Yu Darvish Uses Even Broader Array of Pitches to Achieve Streak Not Seen Since 1906
Yu Darvish posted yet another masterful performance Friday night, providing the kind of comfortable support you’d expect from an ace. In doing so, he solidified himself atop the Cy Young leaderboard with some dude named Fried, which is only too fitting because that’s the kind of chicken Darvish taunted a Twitter troll to eat until death.
Esoteric jokes aside, this latest effort pushed Darvish into a statistical stratosphere not reached by a Cubs pitcher since before the organization’s first World Series title. According to the postgame notes via MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Darvish is the first Cubs pitcher to win seven straight starts and allow one or zero runs in each since Ed Reulbach from August 17-September 19, 1906. The last pitcher to do it for any team was Clayton Kershaw from June 8-July 10, 2014.
I know you’re probably wondering about Jake Arrieta’s otherworldly stretch in 2015, but he actually allowed two runs to the Pirates on September 16. However, he allowed just one earned run in that game and gave up a total of only two earned over his final nine starts of the season, over which time he went 8-0 with a 0.27 ERA and 73 strikeouts to seven walks. The point isn’t necessarily to compare the two, since that’s neither constructive nor fair, even if it is still a little fun.
Over the seven starts in question, Darvish is 7-0 with a 0.98 ERA and 58 strikeouts to eight walks. While matching Arrieta’s numbers is impossible, the only thing that really matters is how Darvish provides the Cubs with the same sense of confidence that they’re going to win each time he takes the bump. All they’ve got to do is score two runs and the game is over, and that is a helluva psychological weapon.
Just add that to the trunk full of junk Darvish hauls to mound with him, allowing him to unleash a dizzying array of pitches even Spinal Tap thinks is over-the-top parody. He’d been officially tracked at nine pitches by September of 2019, but MLB.com’s Mike Petriello added that there were also “variations of pitches we don’t even have classifications for” and acknowledged that Darvish and the Cubs confirmed 10 distinct pitches. Others had the number even higher.
“Six of the 11 are different fastballs that he throws,” former Cubs catcher Chris Gimenez told Gordon Wittenmyer. “When I first started catching him, his interpreter at the time came up to me and said, `This is what he throws: this, this, this, this and this.’
“I literally looked at his interpreter and I was like, ‘Man, I only got five fingers.’
And this is all before he invented the “Supreme,” a two-seam/splitter hybrid he developed during the COVID-19 shutdown. Then there’s the glove-less splitter he threw to the Reds’ Freddy Galvis, though it’s probably not fair to give that one its own classification.
The really important aspect of all this isn’t just that Darvish has myriad pitches, something that may have actually hampered him as he cycled through them to see what would work in a particular start, but that he can easily shift when problems arise. Part of the reason he’s been so successful is that he’s gotten comfortable being deliberate and figuring out quickly what’s going to work.
That leads to cleaner outings with fewer hiccups as Darvish doesn’t need to spend an inning or two kind of feeling around for his stuff in a given game. As he told reporters after Friday’s win, he’s narrowed it down from what may have been three or four issues each game to just one. Against the Cardinals, that issue was throwing four-seamers to righties. No matter.
“I have a lot of cutters, three or four kinds of cutters,” Darvish explained. “Two kinds of sliders. Or three kinds of curveballs. So I can replace the four-seam.”
Darvish said in past years he might have 3-4 issues per start. This year? Maybe one. Today's issue, four-seamers to righties.
"But I have a lot of cutters — three or four kinds of cutters. Two kinds of sliders. Or three kinds of curveballs. So I can replace the four-seam."
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 5, 2020
Dude, that’s nine different variations on three primary pitch types without even getting to the two-seam, splitter, changeup, or fastball. Then you consider the velocity changes he generates from pitch to pitch and it’s no wonder hitters have been baffled this season. Just look at poor Tommy Edman, who struck out looking at hard stuff in each of his first two at-bats.
Darvish started the lefty-batting shortstop off with a slider at 80 mph for a called strike, then spun a 74 mph curve for a whiff. Then he flipped a knuckle curve at 82 and a slider at 83, both of which were taken down and in for balls. That’s when Darvish zipped a 96 mph heater middle-in for the backwards K.
Edman’s next AB was more of the same, with Darvish getting to an 0-2 count before missing with a fastball and dialing a curve down to 71 to set the batter up for a blistering front-door sinker at 96 that sent Edman back to the dugout. Those strikeouts are the first two featured below and it’s obvious Edman had absolutely no clue what was coming.
With four more starts left on the season, being named the NL’s best pitcher is hardly fait accompli even if it is very much within reason. What an amazing turnaround that would be from the toxic and ill-informed narratives promoted by blowhards like Alex Rodriguez who insinuated that Darvish was a clubhouse cancer or that he was mentally weak. I’d love to believe Cubs fans have all unburdened themselves from those foolish thoughts, but Facebook tells me otherwise.
In any case, Darvish has established himself as the Cubs’ best pitcher and is making great use of what is almost certainly the best — or at least the most diverse — stuff in the league. He’s beating other aces and putting his team on his back in a season that has been anything but normal, and he appears to be having a great time doing it. I know I’m having a great time watching him do it.
Oh, and if he keeps this up and ends up winning the Cy Young, I’ll get a tattoo of him to commemorate the occasion.