Chicago Cubs: Yu Darvish must start limiting home runs, hard contact

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(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish’s first-half results didn’t do much to help him break loose of the “bust” label, but one statistic shows Darvish among the league’s elite.

By all measures, it was a strange first half for Yu Darvish – in what has been a disappointing Chicago Cubs tenure. At times, the fireballer would look unhittable, and other times he’d look lost (often with both occurring in the same game). While Darvish’s 2-4 record with a 5.01 ERA looks atrocious (and it is), there may be some optimism for the skilled hurler.

According to Sports Info Solutions, Darvish has the fifth-best hard-hit rate in all of baseball. He trails only Stephen Strasburg, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Bundy and Chris Sale with a 21.0% HHRate. The next closest Cubs pitcher on the list is Cole Hamels, who ranks 31st in the MLB with a 26.6% HHRate.

Darvish has succeeded in missing bats, as well. He leads the Cubs starting rotation with a 10.3 SO9 mark. So what’s been the problem? A lack of control and home runs have plagued Darvish in the first half.

Trouble with the long ball

Darvish has already allowed 20 home runs, and has given up nearly two home runs for every nine innings he’s pitched this season. Darvish’s 1.9 HR9 is a career-worst, and he’s just seven home runs away from the most he’s ever allowed in a single season (27 in 2017).

Many times throughout the season, Darvish has been pitching well until given up one or two home runs in the mid-late innings of a game.

This has mainly hurt him when pitching at home, with Wrigley Field playing as one of the worst parks to pitch in. Darvish has allowed 12 of his 20 home runs at Wrigley Field this season, and opponents are batting .249 against him at home, opposed to .201 on the road.

Since signing his lucrative six-year contract before the 2018 season, Darvish has yet to win a ball game at home. While Darvish spent most of last season on the IL, he knows that he’s going to have to perform better on his home field.

"‘‘I don’t know why, but I know the numbers,’’ Darvish said. ‘‘[That’s why] two weeks ago I told you guys, ‘I really need a good outing [at] Wrigley.’ ’’ (Chicago Sun-Times)"

While Darvish has continued to strike batters out at an impressive rate, he’s also walking more hitters than ever before. Darvish’s 4.5 BB9 and 2.27 SO/W ratio are both going to have to improve for Darvish to reach his full potential. He’s has never had pinpoint command, but since joining the Cubs he seems to struggle at times to trust his stuff and throw with conviction.

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Darvish will have his first opportunity to check off a major box on his long list of mental hurdles on Friday, as he’s set to lead the Cubs rotation into the second half against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. If Darvish can continue to induce soft contact, while keeping the ball in the yard, he’ll be due for better days in a Chicago Cubs uniform.

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