Rarely does a team unload its best pitcher coming off a playoff appearance but the Cubs may enact a tear down to re-build in the National League Central. So, one team's burden becomes another team's target. Enter San Diego who traded four prospects, one ranked within their organizational top-ten which remains one of the deepest farm systems in the majors to Chicago for Yu Darvish and his caddy/catcher Victor Caratini .

Darvish led the National League and tied Shane Bieber for the major league lead in wins during the truncated 2020 season. In the National League only, Darvish also finished second in strikeouts-to-walk ratio (6.64), second in ERA (2.01), fourth in WHIP (0.94) and tied for fourth in strikeouts (93). He ended the regular season with 11 straight outings of at least six innings. During the playoffs, Darvish's last start for the Cubs ended in a shutout loss to the Marlins despite logging 6.2 innings yielding five hits, two earned runs, two walks and striking out six.

All told, Darvish went 8-3 in 2020 over 12 starts and 76 innings. His 3.14 SIERA portends some migration to the mean, but in the present climate, any future ERA near three runs or less enhances any pitcher. Darvish recorded a 31.3 strikeout percentage; 4.7 percent walk rate and a 26.6 strikeout-minus-walk percentage. His swinging strike percentage rose to 14.3 percent while producing a 70.8 percent contact rate, 80.3 Z-Contact (in the strike zone) percentage and 33.9 O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage. These numbers carried over his surge from the second half of 2019 to another strong stretch of contests working with Caratini.

It seems like his catcher of preference understands the many moving pieces of Darvish's arsenal helping him unlock his own potential. For reference, here are Darvish's numbers by catcher courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

According to Statcast, Darvish allowed 187 batted ball events with 12 barrels (6.4 percent), an 88.7 MPH average exit velocity and 34.2 hard hit rate. His ability to generate strikeouts while depressing hard hits fared well except for serving up home runs. Still, Darvish's expected numbers translate well from last year's data with a .228 expected batting average (xBA), .349 expected slugging (xSLG), .259 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) and 3.01 expected ERA (xERA).

For a second straight season, Darvish used his cutter more than any pitch, helping unlock the strikeout potential within the rest of his pitches. Here is his “swings and misses” pitch plot courtesy of Statcast:

Breaking down his pitches can be difficult, especially when cross-referencing sites but on Statcast, here's a breakdown of each one above:

  • Darvish's Cutter: 43.7 percent usage, .268 xBA, 31 whiff percentage, 21.8 put away percent, 20 K%
  • Darvish's Slider: 15.2 percent usage, .162 xBA, 39.7 whiff percentage, 32.8 put away percent, 41.7 K%
  • Darvish's 4-Seam Fastball: 14.8 percent usage, .138 xBA, 42.3 whiff percentage, 33.9 put away percent, 52.5 K%
  • Darvish's Curve: 11.8 percent usage, .242 xBA, 31.6 whiff percentage, 22.9 put away percent, 34.4 K%
  • Darvish's Sinker: 9.6 percent usage, .261 xBA, 17.6 whiff percentage, 20.4 put away percent, 33.3 K%
  • Darvish's Split-finger: 4.9 percent usage, .248 xBA, 22.6 whiff percentage, 21.9 put away percent, 26.9 K%

All told, Darvish upped his overall whiff percentage for a second straight year finishing with a 32.2 percent rate. Beneath his batted ball results above, Darvish produced a ground ball percentage of 43.9 but also allowed his line drive rate to climb by almost eight percentage points to 31.6 last year. A key to his success, reducing his walk rate by three percent.

Expanding his sample size to gain a better view of his recent results, over his last 25 starts Darvish owns an impressive 2.40 ERA dating back to July 12th of 2019, the start of the second half. Here are his numbers from this stretch:

  • Darvish 2H 2019-through-2020: 12-7, 157.2 IP, 211:21 K:BB, 2.40 ERA, 2.77 SIERA, 0.88 WHIP, 34.6 K%, 3.4 BB%, 31.2 K-BB%, 14.7 SwStr%

In this sample, he's racked up nine double-digit strikeout starts to accommodate his tremendous run. His rankings among qualified starting pitchers in this time frame:

  • Wins - tied for seventh
  • ERA - fourth
  • WHIP - tied for third
  • SIERA - second
  • K-BB% - second
  • K% - third
  • BB% - second
  • SwStr% - seventh

For a different visual on how Darvish operates, check out this tweet from Codify, Inc.:

Working in the boundaries of the strike zone enables Darvish to accumulate the strikeouts since the start of the second half of last year represented by this zone profile on Brooks Baseball:

Some past injury issues cannot be ignored, but Darvish has been flourishing over his last 25 starts. Still:

Because of this, the last three years may not truly reflect the current Darvish when trying to mine statistics. Switching to his projections instead, here's how two different sites forecast his upcoming season:

  • Darvish 2021 Steamer projection: 13-9, 31 games started, 189 IP, 228:60 K:BB, 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
  • Darvish 2021 ZiPS projection: 10-6, 26 games started, 151 IP, 182:46 K:BB, 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

It's quite a coincidence two different formulas arrive at the same exact ratios for Darvish. However, they do not account for his recent uptick in production. For 2021, taking the under on ERA and WHIP provided health for Darvish. His ability to work into the sixth inning on a regular basis with Chicago along with his preferred catcher staying with him helps insulate the move to a new franchise.

Also, projection systems do not account for changes in arsenal when predicting future quality of performance. With this in mind, investing in Darvish for this year in redraft leagues may not be as risky as it feels. But, in keeper formats, it may be time to sell high, especially if in a rebuilding mode. Use Darvish's terrific strikeout-to-walk ratios from his last 25 starts with the 2.77 SIERA in them, and his 2020 3.01 xERA as a sliding scale for some regression, there's enough left in the tank for one more great year.


Statistical Credits:





ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski

MLB.com - Game Note