Illustrating Yu Darvish’s Different Types of Sliders

He isn’t quite El Mago, but Yu Darvish is sort of a magician just the same. The ace can fire mid-90’s fastballs, follow up with an eephus curve in the 60 mph range, and finish with a variety of several other secondary pitches (changeup, slider, etc.). No wonder Theo Epstein called Darvish one of the “premier strikeout pitchers of our generation.”

I got a better appreciation for Darvish when digging into the peripherals on his slider, which has several different variations. The graph below illustrates those different slider iterations and also shows how Darvish generates much more cutting action than other righty pitchers.

Do you see three different “peaks” in that blue distribution curve? There are peaks at 0.5 and between 1.0-1.3 horizontal movement on the x-axis. Interesting…

In addition to looking at horizontal movement and velocity, I wanted to see how many distinct sliders Darvish throws. In order to do this, I used a data reduction technique called principal component analysis. Generally speaking, this allows us to find clusters of different pitch types based on all Statcast data. I asked my computer to find clusters of Darvish’s sliders based on release point, movement, location, speed, spin rate, and release extension.

We see below that there are small clusters of dots, meaning Darvish is throwing different types of sliders based on the aforementioned criteria, and that we can identify these clusters based on just horizontal movement. On the left side of the PCA graph below shows sliders with less movement, and the right side of the PCA graph shows sliders with more movement. Looks like there are two distinctly different sliders when you consider all Statcast data.

This must be what early astronomers felt like when they mapped out constellations. If you look closely, you can almost make out Orion.

Personally, I find Darvish to be one of the most interesting pitchers I’ve ever watched. The fact that he appears to be healthy, motivated, and excited to pitch in 2019 is so encouraging. I can’t wait to see him carve up batters with one MLB’s most diverse pitch repertoires.

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