The Yu Darvish Home Run Epidemic

Few big league pitchers have the ability to make hitters look silly at the plate like Yu Darvish does. Darvish can throw a variety of pitches that slide, break, disappear and downright do things that a baseball really should not do. His ability to get the strike out is impeccable at times with a repertoire that simply leaves opposing hitters either shaking their head or mouthing the words, “wow.”
The expectations for the Texas Ranger right-hander have increased ten-fold during the past year due to Yu’s ability to strike out anyone at anytime, two near perfect games and the strikeout total that he has accumulated. There have been many points of contention this year regarding Yu Darvish and his status as an ace or his inability to get the shutdown inning or the fact that the team doesn’t win regularly with him on the mound. There are several factors that we can delve into, as Peter Elwood did in his article about the Rangers and shutdown innings.

But the one single factor that stuck with me was Darvish’s home run rate. Last year Darvish allowed 14 home runs in 191.1 innings and in 2013 he has allowed 24 home runs in 179.2 innings pitched. In 2012 Yu’s home run to flyball ratio (HR/FB) was 9.1%, meaning that 9.1% of flyballs last year left the yard. This year it has increased to 15.4%, which is a significant jump.

In trying to decipher the reasoning behind the increase in bombs off of Yu, we looked at every single one of the 24 home runs that he has allowed this season. 

Date Player LH/RH Team Score Inning ROB Count Pitch Type Catcher Batting Order Team W/L
2013-04-30 Dewayne Wise L CHW ahead 4-2 T 6 1– (2-2) Curve Soto 9 W
2013-05-05 David Ortiz L BOS tied 0-0 T 1 1– (3-1) Cutter Pierzynski 4
2013-05-05 David Ross R BOS behind 0-2 T 2 (1-0) Curve Pierzynski 7 W
2013-05-11 Matt Dominguez R @ HOU ahead 1-0 B 3 (1-0) Sinker Soto 8
2013-05-11 Matt Dominguez R @ HOU tied 1-1 B 5 1– (2-0) Cutter Soto 8 W
2013-05-16 Don Kelly L DET ahead 1-0 T 3 (3-1) Cutter Soto 8
2013-05-16 Jhonny Peralta R DET ahead 8-3 T 4 (1-1) Fastball Soto 7 W
2013-05-21 Yoenis Cespedes R OAK tied 0-0 T 3 (0-0) Cutter Pierzynski 3 L
2013-05-27 Didi Gregorius L @ ARI ahead 4-2 B 8 1– (2-0) Cutter Pierzynski 2 L
2013-06-18 Brandon Moss L OAK tied 0-0 T 2 (0-1) Sinker Pierzynski 5
2013-06-18 John Jaso L OAK behind 0-2 T 3 (0-1) Sinker Pierzynski 2 L
2013-06-25 Travis Hafner L @ NYY ahead 2-0 B 4 (0-1) Curve Pierzynski 4
2013-06-25 Brett Gardner L @ NYY ahead 3-1 B 5 (1-1) Slider Pierzynski 1
2013-06-25 Jayson Nix R @ NYY ahead 3-2 B 6 (0-0) Slider Pierzynski 7 L
2013-07-06 Brandon Barnes R HOU tied 0-0 T 4 1– (2-1) Fastball Soto 7 L
2013-07-27 Michael Bourn L @ CLE tied 0-0 B 1 (1-0) Fastball Soto 1 L
2013-08-06 Kole Calhoun L @ LAA ahead 2-0 B 1 (2-1) Fastball Pierzynski 1
2013-08-06 Mike Trout R @ LAA ahead 2-1 B 1 (0-0) Fastball Pierzynski 2 W
2013-08-12 Carlos Corporan L @ HOU ahead 2-0 B 8 (0-0) Fastball Soto 6 W
2013-08-24 Adam Dunn L @ CHW ahead 2-0 B 6 1– (0-0) Fastball Pierzynski 4 L
2013-08-30 Chris Herrmann L MIN ahead 2-0 T 7 1– (2-0) Fastball Pierzynski 2
2013-08-30 Justin Morneau L MIN tied 2-2 T 7 (2-1) Slider Pierzynski 3 L
2013-09-04 Brandon Moss L @ OAK tied 0-0 B 1 1– (1-0) Cutter Pierzynski 4
2013-09-04 Daric Barton L @ OAK behind 3-2 B 6 1– (2-2) Slider Pierzynski 6 L

There are several interesting things to point out when looking at the above 24 home runs. 

  • All are either solo shots or two-run homers. Looking back to last year as well, Darvish has never allowed a three-run homer or a grand slam.
  • Brandon Moss and Matt Dominguez have got him twice this year.
  • Of the last 9 home runs, only 3 have come against teams with winning records and all 9 have come in the 1st inning or in the 6th or after.
  • 3 have come on curveballs, 3 on sinkers, 4 on sliders, 6 on cutters and 8 on fastballs including a stretch of 7 in a row.
  • 16 have come with AJ Pierzynski behind the plate and 8 with Geovany Soto catching. Pierzynski has caught 112.1 of Darvish’s 179.2 innings pitched, or 62.5% of them.
  • 16 have come from left handed hitters and 8 from right handed hitters.
  • The Rangers record when Darvish allows a home run in 2013 is 6-8.
  • Oakland hitters have gotten Yu 5 times while Astros hitters have accomplished that 4 times.
  • 5 times Darvish has allowed multiple home runs in the same game.
  • Hitters 1-3 have hit 9 home runs, hitters 4-6 have hit 7, hitters 7-9 have hit 8.
  • Darvish allowed 8 home runs in May, the most of any month, all in successive starts.
  • 12 (half) of the home runs occurred when Darvish was behind in the count.
  • 9 home runs have been allowed with an even count, including 5 on the first pitch.
While those are fun or not-so-fun facts, depending on your perspective, there is not much to point to as far as a pattern except maybe the last 9 dingers coming in innings 1, 6, 7 or 8 or that hitters 7-9 have hit 8 dingers off of him. However Darvish is spreading the wealth when it comes to spots in the order hammering a pitch out of the ballpark.

If we look at the situation that these homers are occurring, something does jump out. Of Darvish’s 24 bombs allowed, there are 16 occasions that he has given up the lead or tie. Regardless of your feelings towards Yu Darvish as an ace or not, this is a troubling trend.  Can it be corrected? Yes. Will it?

The question we have to ask is this year an outlier, or is it going to be the norm? I would gather that most would put this in the category of a rogue year, taking into account the “stuff” he has. That is where I would put it. I for one, cannot see a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber continue to give up home runs at the current rate. 

Yu Darvish is a beast with an amazing array of pitches. Yes, he can improve in a couple of areas like pitch efficiency and obviously limiting the home run. But he is filthy when he is on the mound most of the time. Derek Holland had a stretch like this with home runs in 2011 and 2012 when he allowed 22 and 32 home runs, respectively. Holland has been a different pitcher this year and I think we can see Darvish follow suit.

Patrick Despain
Patrick is a member of the IBWAA and creator of Shutdown Inning. He was raised him Arlington, Texas and grew up watching games on HSE and listening to Eric Nadel and Mark Holtz on the radio. He is a long time Rangers fan and never achieved his dream of being a bat boy. He know lives in Georgia with dreams of a Texas return.

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