Photo: CBS Sports
When Yu Darvish signed with the Cubs back in February before the 2018 season, he was supposed to lift the Cubs up and put them back in the World Series hunt. Now going into the second year of his six-year/ 126 million dollar contract, Cubs fans are wondering if this contract is going to come back to bite them in the ass.
The optimism was there. One year removed from a World Series, the Cubs needed a front-line starter and were able to snag Darvish for a contract that some considered a steal. The honeymoon phase ended quickly as Darvish’s first season ended in just 40 innings, 8 disappointing starts and stress reaction in his pitching elbow. Yu failed to go more than 6.0 innings in any of those starts and finished with a 4.95 ERA and career high 4.7 BB/9. The Cubs, oddly enough improved their win total from 92 in 2017, to 95 in 2018 even without Darvish in the rotation. However, the question fans are wondering is whether or not Darvish can bounce back to his All-Star pedigree.
Revisiting Last Year’s Struggles
Given the small sample size of 40 innings it’s hard to extrapolate just what exactly caused Darvish’s poor season. Obviously pitching with a sore elbow and pushing yourself physically pitching can be one reason to describe the disappointing season. But, if we look deeper into his 2018 stats, we can begin to see what he needs to improve on in order to regain his form.
The first thing he must do is regain his command. As previously mentioned, he had a career high in BB/9, and even with a limited season, it’s worth noting. His average velocity was still quite good sitting 94.1 MPH. However, a deeper dive and you can see where he struggled last year. His VH% (Value Hits per plate appearance) was at 9.9%, which is poor for a pitcher. Essentially, it’s the percentage of pitches swung at that result in “high-quality contact”. In this case, batters were making high-quality contact 1 out of 10 times they made contact against Darvish. His VH% was almost 2 percentage points higher than his career average. On the flip side, his PH% (Poor Hits per plate appearance) was actually near elite status at 22.7%. So while he was giving up hard contact higher than normal, he was still elite in producing weak contact.
Darvish was close to taking the next step with his slider, which is his “out” pitch. He recorded a 17.2% whiff rate, 36.2% chase rate and 46% zone rate with the pitch last year. If he’s able to find his control and get up early in the count, his slider should be a pitch he can rely on. His first strike percentage dropped by almost three points off his career average. He’s going to have to locate pitches and throw strikes to set up his secondary stuff.
Looking Ahead and Predictions
As of writing this Darvish has already made two Cactus League starts. He’s gone three innings giving up just one run. He had four walks in his first outing, but shored it up with just one in two innings of work in his next start. Darvish has already touched 97 MPH and was quoted saying, “I’m at the best in my career.” He even noted that his slider and split are at the best they’ve been. This is very encouraging news for me and other Cubs fans. His velocity and use of his slider will be something to keep an eye on this Spring Training.
As of right now, Steamer has him projected for 139.0 IP, 3.76 ERA and a BB/9 back down around 3%. I think Cubs would take those projections from what they had last year. With a rotation of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendrick, Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels they don’t need Darvish to be the ace he is used to being. If he can give them quality innings and give their bullpen a chance to win games, he’s going to be a very welcome asset to the rotation. With Darvish being 32, this is his year to prove the doubters wrong and show that he can still pitch at a high quality in this league.