Yu Darvish has struggled to find his groove this season, and has been in a funk dating back to last year’s World Series where there were reports of him tipping his pitches and he got shelled twice by the Astros on their way to a championship. After signing a lucrative deal with the Cubs, he started the season not so hot going 0-4 to start before being put on the DL due to illness. Yesterday, he made his second start after coming off the DL and probably his best start of the season.
Yu got out to a tough start, throwing 39 pitches in the first inning, but got out of it relatively unscathed as he only let up one run. This continues an bad trend for Darvish as he has not been good in the first inning this year as he has a 5.62 ERA in the first and has issued almost a fourth of his walks. Whether this be due to jitters or just not being warm, it’s clear that Darvish has to work on starting stronger.
It could also be due to him not liking to pitch from behind. Yesterday he seemed to settle down after Schwarber and Baez went back to back to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the top of the 2nd. The stats back this up, as opponents are hitting .196 when the Cubs are ahead and .351 when they trail, showing that Darvish may try to force things when he doesn’t have the run support.
This makes sense for a guy like Yu because he tries to get guys to chase rather than pitching to contact or overpowering them. With his repertoire of different breaking and off-speed pitches, it makes sense that he would pitch this way, but he’s not doing it as well this year. Opponents are only swinging at 26% of pitches outside the zone, down from 32% from last year as well as his career average of 30%.
In the first inning yesterday he was throwing a lot of sliders, but he seemed to start to transition as the game went on. Via Brendan Miller, Darvish threw 57 four seamers and batters whiffed on 19.3% of them. This is a good sign, and as Darvish starts to work his fastball more he will be able to pitch to contact and have better and longer starts. He’s only gone five inning in three of eight starts, and his propensity to make guys chase could be the reason for it.
Regardless, this start was a good sign that we may be starting to see the Yu Darvish that we hoped we would get when the Cubs signed him this off-season. If he can get back to an all-star level the Cubs will once again be a force to be reckoned with.