GIF: The wide, wide world of Yu Darvish's pitch selection
Last night, Yu Darvish dominated the Angels, striking out 11 hitters in six innings and allowing just five baserunners (three hits, two walks) — none of whom reached second base. Manager Ron Washington pulled him after 100 pitches because by the end of the sixth, the Rangers had rolled out to an 11-0 lead. Still, the consensus of the Rangers' TV announcers was that he was even sharper than on April 2, when he came within one out of completing a perfect game against the Astros.
Reddit user DShep put together this amazing GIF of Darvish, compositing all five of his primary offerings into a single animation that makes clear the consistency of his delivery and release point:
Hypnotic, isn't it? According to the PITCHf/x data at BrooksBaseball.net, Darvish threw:
• 43 sliders (average speed 87.1 MPH), of which an amazing 13 were swings and misses (30.2 percent). By comparison, Darvish's whiff rate on sliders last year was 22.5 percent. He threw 12 others last night for strikes that weren't put into play, via seven called strikes and five foul balls. Twelve were called balls. Of the six that were put into play, two produced singles by Mark Trumbo and Josh Hamilton (the latter an infield single). Can't win 'em all.
• 42 four-seam fastballs (average speed 95.1 MPH), of which five were swings and misses (11.9 percent, up from last year's 9.8 percent). Another 11 were called strikes and nine were fouls. Fourteen were called balls, only three of which cane when he was even in the count (0-0 or 1-1), and none when he was behind. Only two were put into play, and both were converted into outs. Darvish topped out at a career-high 98.5 MPH (at least as far as his time in MLB goes), though it's worth remembering that the f/x system calibration from park to park can produce wide enough margins for error to cloud that assertion.
• 8 two-seam fastballs (average speed 94.0 MPH), of which two were swings and misses, two were fouls, and four were balls.
• 4 slow curveballs (average speed 63.2 MPH), of which two were swinging strikes, one was a called strike and one was a ball. The 31.9 MPH gap between his four-seamer and curve was much wider than the average gap between the two pitches last year, when the heater averaged 93.6 MPH and the slow hook 70.3 MPH; note that the folks at Brooks, who review the classification of every pitch (well after the fact) distinguish that from his regular curve, which last year averaged 79.6 MPH.
• 3 cutters (average speed 91.2 MPH), of which one was a swinging strike, one a foul and one a ball in play for a single by Albert Pujols. Recall that the emergence of his cutter was one of the key reasons for Darvish's late-season run, in which he more or less cut his ERA and walk rate in half over his final eight starts:
From April through July, Darvish threw his cutter between 11 and 15 percent of the time. In August that climbed to 20 percent, and then to a whopping 46 percent in September. On Wednesday night, he barely needed it, throwing all three in the sixth inning when he was up by 11 runs.
Furthermore, Darvish didn't even break out his faster curve, changeup or splitter, three pitches which he combined to throw roughly 12 percent of the time last year. All of which means that he'll have something different to throw at the Angels the next time he faces them. There isn't a pitcher in the game who can claim that wide a repertoire of plus pitches. Thus far this season, Darvish has pitched to a 1.65 ERA with a league-high 13.5 strikeouts per nine, and while he has gone more than six innings just twice in five starts, he already has three games with double-digit strikeout totals. Bet on several more to come.