Cubs Plan to Give Darvish Same Freedom That Helped Arrieta Blossom

If there’s one quality that best defines Yu Darvish, it’s the ease with which his first name can be used for puns. But if we’re forced (reluctantly) to limit the criteria to just his athletic prowess, pitchability would be at the top of the list. More than just a made-up word, this baseball-riffic portmanteau refers to a pitcher’s ability to throw any pitch in any given situation.

By now you’ve surely seen the ubiquitous GIF that shows Darvish unfairly cutting loose five different offerings, all from the exact same release point, to that guy who used to rake in St. Louis. And you wanna hear the really crazy part? That’s not even all the cat can throw. According to tracking metrics, he has employed some combination of eight different pitches throughout his career.

As you might imagine, Joe Maddon has every intention of allowing his new starter to use every one of them.

“You’re going to see more of a complete version of what he has been in the past, using more of his weaponry,” Maddon said after Darvish had finished his initial bullpen session with Willson Contreras. “We’re not going to dictate about how to pitch, pitch usage, incorporating the variety he already does have. We’ll leave him alone. Let him and watch it, talk about it, but we’re not following the plan he (had) with the Dodgers.”

First things first, let’s address the Dodgers thing. Our Brendan Miller went into great detail about the changes Darvish made to his release point after being traded to LA, but his new organization tweaked his repertoire as well.

“Simplifying things, his pitch mix, we did as an organization,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said prior to Game 3 of the World Series. “I think that he really bought into and embraced it. And also with the mechanics that [pitching coach] Rick Honeycutt and he worked through, and so he is able to repeat his delivery right now.”

But wait, if Darvish actually achieved better results with LA, why wouldn’t the Cubs want to follow the same protocol? And yes, smartass, I know about the whole tipping pitches thing.

The Dodgers had zero leeway when they acquired Darvish, who had been having somewhat of a disappointing season to that point. They couldn’t afford to spend time observing him and allowing things to evolve naturally. The Cubs, however, are in a much different position and have more than a month to let Darvish get comfortable with his new situation.

When we revisit Maddon’s comments in that light, this strategy is very reminiscent of the one they utilized with Jake Arrieta. Bottled up by Baltimore’s rigid philosophy, the bearded righty was never able to get the most out of his superior stuff. Chafing against the confines of a one-size-fits-all developmental plan, it was only after he was allowed to be himself with the Cubs that he blossomed.

But Arrieta was an underachieving project who bordering on washout when the Cubs traded for him. Darvish is a four-time All-Star who just earned a nine-figure contract. As such, it figures that he’s quite a bit closer to his ceiling than the man the Cubs chose not to pursue aggressively this winter. Or is he?

“We really haven’t seen the best Yu Darvish yet,” Chris Gimenez said of his good friend. “He’s still evolving as a pitcher, as well. This will be his second full season after Tommy John. Physically, he’s starting to get in tune with his own body now. The sky’s the limit for a guy like that.

“I think in the past he might have relied on one or two pitches out of the 15 that he throws. I think he’s really evolving in the fact that he has so many weapons and he’s using them to different guys now differently than he has in the past. I think there’s more room to grow with that, too.”

Even with the understanding that Gimenez is both Darvish’s buddy and his old/new teammate, it’s hard not to get excited about that assessment. I mean, having that kind of versatility — or pitchability, as we discussed earlier — and being allowed to really embrace it and combine it with the wisdom of experience is just…well, it’s flippin’ fun.

The only problem I see with all of this is how Willson Contreras is going to be able to call pitches for Darvish if he’s asked to do so in place of Gimenez. After all, he’s only got five fingers. Unless…yeah, maybe WillCo can simply paraphrase the instructions he gave Jon Lester.

“Hey, mother——, throw the f—— ball.”

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2 Comments

  1. It is not too often I have to stop reading and look up a word (especially in a sports article), but you got me with portmanteau! Thanks Evan.

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