Since there will be no live Cubs baseball for the foreseeable future, I’m planning on running this “Statcast Play of the Day” series in the meantime. It will highlight unique plays over the last couple of years, with commentary backed by Statcast metrics.
First up is the Twitter King Yu Darvish, who struck out the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter on a filthy splitter on September 22 last year. Before showing the strikeout, I want to bring attention to the pitch that set up the splitter. Darvish threw a 1-1 cutter in the same “tunnel” that he eventually used to get the batter two pitches later.
Here’s the actual strikeout. You can totally see how easy it is for batters to be fooled, since the splitter has the same starting point as the cutter, but tails and sinks away just before Carpenter had a chance to realize where it was going.
Darvish’s splitter is unique because of two features. First, it tails away with 95% less movement than other righties. That might not seem like a good thing, but he throws the pitch harder (~89 mph average) than almost 95% of pitchers. In other words, Darvish’s splitter almost behaves like a two-seam fastball, which is why classification systems such as Brooks Baseball labeled them incorrectly last season.
When compared with cutter that move more than 95% of like pitches in MLB, it’s easy to see why Carpenter and others are fooled when Darvish throws splitters that tail just slightly in the other direction.