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STATS’ TVL Data Projects Darvish Could Struggle vs. NL Sluggers in Playoffs

By: Andy Cooper

Ending a 28-year championship drought takes bold moves when it matters most – even if you’re cruising to a fifth straight division title and on pace for one of the best regular-season records in baseball history. But regular-season success means little in a city like Los Angeles, where the only way to elevate your stature is to sport plenty of bling.

The Dodgers landing Yu Darvish from Texas in the minutes leading up to Monday’s trade deadline had more to do with past postseason failures than Clayton Kershaw’s current back injury that will sideline him for roughly a month. President Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi struck a deal for a potential three-month rental to add another crucial piece to L.A.’s playoff rotation after starters posted ERAs of 5.12, 4.45 and 4.21 in the Dodgers’ last three trips to the postseason.

But while the move has been lauded, STATS’ TVL data projects Darvish could struggle to get some of his most-frequent pitches past a few of the majors’ top hitters in the playoffs.

TVL tracks pitch type (T), velocity (V) and location (L) for each MLB pitcher and records the data into categories such as usage percentage of a specific pitch, the average velocity of each pitch type and the percentage a batter hits the ball on the ground against that pitch. The data is broken down further to show opponents’ batting average, slugging percentage, swing percentage and swing-and-miss percentage each time a specific pitch is thrown.

A pitcher’s TVL then can be pitted against a hitter’s success when facing specific pitches to project how the hitter would fare versus a particular pitcher. The graphic below shows Darvish’s TVL data through his last start for the Rangers on July 26. He makes his Dodgers debut Friday against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Darvish’s effectiveness against right-handers stands out the most. Righties are hitting .193 against Darvish’s slider, .197 against his four-seam fastball and just .202 overall. That total batting average against right-handers ranks in the top 15 in the majors along with three other Dodgers starters – Kershaw (.181), Alex Wood (.183) and Rich Hill (.205).

But Darvish’s overall success against righties doesn’t project to stay constant against Paul Goldschmidt, the Arizona slugger who could see plenty of Darvish. The Dodgers face the Diamondbacks nine more times beginning Aug. 8, and there’s potential for more matchups in the NLDS with Arizona leading the wild-card race.

Should the Dodgers face Colorado instead of Arizona come October, Darvish’s numbers against left-handed hitters could come back to bite him – especially against Charlie Blackmon. The Rockies’ leadoff hitter has a good chance to open up a big inning against Darvish, according to STATS’ TVL data.

Darvish uses his four-seam fastball far more than any other pitch with an average velocity of 94.43 mph, but Goldschmidt projects to hit .387 and slug .781 against it. His projected numbers against the two-seamer are nearly as good. The cutter and curve are likely to fool Goldschmidt, but those are Darvish’s fourth- and fifth-most used pitches.

It appears Blackmon wouldn’t be fooled by any type of fastball or a curve from Darvish, and his numbers don’t project to be much worse against the other pitches in Darvish’s arsenal either. But what fun would it be if we just stopped there?

Even if Darvish struggles early in the playoffs, the Dodgers are expected to play in the NLCS and eventually the World Series. There are still two months of games to play, but let’s look ahead as if the Chicago Cubs or Washington Nationals, who currently lead the other two NL divisions, would be awaiting the Dodgers in the NLCS.

The Cubs, who knocked off L.A. in last year’s NLCS, project to hit .240 against Darvish, while Washington projects to hit a solid .270. In the middle of that Nationals lineup is 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper, who is likely to solve Darvish far more often than his good buddy and reigning MVP Kris Bryant.

The New York Yankees made a splash of their own at the trade deadline when they acquired Sonny Gray from Oakland to make a push toward winning their first World Series since 2009. Should MLB get its dream of a Dodgers-Yankees World Series, how would Darvish fare against the Bronx’s biggest bomber, Aaron Judge?

Darvish wouldn’t want to throw a fastball, if you take STATS’ TVL data into account:

Darvish was one of the most coveted players at the trade deadline, and the Dodgers didn’t hesitate to acquire the four-time All-Star when given the chance. Putting a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber into a rotation already considered one of the best in baseball was a no-brainer.

But will his acquisition be enough to help the Dodgers win their first World Series since 1988?