Yu Darvish’s 8 1/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Yankees has garnered rave reviews from around the game, but his start could have end up differently had the Bronx Bombers not squandered a bases loaded, no-out opportunity in the third inning. Granted, Darvish deserves some credit for being able to escape from such a perilous jam, but the wide strike zone of home plate umpire Ted Barrett was also a factor.
Note: Pitches 1 and 7 were called strikes. Pitches 4 and 6 were foul balls.
In Curtis Granderson’s third inning at bat, which proved to be a turning point in the game, Darvish was able to record a strikeout despite throwing only one pitch in the zone. Although much of the focus was on the called strike three, which Pitchfx data showed was well off the plate, the tone of the at bat was set by a first pitch fastball that was also called a strike despite being outside. Had Granderson been able to jump out ahead in the count, or if he had confidence that subsequent pitches off the plate would be called a ball, the final result could have been much different. At the very least, Granderson would have been given the opportunity to decide the outcome with his bat, instead of having it taken out his hands.
Note: Designations represent pitches thrown by a team’s pitcher. Red shapes are strikes, and green shapes are balls. Only includes pitched called by the umpire.
Umpires aren’t perfect. Incorrect ball and strike calls impact just about every game. Besides, one at bat shouldn’t be used an excuse for losing. However, the extent of Barrett’s help was much greater than just one pivotal plate appearance. Rather, his wide strike zone to left handed hitters proved to be an invaluable aide for Darvish throughout the game. In total, Barrett called eight strikes to lefties that were off the plate, compared to only two for Hiroki Kuroda.
In addition to benefitting from a handful of extra strikes, Darvish also seemed to capitalize on the Yankees’ confusion regarding the strike zone. Early in the game, the general pattern was for the hitters to take early fastballs off the plate, only to fall behind when they were called a strike. Then, Darvish went to his breaking ball, inducing several swings and misses. Of his 10 strikeouts, eight were recorded on pitches out of the zone, so it seems as if the expanded strike zone played at least a small role.
Finally, it’s worth noting that a significant portion of Darvish’s outs against left handers were recorded on pitches over the middle of the plate. While this could indicate that Darvish’s movement and change of speeds were so dominating that he was able to live in this danger zone, it could also suggest that the middle became the inside corner, especially for lefthanders who were forced to protect several inches off the plate.
In a USA Today article published before last night’s game, Paul White highlighted data suggesting that Darvish had been squeezed in his earlier starts, so maybe last night was payback? Or, maybe the pairing of a starter with a varied arsenal and an umpire with a wide strike zone was a perfect storm? What ever the reason, Darvish’s performance against the Yankees was not as dominating as the final statistics suggest, at least in terms of what it tells us about his future. Having said that, the Japanese right hander shouldn’t have to apologize for taking advantage of a friendly umpire. Considering the variety and quality of his pitches, Darvish looks as if he is capable of dominating without the help of a wide strike zone. When he gets one, however, look out.
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