YUPHORIA…?

Yu Darvish has had an interesting first year in Major League Baseball. Making his final regular season start this past weekend, it should also be noted that he’s had an interesting end to his first year in Major League Baseball.

Overall, he’s had a pretty successful first season – despite only a relatively decent 3.90 ERA, he finished just short of 200 innings and still ended up with the fifth highest WAR among qualified starters and that’s something Texas can certainly be happy about moving forward. Fangraphs wrote about it at the beginning of August, comparing his questionable walk rates and amazing strikeout numbers so far at that point through the season with similar seasons from other pitchers going back to 2002. The list…isn’t pretty. At the top end, there’s reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who stands as one of the more remarkable and uncommon cases of a young hurler able to harness his wicked stuff. There’s also Carlos Zambrano, Scott Kazmir, and Fellow Nippon Professional Baseball import Daisuke Matsuzaka who were all able to perform at All-Star or near All-Star levels briefly despite their bad command, until it eventually caught up to them and sucktified their careers. The rest of the list is a cautionary tale of getting overhyped over pitching prospects and a bucket of bad memories for anyone that’s ever worn an Oliver Perez jersey…Pirates or Mets alike.

Indeed, Darvish’s walk rates have been less than stellar, walking the 6th most batters in the league overall, both in total and per 9 innings. And it really was something that people had to start worrying about, even considering his excellent NPB walk rates, although (especially in Matsuzaka’s case) that’s something that doesn’t necessarily translate over while facing superior batters in the MLB. Considering his sublime strikeout numbers (10.4 K/9, second among qualified starters) and general unhittableness (holding opposing batters to just a .218 average and a great 3.30 FIP) there’s not really a concern he won’t be effective…the only question was seemingly just how many seasons that would be. It was a question of when his bad command would be insurmountable, not if.

That’s changed a bit now at the end of the regular season, as Darvish put up his eighth straight quality start this past Sunday, and also his seventh straight start with only two walks or less. Obviously I’m blatantly aping Fangraphs again but they do a great job in noting his increased use of his cutter over his slider and splitter, and being better at getting ahead and staying ahead of batters. (Also, a wonderful Vernon Wells strikeout GIF that delighted my heart.) Granted, all the usual small sample size disclaimers apply here, but check out his line across his last seven starts, compared to the rest of the year…

                      IP     ERA     OPS   BB/9     K/9
First 22 starts    140.2    4.54    .719    5.1    10.4
Last 7 starts       50.2    2.13    .467    1.8    10.5

At a time during the season when most pitchers start to tire, he’s actually getting better. Over the last month and a half, he’s more than halved his walk rate while still maintaining the strikeouts…and consequently, has started to just straight up dominate batters. Obviously, again, it’s not a large sample size and the context has to be considered – within those seven starts includes games against some limpdick offenses like Tampa Bay, Seattle, Kansas City, and of course, worst of all, Toronto’s current lineup. But if Darvish’s true performance level is closer to the last quarter of his season than the first three quarters then it could get messy for the rest of baseball, since going by at least one metric, he’s already one of the top five most valuable pitchers in the league. Everyone already knew that Darvish could jump up another level next season if he managed to cut down on his walks…however it’s possible that it might have happened already.

The next question then has to relate to the probably of injury. With 29 starts and 191.1 innings pitched and no significant time missed due to any notable injuries this year, he’s established himself as a durable starter. Furthermore, the Rangers don’t need to worry about shutting down Darvish with a innings limit like what the Nationals are doing with Stephen Strasburg. Unlike conventional MLB rookies who spend their time in the minors playing shorter seasons, Darvish already has a number of 200+ inning seasons in the NPB and an established reputation as a durable innings eater, logging a very impressive 232 innings just last season in Japan.

Past that, all we can do is speculate based on his pitching mechanics…and although most scouts note that he has a very clean and repeatable drop-and-drive motion that’s very effective for him as a 6’5″ power pitcher, it’s been observed that he has a bit of an “inverted L” shape in his arm action…

The “inverted L” (or W or V) describes am arm action during the “power position” for pitchers where the pitching elbow is above or at the same level as the shoulder, increasing the distance and force the upper arm needs to rotate to deliver a pitch, and thus increasing the stress on the elbow and shoulder when it’s forced to do so. There’s a strong correlation of pitchers who have these types of hitches in their arm action and future arm/shoulder issues, so the possibility exists there for Darvish to run into future arm trouble, or at least moreso than if he didn’t pitch with his elbow so high and his wrist locked directly under it. Still, the inversion isn’t as pronounced and the timing hitch doesn’t seem as prevalent in Darvish’s arm action as more notable sufferers of the dreaded “inverted L” including AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan, and Chris Carpenter…who interestingly and tragically enough, are all former Blue Jays that have had their arms explode. At this point it’s really just speculation, and something would definitely have to happen first before his durability could be questioned. But if he blows out his arm next year best believe I’ll be ready to point back to this and proclaim myself as a baseball genius.

Walks and mechanics aside, 221 strikeouts certainly can’t be ignored…especially if all of them are compiled within a single video and set to the greatest soundtrack in the history of YouTube sports compilation videos. This is a superb editing job as well, all the pitches (and that meaty ball-on-glove sound) are set to the beat!

There is a brilliant, hypnotic quality to watching a pitcher like that carve up so many batters with such a ridiculous assortment of crazy pitches, sending them all back to the bench with the same “what the fuck is that shit” look on their faces. I’m a little surprised to realize how exceedingly easy it to masturbate to this video.

Considering his growing effectiveness this year, the possibility that he’ll only get more efficient and more effective across more innings by improving his command, and the absurd ridiculousness of how he dominates batters…it’s getting harder and harder to stomach the fact that Toronto didn’t commit more to signing him when he was posted last December. And it’s even more frustrating considering that it would have only cost cash versus trading major league talent or minor league depth to get him, especially after witnessing the absolute horror show that was the 2012 Blue Jays starting rotation.

Calling sour grapes only goes so far.

I would let Yu fuck me.

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Destined to fight the world's evil, The WAMBAG endures massive battles involving impossible stunts, races on horse-pulled carriages, and the desecration of enchanting medieval castles (all done with dizzying computer graphics). Not only does the eye candy keep on coming, the tongue-in-cheek writing and deep Transylvanian accents perfect the film with a dose of dark humor.

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