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April 3, 2013

What You Need to Know

When Yu Hot, Yu Hot

by Daniel Rathman

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The Tuesday Takeaway
PECOTA projected a big step forward from Yu Darvish in his second major-league season, from 3.3 WARP over 29 starts in 2012 to 5.6 WARP over 30 starts in 2013. If Tuesday night’s dazzling display in Houston is any indication, the Rangers’ ace is indeed poised to join Felix Hernandez, David Price, and Justin Verlander as a member of the American League’s class of elite starters.

Just 293 days after Matt Cain authored a 14-strikeout perfect game against the Astros, Darvish came to the brink of doing the same. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, number-nine hitter Marwin Gonzalez sent a first-pitch fastball into center field, breaking up Darvish’s bid for his first career perfect game, and chasing the righty, who had thrown 111 pitches, from the contest. Michael Kirkman subsequently allowed a single to Jose Altuve, before striking out pinch-hitter J.D. Martinez to end the 7-0 affair.

The Brooks Baseball PITCHf/x breakdown of Darvish’s outing shows that he relied primarily on his cutter and slider, employing one of those two offerings on 82 of his 111 deliveries (73.8 percent). The latter pitch was extraordinarily effective, accounting for 26 of Darvish’s 78 strikes, all but one of which were either taken, fouled off, or swung at and missed. In total, Darvish earned 27 whiffs on 64 swings, an incredible 42.1 percent clip that surely was inflated by the Astros’ weak lineup, but is very impressive all the same.

The 14 strikeouts were the highest total amassed by a Rangers starter since July 7, 1991, when Nolan Ryan punched out 14 Angels in 8 1/3 innings, before giving way to Kenny Rogers. Darvish’s previous career high was 11 strikeouts, a mark he attained four times last season, including a win over the Astros on June 15, two days after Cain’s perfect game.

Texas’ early-season schedule, which includes a day off on Thursday, will enable manager Ron Washington to use Darvish in Sunday’s series finale against the Angels. Darvish logged 48 strikeouts—more than twice his next-highest total versus a single opponent—in 38 1/3 innings over six starts versus Mike Scioscia’s squad last year, so he’ll be anxiously awaiting his next assignment. For now, after coming up one batter short of 27 up, 27 down, he’ll have to settle for a victory and his manager’s love.

Matchup of the Game
With Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira all nursing injuries, the Yankees’ lineup is rather bare these days. That means, in order to stifle the Red Sox’ attempt to clinch the opening series this evening, Joe Girardi’s team is likely to need a strong showing from its second baseman.

Robinson Cano has an excellent track record against Boston starter Clay Buchholz, with 12 hits—including four doubles and a home run—in 25 at-bats. In fact, Cano’s .480 average and 1.240 OPS lead all hitters that have logged at least 20 plate appearances versus the 28-year-old righty.

Of course, most of the damage that Cano has done to Buchholz has been as much the result of poorly executed pitches as of the four-time All-Star’s hitting prowess. In their most recent encounter, on October 1, 2012, Cano smacked a double on thigh-high cutter that came in right down Broadway and a homer on a belt-high fastball in his upstairs wheelhouse.

As the chart above, from Cano’s hitter profile, shows, the lefty is susceptible to well-placed heaters from right-handed pitchers, either in on the hands or tailing off the outside edge. (Testing the middle-middle cold spot is probably inadvisable.) Buchholz exhibited much better command of his hard stuff this spring, on the way to a 22-to-6 K:BB and only 12 hits allowed in 22 2/3 innings of work.

Providence Journal beat writer Brian MacPherson noted in his recap of Buchholz’s March 28 outing against the Pirates that he punched out five lefty batters with a two-seamer tailing back over the inside edge, throwing it “with vicious precision.” Buchholz’s ability to carry over that improvement into his regular-season debut in the Bronx could prove pivotal in his showdowns with Cano and to the game as a whole.

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • Darvish’s near-perfecto gave Alexi Ogando a tough act to follow as the reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter makes his return to the Rangers rotation. Ogando last started a game on June 10, 2012, when he worked three spotless innings and combined with three relievers on a three-hit shutout over the Giants.  He will square off with Philip Humber in the rubber match at Minute Maid Park (2:10 p.m. ET).
  • Matt Harvey turned plenty of heads in his 59 1/3-inning cup of coffee last year, by fanning 70 batters and amassing a 2.73 ERA. He’ll look to start 2013 off on the right foot in tonight’s matchup with the Padres, who touched the University of North Carolina product for five runs on eight hits in five innings on August 5. Keeping Yonder Alonso—who went 2-for-3 with a double and a home run off of Harvey in their first meeting—at bay could be the key to Harvey’s bid to avenge that dud (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • All eyes in Clearwater, Florida, last month were on Roy Halladay’s performance and radar-gun readings—and not in a good way. Halladay coughed up 21 hits and issued nine walks in 16 1/3 Grapefruit League frames, and his velocity, which hovered around the mid-80s for much of the spring, is a lingering concern. The 35-year-old right-hander missed 47 games in 2012 with shoulder-related ailments, including a 50-day stint on the disabled list between May 28 and July 17, and he scuffled down the stretch, logging a 4.93 ERA over 84 innings after the All-Star break. Halladay and the Phillies have not acknowledged any health concerns, so the northpaw deserves a chance to prove that he can still pitch effectively, even with diminished zip on his fastball. The Braves will counter with Paul Maholm (7:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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