An interesting case, the 31-year-old is the biggest free agent this offseason, if you don’t count Shohei Otani, but Darvish is quite perplexing too. Coming off a World Series in which he threw 3 and one-third and gave up 8 runs, there are questions about his ability to pitch in a big game.
His 1st inning ERA was 4.06. His 1st two years in the league, 2012 and 2013, it was 4.97 and 5.91. Things can get a little shaky.
His career postseason numbers: 2-4 with a 5.81 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, a hit an inning and a .252 average against (this number is .217 for his career. It’s never been this high in the regular season).
So what gives? Does he just not have it in big game situations? Is he Clayton Kershaw or David Price? Those are two guys that just don’t have it in high-stress situations. It’s easy to say that Yu Darvish is one of those guys—just look at the numbers.
Sports Illustrated published an article on Nov.14 by Mike Piellucci titled Yu Darvish is baseball’s best free agent, but memories of his World Series collapse are fresh. In the article, one thing stood out to me:
In Japan, Darvish was so dominant that he had carte blanche on the mound. He’s naturally analytical and relishes combing through data to suss out a hitter’s weaknesses. “Nobody said anything about my pitching,” he says. “I’d make my own plan and execute it in the game.” Not surprisingly Darvish found it difficult to adapt to hands-on coaching since coming to MLB. “I never had that experience before, of a pitching coach telling me what to do,” he says. “It’s a personal struggle to consume all that advice, making adjustments, [being told] what pitches I need to use. I think that’s when I was gradually losing the fun of the game.”
It’s a personal struggle to consume all that advice. Let’s start there. The same article says Yu has 7 pitches. Quite an arsenal. If you’ve seen him throw, his baseballs move like a whiffle ball, or a UFO on Ancient Aliens moving through the sky, just whipping along looking to laser beam someone up to experiment on them. But when he was in Japan, he was just playing his game. This is alarming to say the least. Prime rib example: Jake Arrieta. When Baltimore shipped him to the Cubs, Chris Bosio, the Cubs pitching coach, let him fire away with his crossfire delivery and allowed Jake to pitch his game—the way he was comfortable and most confident.
Yu Darvish may have scary numbers that come with quite a high price tag, but if a pitching coach and manager would let him just pitch his game and quit bombarding his mind with steps and processes and things he needs to remember on the mound, things that are not a part of his natural game, then he’d be better than 2013 Darvish. The one who spun a phenomenal 209 innings and a 5.8 WAR with 277 strikeouts.
While he is thinking about what to remember and what every pitching coach has ever told him and how he needs to alter his delivery, he has completely forgotten how to throw his game. He’s on the mound in front of 30,000 plus trying to solve one of those damn triangle games you see in Cracker Barrel. It’s just like when Austin Powers isn’t supposed to notice Fred Savage’s mole, but all he can do is shout MOLEY MOLEY MOLEY. That’s Yu Darvish trying to decode the damn dossier he’s been given.
Just let Yu Darvish pitch. It’s that easy. The human mind isn’t made to work in this manner—reciting each step as you work toward a goal, telling yourself along the way that you need to do this and remember that. The human mind is meant to work like the heart, or the eyes, or the nose: the nose smells without deliberation, the eyes see without reason, and the heart beats without the thought of each beat consuming your entire being. Yu Darvish’s mind is consuming him on the mound, and I truly believe it is because he has been given an astronomical amount of information, and his coaches have pulled the real pitcher away and traded him for one that is exhaustingly self-conscious about every move he makes.
Let Yu Darvish play baseball. If you do that, he’ll win the Cy Young for whatever league he’s in for 2018.