Yu Darvish Starting to Resemble Ace Cubs Believed They Signed Last Season

It’s remained under wraps for a while now, but the time has finally come to unveil the new baseball performance metric called Doesn’t Allow Runs in Volume that I’ve been developing for a year. By this highly objective and not at all fake measurement, Monday night’s Cubs starter was very DARVish.

Thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience, be sure to tip your servers.

Seriously, though, Yu Darvish may have just posted his best start as a Cub. And that’s really saying something considering he struck out 11 men with no walks in his previous outing in Cincinnati. But, you know, it was the Reds. To go out and shove at Wrigley in a game against a more potent offense and with a fan favorite facing him spoke as much about the mental side of Darvish’s game as it did his pitching.

“He was outstanding, actually,” Joe Maddon said after the game, per Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic ($). “He pitched really well. Two-strike groundball up the middle and then the flyball down the right-field line. He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself.

“I thought he was outstanding. Even better than he looked in Cincinnati. I thought it was probably his best start for us to date.”

In case you weren’t able to watch the game, Maddon was describing a pair of hard-luck balls that left an unsightly bruise on Darvish’s final line. Between that and the game’s ending, an otherwise sterling performance was largely cast aside. Two of the righty’s three walks coming around to score in his final frame didn’t help, but a simple half-step was the only thing keeping him from six shutout innings.

After walking Andrew McCutchen to lead off the 6th, Darvish induced a Jean Segura chopper — a ball with an expected batting average of .200 — that nearly resulted in a double play. But Segura was ruled safe at first after beating the throw from Addison Russell by a hair. Would a stronger arm have gotten the ball to Anthony Rizzo in time for the out? We’ll never know and it doesn’t really matter.

Darvish stayed away from Bryce Harper after getting up 0-2, thus putting two men with just one out. After Rhys Hoskins popped out, J.T. Realmuto rapped a sharp single to score the Phillies’ first run and put two on for César Hernández. A fluky bounce off the matting along the sidewall in right turned a bloop hit into a triple and may have been the reason both runners scored. Either way, the damage was done.

As such, it’s easy to overlook just how good Darvish was on the evening. His four-seam fastball, over which he had absolutely no control earlier in the season, was sharp enough to produce positive value for the first time in 10 starts. The cutter was also butter, as in slicing like a hot knife through, generating the highest overall game value for a pitch that has been Darvish’s best all season.

But perhaps the most telling moment of the game came when Darvish stepped back from the mound to allow his counterpart a few extra moments to bask in the adulation from the Wrigley crowd.

More than just a sign of respect or an acknowledgement of Arrieta’s Cubs career, this was an example of Darvish being present and fully engaged in the moment. That kind of awareness seemed to be missing from his injury-shortened first season in Chicago and it was absent from his early starts this season, which came as a surprise after Darvish flashed so much personality during spring training.

The problem, as he put it, was that he wasn’t taking the time to slow down and process everything. By working deliberately in Cincinnati, Darvish was able to put up what was easily his best start to date in a Cubs uniform. And by affording his opponent a few extra moments in the spotlight, Darvish displayed the kind of self-confidence we hadn’t seen from him prior.

Make no mistake, that loss stung. But perhaps its residual effects will be more important in the weeks and months to come, I say with full awareness that I sound like Pollyanna by merely suggesting as much.

“[Arrieta]’s a legend in Chicago,” Darvish told reporters after the game. “I faced him and pitched pretty good. That makes me confident.”

A confident Darvish, one who has now struck out 18 against three walks in his last two starts, is a huge weapon for the Cubs. And considering that he’s essentially been relegated to the role of fifth starter based on his early struggles, having him pitch like an ace would be a huge boon to the rotation and the bullpen.

He’ll get the chance to prove that these last two outings were not fueled by the same good fortune as Hernández’s triple when the Reds come to town this weekend.

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