As I was watching the Yu Darvish start against the Yankees, it dawned on me that the Japanese hurler might have more pitches than I was originally led to believe. Those who read this site are aware that I’ve been watching Darvish since his first intra-squad game back in early March, which makes me a Darvish hipster, and an unapologetic one at that. Because of my familiarity with the pitcher, I’ve been able to identify his deep arsenal, one that features both a two- and four-seam fastball, a cutter, two type of curveballs, a slider, a splitter, and a straight-change, but up until tonight’s game against the Yankees, I hadn’t noticed that he was throwing what I’ve seen described as a shuuto, or a reverse slider.
I’m not certain of the classification—Gameday and Brooks Baseball classified the pitch as a two-seam fastball. I’ve seen Darvish throw numerous two- and four-seam fastballs, but I’ve never seen a fastball that moves with such violent horizontal run as the offering Darvish was throwing last night. The pitch (when thrown correctly) will start on the plate and run away from left-handed hitters and bore into the hands on right-handed hitters with intensity. It’s almost impossible to square up, and the combination of movement and velocity make it look like a slider, only with the extreme action tailing arm-side rather than glove-side.
I was confused until the seventh inning, when catcher Mike Napoli appeared to be using a different sign for the pitch than the standard fastball, placing an L between his legs when he wanted the pitch with the extreme arm-side run. The announcers referred to the offering as a two-seamer, but as I stated, the movement was way more extreme, as was evident by the catcher’s pre-pitch setup and anticipation of the pitch (he expected run). The best example can be seen in the sixth and final pitch of Darvish’s seventh-inning matchup against Raul Ibanez, as the standard fastball morphs into a reverse slider that runs away from the hitter like the hitter has cooties. The image below shows the trajectory from Gameday, but you can also view the pitch at the 44-second mark here.
I wanted to assume that it was just a four-seamer that had late arm-side explosion, because Darvish’s four-seamer has serious movement, but this pitch freaked out and ran away like nothing I have ever seen before. I’m not overly familiar with PITCHf/x, which is to say I’m aware of its existence and I respect those that have a mastery of such data, but I’m not fluent in its language. That said, I’d love to see a breakdown of Darvish’s pitch movements to see if my eye was just playing tricks on me or if he was manipulating this particular ball for effect, as was suggested by the sign from the catcher and the outcome of the offering.
Not that Darvish needed another pitch to put in his already crowded bag, but the extreme running fastball was an aspect of his game that I either failed to recognize and appreciate early on or had been unsuccessfully executed up to this point. I was fully aware that his fastball had plus-plus movement, but I’ve never seen a fastball with legs like that. From a scouting perspective, that’s easy 80-grade movement, regardless of what you call it.