August 31, 2012
The Best Pitches Thrown This Week (Yu Darvish Edition)
Beside pitch speed, pitch location, pitch spin, pitch movement, pitch type, count, batter, park, umpire, release point, etc., PITCHf/x also logs something called pitch-type confidence. Since the system is using algorithms to deduce what the pitch is based on speed, movement, and release point, it has to make some assumptions. If a pitcher throws only one type of fastball, and it is 10 mph faster than any other pitch he throws, and it is the only pitch that breaks to the pitcher’s glove side, the system can be pretty confident when it labels a 98-mph pitch a fastball.
But then there’s Yu Darvish. Of all the pitches Yu Darvish has thrown this year, 43 were give a confidence level of 50 percent or lower, and 506 were 80 or lower. Compare this to, say, Wandy Rodriguez, my go-to control group. He has thrown just one pitch with a confidence rating lower of 50 percent or lower, and 121 at 80 or lower. Or compare to (random pitcher) Stephen Strasburg: five below 50, 120 below 80. Strasburg has thrown 81 pitches that PITCHf/x was 100 percent confident about. Yu Darvish has thrown none.
None of this applies exactly to the experience of hitting against Yu Darvish, but maybe it does a little. Darvish throws a whole grip of pitches. The speeds on them vary to the point of overlapping with each other. They all seem to move a ton, so the movement is suggestive but not always conclusive. And so when he pitched against the Rays on Tuesday, striking out 10, the Rays’ broadcast team kept admitting: they didn’t really know what that pitch was. And, they would inevitably note, if it’s that hard to identify, imagine how hard it is to hit. That’s probably not sound logic, but it sounds good, and, also, yes, it is hard to hit.
So let’s say Darvish has two strikes on you. What do you look for? It depends on the situation, and it depends on how well Darvish has set you up. And if there’s one thing you could say about Darvish’s performance against the Rays, it is that he set them up very, very well.
Here are the three best pitches thrown this week.
3. Yu Darvish, strike three to B.J. Upton, third plate appearance.
Background, courtesy of the Rays' broadcast:
I think the changeup and splitter should actually be labeled as just one pitch, the splitter, which is what we'll assume for this piece. But it's also Darvish, so.
Immediate context: Upton laid down a sacrifice bunt on a high fastball in his first at-bat against Darvish. In the second at-bat, Darvish threw Upton four fastballs, one of them way high and the other three on the outer half. Upton fouled off the first pitch in the zone, whiffed on the second and took the third—in the low-outside corner of the zone—for strike three.
Darvish starts Upton’s third at-bat with this fastball:
And follows it with a four-seamer near the called third strike of the previous at-bat, but taken this time for a ball. All seven pitches Upton has seen in this game are four-seamers, until this:
Sweetness me, that’s a pitch. I especially like how Upton does an impression of the pitch with his left foot.
Darvish then goes back to the four-seamer low and away, and while this one is 95—the hardest he has thrown to Upton today—it’s a little too far outside to get Upton to chase or to get the umpire to repeat his call from the second at-bat. So Upton has a 2-2 count.
Yu Darvish, on 2-2 counts or 3-2 counts to right-handers today
If B.J. Upton looks for a fastball:
If B.J. Upton looks for a slider:
If B.J. Upton looks for a splitter or two-seamer:
You are B.J. Upton. Your strategy is to look for:
What do you do, B.J. Upton?
2. Yu Darvish, strike three to Matt Joyce.
Background: Joyce hits righties well, and he controls the strike zone well, so Darvish isn’t a bad match-up for him. He can handle low pitches, which is where Darvish will keep almost anything under 90 mph. And despite being patient overall, he’s aggressive at pitches in the middle of the zone, and up in the zone.
Immediate context: Darvish faces Joyce in the first inning; he gave up a first-pitch hit to Desmond Jennings and a first-pitch bunt to Upton, both on four-seamers, so Joyce hasn’t seen much yet. Darvish throws a four-seamer low and away for ball one. Then he gets strike one on this:
So that’s the cutter. It’s right down the middle, but it evens the count. Darvish then throws the first off-speed pitch of the game:
And haha Matt Joyce. So it is now 1-2 on Matt Joyce.
Yu Darvish, on 1-2 counts to left-handers this year
If Matt Joyce looks for a slider:
If Matt Joyce looks for something with movement away:
If Matt Joyce remembers the curveball he just swung at:
You are Matt Joyce. Your strategy is to look for:
Matt Joyce, what do you do?
1. Yu Darvish, strike three to Jose Lobaton
Immediate context: By this point in the game, Darvish has thrown 101 pitches, and Lobaton has seen Darvish twice, so he should have some idea what to expect. In the first two at-bats, Lobaton saw a total of four pitches. In the first at-bat, he got a cutter up and away for a ball, then grounded out on a cutter down the middle. In the second at-bat, he got a—well, it was called a four-seamer, but I think it was a cutter up and away for a ball—then grounded out on a cutter down the middle. So four pitches, three cutters (maybe four cutter), and a well-below-normal-velocity four-seamer.
In the third try, Darvish throws a first-pitch this:
Cutter, probably. Recorded as a fastball, but a bit slow for a four-seamer. Based on velocity and movement, I’m saying cutter. Then this:
It’s the 14th time Darvish has thrown that curveball today, but he has never thrown it in a two-strike count. So while it steals a strike and might disrupt Lobaton’s timing and is certainly a heck of a pitch, Lobaton can probably exclude it from his math now that he’s down 0-2.
Darvish then throws a true four-seam fastball, in the dirt and inside. So,
Yu Darvish, on 1-2 counts to lefties today
Yu Darvish, on 1-2 counts to all hitters
If Jose Lobaton looks for a cutter, or a four-seam fastball, he will still be Jose Lobaton, so let’s get real here. If he looks for a slider, he’s not going to turn into Ben Zobrist or anything, let’s just call this one early. If he is focused on a two-seamer, Yu Darvish is going to just be better at pitching than Jose Lobaton is at hitting. And if he looks splitter, then he’s going to strike out on a splitter.
You are Jose Lobaton. What do you expect you will strike out on?
Jose Lobaton, what do you do?
2. To Matt Joyce, Yu Darvish threw this pitch:
1. To Jose Lobaton, Yu Darvish threw this pitch:
The funny thing is, I was considering pitches for this feature, and before I settled on Yu Darvish I found I was collecting a lot of sliders from Darvish's previous start, against the Blue Jays. Sliders to righties, where the righties would chase pitches and miss by a foot or more. Could have filled an entire article with those sliders. Here I have shown you nine great Yu Darvish pitches, and none of them are sliders to righties. Yu Darvish does a lot of things.
I just wish he were even better.