Yu Darvish hasn’t always looked like an ace out there on the mound, but there’s one aspect of his game that has no peer. Not on the Cubs’ staff, not in the NL Central, not in Major League Baseball. Everyone knows the guy has a wide array of pitches, one that got wider when he incorporated a knuckle-curve a couple starts ago, but the true number has been somewhat apocryphal.
Some pitch-classification systems may tell you Darvish throws six or seven pitches, but that doesn’t account for subtle nuances in grip and velocity change that can muddy the results. Former Cub Chris Gimenez once said his teammate could throw 11 different offerings, but that was from their time together with the Rangers a few years ago.
“Six of the 11 are different fastballs that he throws,” Gimenez told Gordon Wittenmyer. “When I first started catching him, his interpreter at the time came up to me and said, `This is what he throws: this, this, this, this and this.’
“I literally looked at his interpreter and I was like, ‘Man, I only got five fingers.’”
Though he may have thought he was exaggerating at the time, Gimenez may have actually been selling Darvish short. According to MLB.com’s Mike Petriello, Darvish has thrown at least nine different pitch types and has “variations of pitches we don’t even have classifications for.” As such, Darvish is the only pitcher since the birth of MLB’s pitch tracking database in 2008 to throw more than eight pitches.
An overwhelming number of pitchers in the database — 92% — have thrown between 3 and 6 pitch types in their careers. Only 99 pitchers, or about 4%, have been tracked as throwing seven or more pitch types. Just 11 have thrown eight or more.
And then there’s Yu Darvish, who stands alone at the top of the mountain. Darvish has been tracked with nine different pitch types in 2019, the only pitcher in our database with that many. (Remember: he’s thrown that many just this year. No one’s even had nine over multiple years. Only three other pitchers, including Zack Greinke this year, have made it to eight in a season.)
Petriello lays things out in greater detail in his post, so go check that out for more, but below are the 10 pitch types laid out along with their frequency and velocity. One thing to note here is these and any other pitch classifications are at least a little bit amorphous, since pitcher preference may dictate a different pitch type than what a classification system says.
1. Cutter (soft version) (32.8%, 86.3 mph)
2. Four-seam fastball (27.9%, 94.0 mph)
3. Slider (14.1%, 82.5 mph)
4. Two-seam fastball (12.4%, 93.5 mph)
5. Curveball (4.8%, 76.2 mph)
6. Splitter (3.7%, 88.6 mph)
7. Cutter (hard version) (3.0%, 91.2 mph)
8. Changeup (0.6%, 84.1 mph)
9. Knuckle-curve (0.5%, 81.3 mph)
10. Slow curve (0.1%, 63.7 mph)
The real number may be even higher, as Petriello indicated when mentioning additional variations of pitches. For instance, Cubs Insider pointed out back in March that Darvish actually has more than one relatively distinct version of his slider. So that brings it to a least 11 types.
And none of this takes into account the various pitches he can throw left-handed, which would bring the total closer to 15 or so. I can already hear the jokes about how many of these pitches he can tip or how he can’t throw them in the World Series, which, whatever. Or maybe you’d prefer to dispute this information because you hate fun and need everything to fit inside your own parameters.
Regardless, Darvish is a pitcher unlike any we’ve seen in at least the last decade or so and his outings, while not always enjoyable, are anything but boring as a result. I can’t wait for him to get wind of this information and start adding pitches just to set the bar higher.