The Great Jake or Yu Debate – Let’s Tackle it

With the Chicago Cubs having very intense and continued conversations with Yu Darvish and his representatives, there has been a lot of Cubs fans upset, riled up, questioning, and overall anxious. Part of the anxiety is because we all have waited several months for that HUGE offseason signing that we all expected. Some of it is they know one of their guys (Jake Arrieta) will certainly be gone. Lastly, they aren’t convinced that Yu Darvish is a better option than Jake.

Personally, I am indifferent. Maybe the offseason has bored me into a numb ball which is devoid of feelings, or I cannot distinguish the big differences between Yu and Jake. Any conversation between the two I could equally argue for or against either player. Heck, I wrote this early in this offseason and I think I have changed my mind several times since.

So, let’s talk this out. I am coming into this piece with an open mind (which could cause the direction to wonder as I drift through, so I apologize in advance). Hopefully, this helps you come to your own conclusion as to who you prefer, maybe it will change your mind, or maybe you’ll just call me a moron in the comments (it’s ok, I’m a big boy).

Velocity matters, kind of…

The first thing I look at is velocity. I don’t buy into the fact that you absolutely need a certain rate of speed on a fastball to be successful in the pros. Kyle Hendricks is a prime example. He tops out in the low 90’s but usually lives in the upper 80’s on his heater. Instead, he relies on location and playing off hitter’s aggressiveness.

Taking a look at a Bleacher Nation post by Michael Cerami, he notes that Jake had a drop in his velo in 2017, which we were all aware of. I bring this up because Michael brings something up that is important.

There’s certainly something to be said about going with a pitcher who’s already experienced the inevitable drop in velocity (he’s a little more predictable in terms of expected future performance), Michael wrote.

This is often overlooked when we almost mindlessly state Jake’s velocity dropped. Yeah, it did, and he struggled because of it – but he was able to redefine himself midseason and made himself a better pitcher. In the same article, Michael noted that Yu’s velocity rose by 2 MPH in 2017, coming off of Tommy John surgery. While there is a thought that this is common in pitchers who have had Tommy John procedures, according to Inside Science, really shows this is inconclusive. The procedure may have just restored his arm to a “near-new” version of itself and he may have benefited from the new way baseball clocks pitch speed (Cubs Insider’s Brendon Miller explained here).

So really the discussion is, is it ok to presume Jake will maintain his current velocity (92.18 MPH) and how long can Darvish maintain his velocity (94.33 MPH)?

That answer likely lies in medical reports of Yu and Jake and mechanics. Yu has 1000% better mechanics than Jake does (ok, not that much better), but has issues of his own. First, let’s discuss Jake.

When in Baltimore, they did everything they could to “improve” Jake’s mechanics. They were able to do this, but in an essence created a far worse pitcher. Coming to the Cubs Jake was able to release some of those teachings and throw how he felt comfortable. That is when he started the cross body delivery, which immediately you had to realize would cause additional strain and likely burn his arm out sooner, rather than later.

Whether this is a reason for the velocity drop is beyond my realm of knowledge, but it certainly couldn’t have helped.

In Yu’s case, he has cleaner mechanics, but there are some things which also cause concern. Top Velocity did a write-up on his delivery and stressed that his poor leg drive causes a ripple effect of overcompensation and ultimately leads to higher stress on his shoulder and elbow (ahem, Tommy John). The biggest question from here becomes, will a continued, less than perfect mechanics cause enough stress to wear out his arm, or cause additional injury? Again, that is a question for someone a lot more qualified than I.

Leaving the velocity conversation, without a real idea of who is a clear winner, let’s talk about another claim I hear tossed around.

His royal clutchness

Jake is clutch and Yu doesn’t have that fearless warrior mentality!

So this is something that can actually be measured, and by something I can understand – STATS! I know a lot of people shy away from the statistical comparison. Some of that is lack of understanding, and some of it is their eyes tell them something the stats don’t show. An example of the latter is when measuring Kris Bryant to Nolan Arenado. Nolan had a higher average, hit more home runs, had nearly 60 more RBI’s and yet Bryant had a higher WAR (6.7 to 5.6).

Luckily for us, most of the stats we will look at telling you exactly what you see (which is a good thing).

So we delve into clutch results (which can be found on Baseball-Reference BTW). The first, and perhaps the most clutch situation, is runners in scoring position with two outs. In 518 plate appearances, Jake has allowed a run 29% of those situations over the course of his career. Yu, who has been in the MLB a shorter time, has allowed a run in 23% of the 357 similar situations. Not to toot Yu’s horn more, but he has allowed a .171/.241/.312 slash line in these situations, whereas Jake has allowed a .235/.332/.407 slash.

Looking at late and close situations, Jake takes an advantage. In 200 of these situations, Jake has allowed 15 runs on 1 HR and a slash line of .216/.310/.273 and Yu has allowed 18 runs on 7 HR and a .217/.286/.374 slash in 218 chances.

Where the discussion begins to separate the pair is when we talk leverage. Over Jake’s career, he has allowed a .246/.336/..412 slash line in what is considered high leverage situations. Over Darvish’s career, he has allowed a .210/.275/.327 line in those same situations. From here you can deduct one of two things, Yu is much better in high-leverage or clutch situations than Jake, or Jake’s numbers include his horrific performance in Baltimore.

I also will note Jake’s previous stop in Baltimore as a factor in his inflated high-leverage numbers. So let’s take a look at year-by-year since coming to Chicago.

2014: Jake – .260/.330/.396 .726 OPS  Yu – .202/.220/.247 .467 OPS
2015: Jake – .157/.239/.265 .504 OPS  Yu – “Missed due to Injury”
2016: Jake – .242/.342/.400 .742 OPS  Yu – .204/.268/.306 .574 OPS
2017: Jake – .203/.307/.351 .658 OPS  Yu – .189/.255/.358 .613 OPS
Total: Jake – .657 OPS   Yu – .551 OPS

These numbers clearly show Yu is much more dominate than Jake in a clutch or high-leverage situation. When Yu has allowed beat Jake by 107 points in OPS, it screams to the result.

I think, and you may read them differently, but I think Darvish has proven to be more clutch. I know a lot of people will point to the World Series and Yu’s painful performance, but he was tipping pitches which exposed him to Houston Astros hitters. Jake has gone through a pitch tipping (sort of) phase as well, midseason 2016. About the time he began to take that downward spiral, there were several reports out there which said hitters became familiar and began approaching Jake a lot more intelligently. In previous years, and because of his delivery, pitches that appeared to be over the middle of the plate would float off the plate and caused a lot of swings and misses. Hitters began to leave that pitch alone and started swinging at those pitches that looked like they were coming in at their hips.

This, paired with Jake’s loss of command, caused the once unhittable Jake Arrieta, to become mortal again. Something in Yu’s mechanics tipped Houston hitters (who are really freaking good by the way) what was coming – and they pounded him. This is often correctable, and much easier to correct when you have pretty sound mechanics.

Don’t mean a thing if you’re not on the field

The last real remaining argument is injuries, and I don’t know if you can argue in Darvish’s favor on this point. Since he came to America, he has had seven stints on the DL in six years, one of which was lost due to injury. Jake has made a trip to the 15-day DL twice since Darvish has been stateside.

I typically expect Japanese pitchers to find themselves on the DL at some point in their first season in the states. This is for a number of reasons, but the biggest is pitch selection. In the states, the game is based on a fastball, and pitchers adjust from there. It is very rare that a starting pitcher throws another pitch more than their fastball (outside fo a sinker) whereas the Japanese game pitchers work almost backward. Pitchers in Japan feature offspeed and get outs with their fastball.

Why does this matter? The first reason is, the MLB game has a lot more stress on each pitch. I am not saying the Japanese leagues aren’t competitive, but there is a whole lot more riding on every pitch of every MLB game than there is in any other baseball league.

The next reason this matters is, the fastball does way more damage to someone’s arm than any other pitch. With an increase in the number of fastballs, the pressure involved in every pitch, and the fact that a fastball does more potential harm to an arm than other pitches all leads to my injury hypothesis.

I am scared that at any point Jake’s arm will fall off. Now he has done a lot to ensure that he is keeping strength and momentum behind his pitches, which should help ensure he remains relatively injury free. The problem with his delivery or mechanics is, a slight wrong movement can blow the whole thing up. While you can say that with just about any pitcher, the cross-body motion, and even his own issues with holding mechanics, tells me that he is prone to potential injury.

I am comforted in knowing that Jake is perhaps the strongest and most fit pitcher in baseball. This means much, much more than his ability to lift a lot of weight. With a higher endurance and more strength, there is less chance of injury due to fatigue. That means something.

Is there a conclusion? I don’t know…

So we started this off with me not really knowing who I prefer, and I think I end without knowing who I prefer. If all things were going to be equal, and Jake and Yu were to make 30 plus starts over the next fours years, I would toss my $100 million at Darvish. But when you factor in the injuries, factor in you might be more confident in what Jake will be over the next several years, and already know Jake can perform in the playoffs – well then you might toss your cash Arrieta’s way.

I guess the winner of this argument will be revealed in 2021 or 2022 when their contract is done. But for the sake of adding purpose to a longwinded piece on who is a better option… I guess I would make my run at Yu Darvish. This is partially based off of the information written here, things I read in creating this, well whatever you might call it. Plus it legitimately seems like the Cubs have focused more on Darvish than they have on Jake, and that means something, right?

Tell me how you feel. I really would like to know!

About Jamie Baker

Hi, I'm Jamie and I run this site. I've published work on multiple other sites and through that experience I decided to create CHICAGO style SPORTS. We truly aim to speak for the Chicago fan. Additionally, as a member of the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) you can be assured that all content you read will be written with incredible integrity.

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