Yu Darvish And PitchFX

Darvish
It wasn’t too long ago that PitchFX was exclusive technology to Major League Baseball teams. Teams would pay tens of thousands of dollars every year to have access to the data collected by PitchFX. And of course they would, PitchFX is amazing and provides us with more detail about what happens to a ball from the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand to when it meets its final destination than we have ever had before. And now, PitchFX is fairly easily accessible for us all. 

I love PitchFX.

I love Yu Darvish.

And I absolutely love the things that Yu Darvish does that show up in PitchFX.

Swinging Strikeouts

Last year, after Darvish’s sixth start of the season, I wrote about his high rate of swinging strikeouts. At that point in time, I had determined that 89% of Darvish’s strikeouts were swinging strikeouts – higher than any other Ranger, as well as the best strikeout pitchers in the league.

Darvish finished the 2012 season with 87% of all strikeouts coming from swinging strikeouts, which is still a very high rate, especially over the course of 228 strikeouts (I’m including the one-game playoff start against Baltimore).

So far, after five starts in 2013, Darvish’s swinging strikeout percentage has been 84%. In 2012, Darvish had struck out 33 batters after five starts. In 2013, he has struck out 49 batters after five starts, but he is generating more strikeouts looking this year.

I am not sure what the conclusion should be from the slight decrease in swinging strikeouts rate. The sample is too small to suggest Darvish is getting more called strikeouts by using a certain pitch, and the sample doesn’t indicate that anyway. It could be that hitters around the league are more prone to take a pitch from Darvish after seeing his control struggles for much of 2012. It could also be because Darvish is throwing more strikes in 2013, so the number of called strikeouts would naturally increase because of that.

No matter what, Darvish still gets a vast majority of his strikeouts on swings-and-misses.

Pitch Speeds

One of the most fascinating things about watching Darvish pitch is his ability to change speeds across the whole spectrum that most MLB pitchers throw the ball. He can bring a Jamie Moyer curveball, followed by a David Price fastball. There is a small group of pitchers who are able to do this, and you could argue that none do it as effortlessly or effectively as Darvish.

In last night’s start against the Angels, Darvish threw a curveball to Josh Hamilton at 61.9 MPH, according to PitchFX. It would be the slowest pitch he threw that night, and only 0.1 MPH faster than the slowest pitch he has ever thrown on a PitchFX reading. The very next pitch to Hamilton was 98.54 MPH, the fastest pitch Darvish has ever thrown.

“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” – Warren Spahn, Yu Darvish’s godfather, apparently.

Darvish fills up the radar gun readings on a nightly basis. Last night, he threw at least one pitch 21 different speeds (62, 64, 79-87, 90-99). That is a neat trick, but it’s not even close to the most speeds he’s ever thrown in a game. On May 16th, 2012, Darvish threw at least one pitch 28 different speeds (64-65, 68-71, 75-96).

Getting Better and Better

In 2012, Darvish never had a game where he induced greater than 21 swings-and-misses. In 2013, he already has two such games (27 in the near perfecto against Houston, and 23 last night versus Los Angeles). He is averaging 19 whiffs per start in 2013. Instead of the league catching up to Darvish, he is only putting more distance between himself and the competition.

Adaptability

During Darvish’s start last night, the TV crew flashed a graphic on the screen that showed Darvish’s opponent’s batting average in 2013 on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd time facing him. The 1st time through the order, he has held opponents to a .207 average. The 2nd time through the order, that decreases to a .067 average. The 3rd time through the order, opponents have a .172 average.

One of the reasons Darvish has seemingly improved as a game continues so far in 2013 is his ability to give batter’s different looks each time they face him. In last night’s game, Darvish threw five different pitches. In his career, he has thrown eight different pitch varieties. Here is how Darvish used each pitch last night as the game wore on:

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Darvish didn’t throw a curveball until the 4th inning. He didn’t throw a cut fastball until the 6th inning. He completely changed his approach each time through the lineup, and the Angels hitters were off balance all night long.

Darvish has changed how he uses his repertoire overall as well, and not just from start to start, or between cycles through a lineup. Compare his overall pitch usage between April 2012, September 2012, and this year:

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Pictures Are Better than Words

And finally, because we can, and because schadenfreude, and because PitchFX is amazing, but watching it is even better, here is all 11 strikeouts from Darvish’s start against the Angels last night:

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Happy Darvish Day indeed.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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