Someone tell Yu Darvish that he has a quality fastball. According to FanGraphs, Darvish has only thrown his heater about 45% of the time during his three-year career with the Texas Rangers. Darvish’s cheese is often lost between the curveball, changeup, slider and splitter options that he utilizes. He even has a cutter and a slower variation of his regular curveball.
Impressive arsenal? Without a doubt. Partially because of countless pitches laced in nastiness, Darvish has built up 680 strikeouts in 545 1/3 innings pitched. His ERA has been 3.27 and opponents have only touched him for a .216 batting average. To some, suggesting that Darvish should switch his approach, the theme of this article, will be met with head-shaking and overall disagreement.
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In fairness, we can both acknowledge Darvish’s success with the Rangers and admit there’s room for a higher focus on durability. In 2013, Darvish had 277 strikeouts. That 11.89 K/9 rate might have contributed to his injury issues this past season. In here lies a central point to my stance: Darvish pitches for the strikeout too much. This style won’t last forever.
277 strikeouts is a video game number. An 11.89 K/9 rate is typically reserved for a reliever. To go from 209 2/3 innings in 2013 with 277 strikeouts to 144 1/3 innings in 2014, 32 starts to 22, perhaps Darvish’s elbow is already experiencing the decline of throwing such a load of breaking balls. And if that decline hasn’t already started, it’s only a matter of time until it does.
Darvish averages 93 mph on his heater and touches the mid-90s when needed. That’s a desirable range for a starting pitcher. Not so hard that strain is frequent, not too soft that one must rely purely on pinpoint location. In this velocity, Darvish has more operating room than he might think.
When Darvish amassed his career-high in strikeouts during 2013, his slider was thrown about 31% of the time. Roughly one out of three Darvish pitches on a 209 2/3 inning year was a slider. Imagine what that’s done to his right arm. So while his peak season came with this heavy breaking ball approach, it’s probably not designed for a lengthy career.
Here are a couple of hypothetical options for Rangers’ fans to ponder. Option one: a single phenomenal season full of awe and strikeouts followed by lesser years and injuries. Option two: consecutive seasons of quality with reduced strikeouts and in turn, reduced DL time. Life isn’t this black and white, but my point’s that option two is more suitable for both Darvish and the Rangers.
What would this approach resemble in reality? In an 0-2 count, nobody on situation, Darvish doesn’t have to bury curves and sliders in the dirt until the batter whiffs. There’s no shame in using a fastball to induce a pop out rather than throw excess pitches to tally the strikeout. By being more selective regarding when to reach for the strikeout, Darvish can save his arm an incredible toll.
Regardless of how you feel about Darvish’s approach, either sticking to his guns or weighing durability on a heavier scale, 2015 will be a telling year for the right-hander. We all see that Darvish is talented. He’s so talented, in fact, that it could lead to a brief career if he doesn’t modify his style. Durability is more important than a gaudy strikeout total. This rings especially true over time.