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.
Has seen: Nine pitches
Has seen: Eight four-seam fastballs, mostly away
Has seen: One curve, 69 mph out of the strike zone
Has: Looked lousy on all
Has not seen: Two-seamer, splitter, slider, cutter
Yu Darvish, on 2-2 counts or 3-2 counts to right-handers today
Has thrown: Two four-seam fastballs
Has thrown: Two sliders
If B.J. Upton looks for a fastball:
He will embarrass himself on a slider
If B.J. Upton looks for a slider:
He will take a fastball down the middle
If B.J. Upton looks for a splitter or two-seamer:
He will be caught in between: Too fast on a breaking pitch, too slow on a four-seamer
You are B.J. Upton. Your strategy is to look for:
1. A fastball away, with the somewhat similar cutter in the back of your mind
2. A slider, with enough of your weight back to fight off a slow curve if it comes
3. A two-seam under your hands
4. A splitter in the dirt
5. SHUUTO! HE THROWS A SHUUTO!
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.
Has seen: A four-seam fastball, a cutter, a curve.
Has not seen: A splitter, a slider, a two-seamer, a cutter or a curve out of the strike zone.
Yu Darvish, on 1-2 counts to left-handers this year
Has thrown: A slider 52 percent of the time
Has thrown: A four-seamer and a two-seamer about 12 percent of the time, each
Has thrown: A curve, a splitter, and a cutter about eight percent of the time, each
If Matt Joyce looks for a slider:
He probably will be able to lay off a slider, or drop his bat on it; or be slow on anything (four-seam, cutter) on his hands.
If Matt Joyce looks for something with movement away:
He will be slow on anything inside
If Matt Joyce remembers the curveball he just swung at:
He may wet the bed tonight
You are Matt Joyce. Your strategy is to look for:
1. A two-seamer or splitter away; go with it, or hope it stays over the plate.
2. A slider, which you will probably try to lay off because it’s going to hit your left knee
3. A four-seamer up, which you will swing at like it's Marty McFly on a hoverboard
4. A cutter on your hands, which you will nearly mistake for a four-seamer but recognize because you’re looking for it
5. A splitter in the dirt
6. SHUUTO! HE THROWS A SHUUTO!
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,
Has seen: Seven pitches, mostly cutters, with one slow curveball
Has not seen: Slider, two-seamer, splitter, 94 mph up in the zone
Yu Darvish, on 1-2 counts to lefties today
Has thrown: Two four-seam fastballs
Has thrown: One slider
Has perhaps thrown: Two splitters and one cutter
Yu Darvish, on 1-2 counts to all hitters
Has thrown eight pitches in the strike zone (so swing!) and five pitches out of the strike zone (don’t chase).
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?
1. A cutter, probably. He just keeps throwing cutters, and you haven’t gotten a hit yet.
2. A splitter, probably. It has been his go-to strikeout pitch the third time through the order.
3. A slider, probably. It’s a pretty pitch, and he has barely thrown it today. He misses it.
4. A fastball. Why get crazy? Jose LOLbaton.
5. SHUUTO!!! HE THROWS A SHUUTO!!!
Jose Lobaton, what do you do?
3. To B.J. Upton, Yu Darvish threw this pitch:
PITCHf/x called it a two-seamer. I think it’s a splitter. I think Soto is setting up expecting it in the dirt, and I don't think he would have expected a two-seamer in the dirt. Pretty sure it's a splitter. Geez, though, the pitch.
2. To Matt Joyce, Yu Darvish threw this pitch:
PITCHf/x called it a four-seamer. I think it’s a cutter. It's certainly not a four-seamer. It could be a splitter, but I think it's a cutter. That pitch!
1. To Jose Lobaton, Yu Darvish threw this pitch:
PITCHf/x called it a slider. I think it is a slider. I call that thing that Yu Darvish does afterward a little dance. It is a little dance.
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.