Yu Darvish Picks Up Where He Left Off

Marwin Gonzalez earned his hit to break up Yu Darvish‘s perfect game last night. Darvish left a 90 MPH four-seam fastball out over the plate, and Gonzalez hit it hard back up the middle, just under Darvish’s glove. It was a mistake pitch. It was the only one from the 26-year-old Darvish last night in Houston.

For 26 batters, Darvish carved through the Astros lineup in his best start since his much-anticipated MLB debut last season. The 6-foot-5 righty struck out 14 of those 26 before Gonzalez finally managed to reach base safely. Darvish created lofty expectations with a tremendous run in his last eight starts of 2012 — 57.1 innings with a 2.35 ERA and 67-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio — and the adjustments he made late last year were present in his masterpiece last night.

Geovany Soto caught Darvish for the first time on August 11th last season, the first of Darvish’s final eight starts last season. Darvish’s approach changed immediately. The cutter became a primary weapon — after throwing it just 12 percent of the time in his first 21 starts, he unleashed it 31 percent of the time in the final eight. And, most striking to me, Darvish made a concerted effort to attack hitters inside.

Observe the following heatmap, in which darker green areas represent those with more pitches thrown (lightest shades indicate one percent of all pitches or less; darkest indicate seven percent of all pitches or more)


These maps are adjusted for handedness to show a universal inside and outside for both lefties and righties. As such, we can see how Darvish was much more inclined to throw inside — particularly middle-in or low-in — later in the season. Pitchers avoid this area for good reason — hitters often make the most powerful contact on inside pitches, and Darvish was no different last year. But Darvish’s ability to draw swings and misses, nearly unmatched, allows him to attack inside yet in the strike zone. The result was fewer deep counts for Darvish, fewer walks, longer starts, and more outs, both on the strikeout or in play.

The adjustments Darvish made under Soto held under new Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski‘s watch Tuesday night. Darvish was cutter-heavy as ever Tuesday night, as he threw 49 (44.5 percent of pitches) to Astros hitters against just 19 fastballs. Darvish’s slider will always be his most breathtaking pitch — its movement is nothing short of art, and Darvish recording 10 swinging strikeouts off it Tuesday night merely adds to its stature — but the cutter is his foundation. Of the 49 cutters Darvish threw, 39 were strikes; of those 30 strikes, just nine were even put in play. Hitters can at least foul off Darvish’s cutter, but are merely setting themselves up for execution by slider.

And Darvish was both aggressive and effective on the inner third of the plate. Darvish came inside — on the inner third of the plate or off the plate inside — 27 times, roughly the same rate as in his final eight starts of 2012. Darvish drew swinging strikes on a third of these pitches and drew four outs on as many balls in play (two groundouts, two lineouts). Darvish busted lefties inside in particular — he threw 18 of his 69 pitches to left-handers inside (26 percent, against 21 percent total) and recorded 14 strikes, six swinging strikes, and all four of the aforementioned outs in play. Left-handed hitters finished 1-for-18 with eight strikeouts on the night.

MLB.com writer and former professional scout Bernie Pleskoff saw Darvish at the World Baseball Classic in 2009. Pleskoff later wrote of the performance, “In reality, he looked like a thrower and not a pitcher at that early stage of his career.” In the same article, published just days before Darvish took the mound in his first MLB regular season game, Pleskoff noted, “lefties have a better and longer look at the ball, and to my observation, they see pitches that allow them to extend their arms and drive the ball. Darvish’s pitches to lefties seem to move into the hitting zone. The righty-lefty differential is one that opposing teams may expose and exploit.”

Scouts and others inside baseball constantly reference the idea of “learning how to pitch.” Not everything that gets a pitcher through the minors — or the NPB, in Darvish’s case — will work against the best hitters in the world in the major leagues. There is a necessary refinement for all pitchers, whether their fastball tops out at 87 or 97 (as Darvish’s did Tuesday night).

Darvish’s repertoire has been as sharp as any pitcher in the league since he arrived, but he needed to refine his approach against lefties. Whereas his power could overwhelm left-handed hitters in NPB, MLB lefties can handle a 97 MPH fastball or a 94 MPH cutter when it is left over the plate. The one pitch he finally paid for, after all, was a fastball he left on the outer third to a lefty.

Throwing inside more often and not allowing lefties to extend and hit for power was Darvish’s refinement, and through it he became less thrower and more pitcher. Yes, Darvish overmatched the Astros and their poor lineup on Tuesday night. But to credit his near-perfection to his stuff and the Astros’ incompetence alone misses the giant steps Darvish has taken to improve his tactics and his execution.

Between the ruthlessness of Yu Darvish’s approach and the beauty of his seemingly endless arsenal of pitches, there lies the now ever-present possibility — and nearly-manifested reality — of perfection.

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62 Responses to “Yu Darvish Picks Up Where He Left Off”

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  1. Jaack says:

    Yu had to expect that there would be a pun coming in the comments.

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  2. That was an incredible experience. I watched the whole game at a Dallas burger bar with a good friend (she’s an Astros fan), and we started to think perfecto in the 4th inning. Darvish was dominating. 9 Ks through 4, I think, and you could see him modulate his pitching, starting to get more groundballs and quick outs to preserve his arm and get ready for the final push. Plus, around the 4th he got lucky on a couple hard-hit balls fielded by Murphy and Moreland.

    By the seventh, the bar was getting focused on the game, and I was almost at the end of my second very strong local beer.*

    After the eighth, a drunken white chick started yelling “They will NOT pull him! They will NOT!” and a drunken black dude pulled out every dollar in his wallet, a fat fold, and put it on the table, saying “The bet is, do they pull him from the game.”

    After the first groundout of the ninth, I was literally shaking. My friend was making strange non-verbal noises and we briefly grasped hands. After the second groundout we stopped blinking.

    And then it went through his legs.


    I clapped for the guy when he collected his bet winnings.

    A good friend of mine, also an Astros fan, was at Minute Maid for the entire game. She texted me this: “Stros can’t even lose properly.”

    *Lakewood Temptress Imperial Stout, Deep Ellum Pollenator Honey Brown Ale

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    • wilt says:

      Not trying to be PC patrol, but why did you care to mention the ethnicity of the two drunken patrons in your story? Genuinely curious.

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      • Brad says:

        Give me a break. The dude was telling a good story and was obviously not focused on insulting anyone. What this is is you trying to start crap. Move along……

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        • wilt says:

          I said nothing about him trying to insult anyone. That’s your projection.

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        • wilt says:

          Imagine instead of “drunken white chick” and “drunken black dude” he had said, drunken chick with freckles/drunken dude with blue eyes (both uncontrollable phenotypic expressions, like race).

          Then we as readers would be like, “dude why did you care to mention those features that have nothing at all to do with understanding the story?” It certainly not something he did intentionally and lots of people do this all the time, but still it causes some bit of annoyance to readers who notice, such as myself.

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        • TKDC says:

          If we have learned nothing else from pop culture, it is that when you are saying something interesting or funny, you can get away with references to race, sexuality, etc., whereas when you are saying something hateful or stupid, you cannot. This is obviously in the former category.

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      • chris says:

        Probably to better help us visualize the scene.

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      • Eh, I just wanted to. The people-watching was fantastic, between the increasingly drunk woman to my left congratulating her friend on being an airline pilot and shouting words like “OXYTOCIN!” and the table on my right where a group of pretty young women of all skin and hair colours kept multiplying throughout the night (at first two, eventually five plus a puppy). And of course the angry pierced waitress staring us down for keeping the table three hours.

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      • Surrealistic Pillow says:

        wilt, I actually thought the same thing as I read the “story.” I don’t think it was wrong of him to mention, but I also don’t understand why he felt the need to do so.

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        • wilt says:

          I’m not saying he did anything malicious, or was being racially divisive, but there’s actually no real point to mentioning someone’s race in a story like this. And no I wasn’t trying to start crap, which I why I tried to make it as clear as possible in my initial reply that I was curious and asking a straightforward question. I still haven’t gotten a reasonable explanation of why it’s necessary. “describing the scene” is a dumb answer, why wouldn’t you tell us what kind of cloths they were wearing.

          It happens all the time and I don’t get it.

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        • You asked a fair question, but I think you didn’t give “describing the scene” a fair hearing. WBE describes a random bar scene, a disparate sampling of people engaged in diverse conversations and activities. Next, the game pulls them into a single focus, a single conversation and activity. It’s a story of how Baseball unites us, even when many things divide us. The white chick/black dude is kind of a cultural touchstone for difference, and their bet is the coming together.

          Now, that cultural touchstone doesn’t much resonate in my neck of the woods, but I’d guess it has currency elsewhere. ‘Round here I’d go with the Mexican busboy, be-suited hedgefunders, aged actor/bartender, and befuddled tourist. Same idea.

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        • wilt says:

          I get what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t give that much credit to the author of trying to make a point about racial unification over a baseball game. In fact your explanation insinuates that there is a cultural dissonance between two racially different people in a bar, when in fact nothing else said in the story would indicate that. To believe your point you would have to assume that any two people of separate races are inherently culturally different.

          I think you can really just chalk it up to people having a weird habit of subconsciously grouping people in their everyday lives by race, even though that simple grouping is as far as they go. I hear friends and family all the time say, “So this black lady was ringing me up at the store…” and proceed to tell a story where the fact that they were black provided no support or context for me appreciating or understanding the story in any way.

          Also as an FYI, I’m not advocating racial colorblindness, because that does not work and in itself is it’s own form of prejudice. What I’m talking about is a systematic categorization, which is mostly benign.

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        • While I can’t better my Byelorussian friend’s defense, I respect your point, being usually very aware of it myself. I was raised by parents guilty of inserting “black” whenever a black person was involved, and found it very strange.

          I am not perfect, might be the point. Example: just now I walked past two people communicating in sign language. My brain’s first thought was, “don’t make any loud noises that might interrupt.” My second thought was, “wait, what?”

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        • wilt says:

          I have no problem with you englishman, I have done it myself before. And while i was trying to get and answer i was not trying to “start anything” or rile anyone up as the goon who replied to my initial post suggested.

          Cheers wbe, have a great day.

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      • jim says:

        because it’s his story. tell your own story, then you pick the details

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    • pete says:

      This story is innocuous compared to the following tweets made by some people after Darvish’s near perfecto. Pathetic but not surprising.

      As the post below says, “It was a great night for America‚Äôs two favorite pastimes: baseball and racism.”


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  3. Vinnie says:

    The pitch Marwin Gonzalez hit was a cutter.

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    • rustydude says:

      Marwin Gonzalez’ 2013 ZiPS wOBA projection ranking is 819th in all of MLB. OBP ranking is 705th.

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    • El Vigilante says:

      A.J. Pierzynski verified this in his post-game interview with Eric Nadel. Said it was a cutter that just did not cut.

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      • Trevor says:

        He threw a couple of those in the 8th, too. A few cutters in a row that Chris Carter could’ve ripped if he’d had his timing on. Darvish seemed like he was getting tired in the last two innings, or maybe starting to develop a blister (he kept looking at his hand). Makes the almost-perfecto all the more impressive, thinking he was running on fumes for the last 1 and 2/3.

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  4. Sparkles Peterson says:

    There are certainly no guarantees that a ball like that is ever knocked down, but my instant reaction to that hit was, “Too bad he doesn’t get himself in better fielding position.”

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    • Aggie E says:

      The cutter was the main course, but those sliders were what gave me such delight. Also impressive is his continued ability to not walk people. See him again on Sunday Night baseball against the hated Angels…

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  5. Buffalo says:

    I wish you came out with this article before I traded Darvish in my keeper league :(

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  6. glib says:

    I suggest that no hitters or perfect games against the Astros carry an asterisk. Two asterisks if it is the Astros at ATT Park or Safeco.

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    • supershredder says:

      Don’t give me that shit about this coming vs the Astros. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks Darvish can throw a perfect game against your f-ing favorite team. This is a reflection of Darvish, not the Astros. This is the reason I predicted Darvish would win the AL Cy Young before the season began and why I have him on all my fantasy teams.

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    • glib says:

      Since I favor the Giants, and Cain’s perfecto gets a double asterisk, I am off the hook. Felix perfecto was at Safeco against a weak team, cant’ remember which. There are perfect games and perfect games.

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    • Deelron says:

      It’s one thing to have low scoring games, it’s another to not have any hits period.

      Also over the last 5 years I think the key is really playing the Rays ;).

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    • jim says:

      yeah, darvish and cain are pretty shit outside those two games

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  7. Ty says:

    Looks like Harper’s opening day pace for a 48.6 WAR didn’t phase Darvish. Darvish is on pace for 128.4 WAR through 214 IP (the most the projection systems see him getting)

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  8. Cguudgyrdycjvhkj says:

    Felix is going to get the perfecto v. Astros this year. Maybe Justin Vargas, too.

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    • Dan Greer says:

      I think you meant Jason, but I thumbs-upped you anyway.

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      • maguro says:

        I have no idea who Justin Vargas is, but I wouldn’t rule out the idea of him throwing a perfect game against the Astros.

        +24 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • tomdog says:

          Justin Vargas is the name of an IT guy at my company. He plays short for our softball team and has a cannon.

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        • Jason B says:

          Dude let’s get real here…the IT guy on your softball team is NOT a major league pitcher…

          He would give up at LEAST 3-4 hits to these Astros over nine innings. Probably even a run! =)

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  9. Ender says:

    I will definitely be starting every pitcher I can against the Astros and Marlins all year long. Even when the Astros happen to score it is going to come with a K per 9 no matter how bad the pitcher is.

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    • Jason B says:

      Today it was Alexi Ogando’s turn to look like the second coming of Pedro Martinez against the Astros!!

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  10. Nick says:

    Darvish now has a NEGATIVE (!!!WTF!!!) FIP (-.27). I didn’t even know that was possible.

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  11. TKDC says:

    I have one minor gripe about this article. It starts with one of the oldest and most nonsense baseball cliches about games like this: that Darvish made one mistake pitch and it cost him the perfect game. In the eight inning, he threw 3 straight hanging breaking balls to Chris Carter in basically the exact same spot which were all fouled off before finally getting one to break out of the zone for a swinging strike. I have a hard time believing the second and third (if not also the first) of these high breaking balls in the center of the zone were not mistake pitches for which he was possibly fortunate.

    Anyway, nothing against Darvish – amazing pitcher and amazing game.

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    • That’s a lot of words expended on a literary flourish.

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    • Windingmywatch says:

      Carter is RH bat and less likely to get his arms extended on an inside half pitch while Gonzalez being LH was able to extend. Looking at the video had the pitch been just an inch more toward the outside of the plate it would have ended up as a ground ball right to Andrus.

      Hitting a hanging cutter is like hitting a mid 80s flat 4seam FB. FAT.

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  12. Switters says:

    Have to feel for the Astros. Not only being bad but also having to learn AL West pitchers all at once.

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  13. telly says:

    Would Duquette have Darvish scrap the cutter if he were an Oriole?

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