Oh, we can all still feel the effects of the heartbreak caused when it was reported that Yu Darvish would be negotiating with Texas rather than with the Blue Jays. Outrage, sadness, disbelief, it was all there. There was no baseball for another few months, so there was little to take the minds of the fans off this disappointing fact. Now, 4 months later, the highly rated Japanese Iranian pitcher comes to Toronto to face the team whose fans thought they'd sign him.
So far, Yu's made 4 starts, hardly enough to conclude anything with regards to how good he will be. However, put that thought in the back of your mind for the rest of this scouting report. I'm not writing this to say "well, we don't know anything yet", I'm writing this to give you the limited info we do have on Darvish.
In the 4 starts he's made, Yu has faced the Mariners, Twins, Tigers and Yankees, in that order. In his first three starts he walked 4, 4, and 5 batters. He only had one strikeout more than he had walks at that point. But then came the Yankee game, during which he struck out ten and walked only two, while inducing thirteen groundballs off Yankee bats as well. So, one majestic start and three disappointing ones, although Yu limited the damage done during those first three, and he now sports an impressive 2.42 ERA. His FIP is 3.06 and his xFIP is 4.05, his SIERA sits at 4.26 and his tERA is 4.65. Not surprisingly with such a small sample, the metrics disagree on how good Yu'll be going forward.
First off, he's not going to allow zero home runs all year long, so we shouldn't believe what FIP says. His line drive rate is very high, so if that normalizes, with those line drives turning into flyballs, his xFIP will closely resemble his SIERA, if not exceed it. So is Yu a true talent 4.25 ERA pitcher? I think not. For one, he's likely still adapting to his new environment. Secondly, both the data from Baseball Info Solutions and the PitchF/x data say that Yu is average to a little below average at finding the strike zone. Pitchers who are average at finding the strike zone will not walk more than 12% of the batters they face. So has Yu been unlucky with close calls? You decide for yourself:
Let's compare it with Kyle Drabek's called strike zone:
So while Drabek has found strikes inside to lefties hard to come by, Yu has found the bottom of the strike zone to be tight, tighter than it may have been in Japan. Compare also Yu's Zone%: that's 44.2, to Drabek's Zone%, which is 30.8. Drabek leads the league by 8% (!!) in lowest percentage of pitches in the strikezone, or at least the strikezone as BIS has defined it. Darvish´s percentage is sandwiched between Tommy Hunter and Felix Hernandez, so we should assume Darvish will be fine. His contact% is average, though for a starter that´s actually a bit better than the median. Darvish has allowed contact at a rate similar to C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Zack Greinke so far this season, so again, that should be fine, especially since Darvish has a decent groundball rate as well.
What Yu got? - Pitch Yuse
Yu's got a variety of pitches he'll yuse (I'll stop now, I promise) to keep batters from hitting him hard. They include a two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter, splitter (the movement suggests it's a splitter rather than a normal changeup but we can't be sure) and two to four types of breaking ball. So that's plenty of variety right there. His two fastballs come in at 92-93 mph on average, and he throws a fastball probably just a bit more than half the time. PitchF/x has a hard time seperating the two, but the early signs are that his 4-seamer is fairly easy to hit, while the 2-seamer seems to be much better. Both have not found the zone a great deal of the time, which is something that Yu'll probably need to work on.
The cutter is pretty hard at 90.7 with good looking movement, although Darvish has struggled to throw it for strikes thus far. Hitters have also not found it easy to put into play, so control seems to be the only problem there. He seems to throw it about 10-15% of the time. Very few pitches have been identified as splitters, and those that have are all over the place movement-wise, so I don't feel comfortable judging his splitter yet, other than that it's a hard splitter with an average velocity in the 87-88 mph range. Yu's breaking pitches have seen good results, with the ones classified as sliders (mostly 80-85 mph range) doing very well at all aspects of the game: strikes, whiffs, groundballs. The ones classified as curveballs (from as high as 80 to as low as 62 mph) have gotten whiffs, but they've been a bit wild.
As a slider specialist with several other good pitches, opposing teams have so far the number of lefties they've sent out to face Yu: 80 lefties, compared to only 39 right-handed batters. The Jays won't be able to match that, as they'll come no further than 4: Kelly Johnson, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus and Eric Thames. Whether that will make it easier for Yu remains to be seen, but one thing I feel comfortable about predicting: it won't be easy for the Jays.