"I just think they had a good communication and a good relationship. I think Soto was in Darvish's head to the point that whatever Darvish felt like he wanted to do, Soto was doing it. They meshed very well. Soto had a way of relaxing a lot of pitchers he caught, not only Yu Darvish. I don't know much Japanese Soto knows, but he went out there and said something. I don't know if Yu understood, but it relaxed him."
I don't know how much Japanese Soto knows either. But the former Cub became Darvish's personal catcher down the stretch last season, and Darvish did post a far lower walk rate with Soto (6.9 percent of batters faced) than he did with Yorvit Torrealba (10.5%) or Mike Napoli (14.6%). Not all of that is the catcher, of course, but Soto ranks as one of the game's top pitch-framers according to Mike Fast. With Soto as his battery mate, Darvish did get more called strikes in August and September.
On pitches taken outside of the strike zone, Darvish's called strike rate remained about the same no matter who caught him. In the zone, it was a different story. Overall, right-handed starting pitchers got a called strike 80.6% of the time that hitters took a pitch thrown over the plate in 2012. Darvish fared worse than most, getting a called strike 78.5% of the time in such situations. However, Darvish's called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken climbed during his eight starts with Soto behind the dish:
Darvish's called strike rate on in-zone pitches taken, by catcher
|Catcher||Pitches||Called Strike Rate on In-Zone P Taken|
These numbers certainly don't prove that Soto is the reason for Darvish getting more calls late in the season -- it could be the umps, pitch selection/location or just plain noise, given the relatively small sample size. But Soto's seeming pitch-framing prowess raises an interesting question: Should Washington keep the Soto-Darvish battery intact, even on days when the Rangers face a tough right-handed pitcher? Soto (with a career .891 OPS against lefty pitching, compared to .727 versus righties) and free agent signee A.J. Pierzynski (.776 OPS against RHB, .670 versus lefties) complement each other offensively, and A.J. also rated as a good pitch-framer in Fast's catcher study.
It's early April, and Darvish is set to face King Felix. If you're Ron Washington, who are you starting behind the plate?