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The Cubs should try Yu Darvish at closer

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Wait, hear me out. The solution to the Cubs’ closer issue might be in their clubhouse already.

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Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Yu Darvish has made eight starts this year, and he’s scheduled to start again tonight at Cincinnati against the Reds. (FWIW, Darvish, who is a pretty bad hitter, hit his only career home run at GABP.)

I’m here to tell you that I think Darvish could be a good closer. We already know that Darvish can dial his fastball up to 98 or 99 miles per hour. Here are a couple of examples from his April 15 start in Miami.

98 miles per hour to Lewis Brinson [VIDEO]

99 miles per hour, same at-bat, to Brinson [VIDEO]

One thing the Cubs don’t have that many other teams do is a closer who can throw that fast. Obviously Darvish (and other starters) don’t throw with that kind of velocity on a regular basis or they’d be out of the game in the third inning.

Which leads me to the point here. If Darvish were a closer, he’d throw only one inning at a time (in general), three or four times a week, maybe 15-18 pitches max each outing.

So what does Darvish do with his first inning? I decided to take a look at the first inning of each of his eight starts so far this season. The results are... not awful (unlike many of his other innings).

Yu Darvish’s first innings, 2019

Game/opponent Pitches Hits Runs Walks Strikeouts Home runs
Game/opponent Pitches Hits Runs Walks Strikeouts Home runs
3/30, Rangers 35 0 0 3 3 0
4/4, Braves 14 0 0 1 0 0
4/10, Pirates 17 1 1 0 0 1
4/15, Marlins 25 2 0 1 2 0
4/20, Diamondbacks 26 2 2 0 2 2
4/27, Diamondbacks 28 1 0 1 2 0
5/4, Cardinals 18 0 0 1 1 0
5/9, Marlins 15 0 0 0 2 0

Of those eight first innings, I’d count only two of them as “bad.” One was in his first 2019 start against the Rangers, where he walked the bases loaded. He did strike out the side after that, though. The other bad one was the two-homer first inning against the Diamondbacks. at Wrigley Field April 20.

The average pitches per inning for Darvish in those first innings is 21, which is a bit high (the MLB average number of pitches per inning is about 16), but if you take out the first one, the other seven average 18 pitches per inning, which isn’t too bad. He’s walked seven in those eight first innings (7.9 per nine innings, which is actually lower than his season average of 8.1), but struck out 12, which is 13.5 per nine innings, well above his season average of 10.8.

He has a 3.38 ERA and 1.875 WHIP in the first inning this year, and a 5.97 ERA and 1.674 WHIP in all other innings.

So he’s got two bad first innings out of eight. Overall, though in his eight starts, there’s really only one that’s good, April 27 vs. the Diamondbacks, where he allowed one run in six innings with eight strikeouts (though even then, four walks).

Darvish would have to change his mindset in order to move from rotation to closer, obviously. It’s my feeling that he winds up thinking too much during the game, and that’s not just me — listen to Joe Maddon’s comments after Darvish’s last start and he hints the same thing [VIDEO].

This article from The Athletic quotes Darvish as saying pretty much the same thing:

“I’m a thinker,” Darvish told reporters after his latest outing. “I want to be better. That’s my challenge. But I think that’s good for me.”

Thinking too much is something a closer doesn’t have to do. All he has to do is get three outs. As a closer, Darvish wouldn’t have to hold back velocity, he could simply throw 98-99 and try to blow hitters away. He’s got good secondary pitches that he could use — a good slider and cutter, for example, per these Statcast graphics — and maybe, just maybe, he could lock down the ninth inning with that velocity and the other good pitches he throws.

Mike Montgomery could take Darvish’s place in the rotation. Given Tyler Chatwood’s good outings lately, maybe he could as well, though his walk rate is still a bit too high for that. He’s at 5.8 walks per nine innings in 2019, well down from last year’s 8.2 but still above his career norm of 4.8.

This would be a different approach, to be sure. But with Brandon Morrow’s return uncertain (if at all) and Pedro Strop likely on the shelf for several weeks, maybe the answer to the Cubs’ closing problems is in their clubhouse right now.

Poll

Yu Darvish at closer...

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Go for it! Great outside-the-box thinking
    (459 votes)
  • 38%
    Maybe. Give him a few more starts to straighten things out
    (455 votes)
  • 22%
    No way — dumb idea
    (273 votes)
1187 votes total Vote Now