches.

It’s too soon to say which Yu Darvish is the real Yu Darvish going forward, but the Rangers now have compelling reason to believe that the walks are going to be less of an issue. Darvish was never a guy who was easy to hit, as he’s posted one of the very lowest contact rates in the league. Over his last six starts, he’s allowed a contact rate of just 68 percent. Given that unhittability, Darvish was never going to be anything close to ineffective. With fewer walks, though, he can actually be an ace — the ace the Rangers thought they were signing, the ace who’s one of the best pitchers on the planet. It’s too soon to say whether Darvish has taken a leap forward. It’s not too soon to say that he might’ve.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

65 Responses to “Yu Darvish Now Officially Abusive”

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  1. mettle says:

    Sorry, but seeing the word written as “esthetically” makes me want to claw my eyes out.

    Also, too:
    Darvish pre-AS: 10-5 3.59 ERA
    Darvish post-AS: 6-4 4.28 ERA

    I’m not seeing the “getting stronger” thing.

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  2. Jack says:

    Yu did some nice work here, Jeff. I don’t know about Yu, but I think the Ranger’s staff looks pretty good. Yu got me thinking that they could go all the way, but Yu never know.

    I’m done know.

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  3. Bob Loblaw says:

    In response to mettle

    Darvish beginning of season – 8/12:

    12-8, 140.2 IP (22 starts)
    ERA 4.54, FIP 3.60, xFIP 3.89
    10.4 K/9, 5.1 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9
    .303 BABIP, 73.0% LOB%, 47.3% GB%, 9.75% HR/FB

    Darvish 8/17 – now:
    4-1, 44.0 IP (6 starts)
    ERA 1.84, FIP 1.65, xFIP 2.45
    10.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9
    .196 BABIP, 64.3% LOB%, 47.1% GB%, 3.2% HR/FB

    So while he’s benefiting from a really low BABIP in this “second half”, his strand rate is actually ridiculously low as well – so those two factors cancel each other out a bit.

    He’s walking WAY fewer batters though.

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  4. elijah says:

    So now Darvish has the fifth highest fWAR among ML pitchers. I don’t think their’s any way he’s actually been the fifth best pitcher in the game this season, but this is still a pretty impressive feat for a rookie pitcher to pull off.

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    • RMD says:

      It could be the park adjustments are a little too steep. They give too much credit for pitching in a hitter’s park. The White Sox do really well in pitcher WAR year after year because they apparently play in a little league field.In the last four years, the team pitcher WAR winner has been COL, CHA, CHA, TEX.

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      • todmod says:

        I think I’d need a lot more evidence to believe the park adjustment is too much.

        Rangers are 7th in home ERA among AL teams, 1.12 runs behind the leader. They’re a closer 4th in ERA on the road, .07 runs behind the leader.

        White Sox are an even bigger split, 11th and 1.51 runs behind the leader at home – 1st in road ERA.

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      • Tom says:

        It’s also how the park adjustment is done.

        I believe it is adjusted bu run environment. But what happens in a park which has a noticeable split in run and HR factors.

        For example Fenway – huge positive run environment, so that helps the FIP adjustment while at the same time it is a negative HR environment so the pitchers are benefiting in some sense both ways.

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  5. El Vigilante says:

    Last night, I actually used the word “Medlenesque” to describe Yu’s last six starts. Have you been reading my texts, Jeff?

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    • Aggie E says:

      His periphirals(sp) were very low all season. his walk rate was ugly and his strand rate has been below average all season. He is just getting ahead and stopped walking people so much and basically understanding what he needs to do here. Ron Washington and Mike Maddux told him to pitch the way he pitched in Japan and stop trying to change things so much over here. The biggest thing they told him was to figure out before his starts and early in games which 2-3 pitches are working for him instead of trying to throw 6-7 different pitches in his starts…

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  6. Doug Dirt says:

    I bet he could abuse Billy Hamilton since Hamilton is a terrible player.

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  7. TX Ball Scout says:

    “I’m a fan of the lollipop curve”

    Worst pitch in baseball.

    -29 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Brian says:

    Completely off-topic and not a fair/sound comparison, but can’t help it:

    “over his last six starts he’s [Darvish] allowed a .394 OPS. I’m just going to go ahead and let that sentence sink in.”

    Craig Kimbrel for the season – .368 OPS

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Tom B says:

    Just a quick FYI… this analysis was a complete waste of time. Darvish has actually gotten better because I traded him away in my keeper league on Aug 7th.

    The rest of this is just nonsense. :)

    +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Wait Til Next Year says:

      Thank you, Tom B. I drafted Yu in my AL keeper league and had been waiting all year for the real Yu to show up. Your efforts are very much appreciated!

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  10. cwendt says:

    Yu Darvish is now tied for the highest single-season fWAR by a Japanese pitcher (4.9, Hideo Nomo, 1995).

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  11. WillC says:

    That third strike call on Vernon Wells was nowhere near a strike. He just happened to get a very generous call on a pitch 3 inches outside the zone.

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  12. Aggie E says:

    Yu Darvish’s Cutter (2012 Season)
    BA: .190
    OPS: .554
    GB Pct: 56.0
    HR: 0

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Matty Brown says:

    That’s my favorite pitch as well Jeff, beautiful!

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  14. Patrick Kelley says:

    I think the BIG idea would be this…Yu has been teriffic as a rookie pitcher in the MLB. He’s had his ups and downs, but his ups are great and his downs are somewhat avg. I’m a fan, Yu should be too.

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  15. Tom says:

    Worth noting those 44 innings have come against:

    TB (twice), KC, SEA, ANA and a depleted Tor lineup

    It’s an impressive run, but with the exception of ANA, this is a pretty soft schedule in term of opponent’s offense.

    Not saying he hasn’t turned the corner, but it will be good to see him do it against some more potent offenses as well (granted he can only pitch against the lineup he gets when his turn comes up)

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  16. Sensual Sharting says:

    In a post about Yu Darvish there isn’t a single link to his player page. For shame.

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  17. derp says:

    Rookie comes over into the major league, starts off hot like all good rookies do, struggles after that with flashes of brilliance, then suddenly turns around in September and flat out dominates, giving the fans hope for the next season. Sounds like half the good pitchers in baseball.

    So, this same type of season came from a 25 year old pitcher with a full arsenal of legit and nasty major league pitches who clearly knows how to get elite hitters out, and enough command that there is no realistic way he should have walked so many?

    /Tinfoil hat on.

    I would be wholly unsurprised if Yu Darvish did this to his season on purpose. Knowing the importance of honour and tradition in Japanese culture, I’ll put money on Darvish making sure to play his season out like a ‘typical top prospect’ so as to not insult those that came before him.

    Kind of like how Ichiro lost no speed or contact ability last year, yet came way short of an 11th 200 hit season just after he broke the previous record.

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  18. Causation says:

    I’m developing an experiment which will conclusively prove that Yu Darvish’s success in his last six starts has led to not only the major league career, but the very existence of Geovany Soto.

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  19. Ned says:

    Yes. Just flame it if you don’t like it, but don’t try to instill censorship. This site is great for allowing any and all free commentary.

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  20. Jon L. says:

    Comments are never deleted on this site. People will click -1 for posts they have a problem with, but this one falls below that category, into if that post & poster exist, the best we can do is not acknowledge it.

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  21. Dscottncc says:

    Note to self fangraphs writers, Yu gets a lot of hype on the message boards good and bad.

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  22. makeitRayn says:

    That was a shit curve, and a shit call. As a batter, you’re supposed to be ready every pitch. He looked like he was ready to take a swing, and then the curve stayed out the strike zone, so he didn’t.

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  23. WilltheGM says:

    I’m a huge Texas fan and a big fan of Yu Darvish. What I don’t understand is why people are dragging him down in the dirt over some of the smallest things. Whats your point? Are you trying to say that because he threw a “shit curve”, and got a “shit call” that he is truly a bad pitcher who isn’t doing good in his starts? Please tell me more about how that changed the entire game and made it a fluke? Also, the entire point of this article was to prove that Yu has improved in his last 6 starts. Who cares what teams they were against. Excuse me if i’m wrong but i’m pretty sure we are talking about MAJOR league baseball. All these guys are professional hitters, even if they are on a “shit team”. Take your biased opinions elsewhere. Yu Darvish has been great his last few starts statistically speaking. Not the BEST, but he has been great.

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    • makeitRayn says:

      I’m guessing this is in response to my comment above…
      Maybe if you get the tears out your eyes, and let your rage subside for a second; you will see my snark was not aimed at Yu’s ability, but at Sullivan’s bashing/praising of the Well’s strike out. Now I know baseball is new to you Ranger fans, but it would be nice if you didn’t clutter this board with your trifling opinions.

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      • William says:

        First of all my post was about multiple comments I had seen above and yours. Second of all i’m not just a Texas fan, but a baseball fan in general and i’m entitled to my opinions just as you are. This is a website for talking baseball, so drop the 12 year old dramatic comments about tears in my eyes and being new to baseball. This is not facebook. Sorry for mistaking your comment as a bash towards Yu Darvish. The way it was worded made it seem that way, if you will read the rest of the comments multiple people were bashing him. I think anyone who has pitched the way he has in his last 6 starts deserves some praise and thats why I posted what I did. I completely agree that it was not a strike and it was a bad call; my mistake. Now lets stop talking crap, and talk baseball.

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  24. WilltheGM says:

    Oh and by the way, please go find a guy who can change speeds from 63, to 96 in a game and tell me more about his “shit”.

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  25. bstar says:

    What’s so crazy though is this blatant homophobic slur has only 11 negative votes. Why are the great majority of people who’ve read that comment OK with it??

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    • Jason B says:

      For the record, part I: it did make me giggle when I first read it.

      For the record, part II: I’m gay. Still giggled.

      For the record, part III: people take themselves much to seriously most of the time.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Browl says:

      Because comments with a lot of negative votes get read more than others. The minus button is the worst.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

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