The cool thing about baseball is that every year there’s some player or pitcher that stands out above the rest — one that everybody says is the next greatest. And sure enough we wait with anticipation to see this person, and when we finally do, it’s the reason you watch the game, and hopefully they don’t disappoint.
In the case of this year’s World Baseball Classic, there are two internationally known pitchers that everybody anticipated seeing: Yu Darvish and Aroldis Chapman.
Yu, from Japan, 22 years old, 6 foot 5, throws in the mid 90’s with a slider, a curve ball, a split and a change up. A whole arsenal right? Whenever you hear he’s got the “whole arsenal, he’s got 4 or 5 pitches”, you say, “Yeah, whatever. A couple of them don’t work.” When I saw Yu pitch the other day for the first time, I was blown away.
And last winter during hot stove season, Bobby Valentine, who manages in Japan, had raved about Yu. Understand, Bobby V has been a top player in baseball at one time, a manager for a long, long time and managed Nolan Ryan! He has an idea what he’s talking about. He told me that Yu could be the best pitcher he’s ever seen. This is a guy who watched anyone you can think of from 1965 to now. The best ever!
I couldn’t wait to call Bobby and tell him “You’re wrong,” when I saw Yu Darvish pitch. You know what? I haven’t made that call yet.
The thing that is so impressive about him — outside of his youth, his size and all the things you look for in a pitcher — is his ability to duplicate his delivery. As a hitter, you’re always looking for an edge — some way to pick up a certain pitch. Here’s how he holds his arm when he throws a breaking ball. Here’s how he hold his hand in his glove when he throws a fastball. Or he may change his windup, his motion, his tempo — whatever it might be — to give you some of kind of edge to anticipate what’s coming.
When I broke this guy down with slo-mo & split screen, using all the technology available to us, I could not distinguish between his windup when he’s throwing a breaking ball and his windup when he’s throwing a fastball. Ridiculous. Ridiculous! That’s the only thing I can say: ridiculous. Will someone hit him? Absolutely. But can he possibly be the greatest of all-time? Yes, he could. Only time will tell.
As for Chapman from Cuba, anytime you hear that a guy throws 100 MPH, you think of Sid Finch. Yeah, that guy — the April Fool’s joke from Sports Illustrated years ago.
But sure enough, first thing I saw was him warming up and his wing span. He looked like the sprinter Usain Bolt! I thought, is this Bolt on a baseball field? Then I find out he’s about 6-6 with a wing span like Bill Russell. And then he’s a lefty, too! He gets on the mound, he’s got great mechanics. Sound as can be. And sure enough he’s delivering a nice fluid fastball, he’s got a breaking pitch – he was nasty!
To see Yu Darvish and Aroldis Chapman, if they ever get a chance to play in the majors, you can only imagine the impact they’ll have on baseball.