Jake Arrieta may not be as dominant as a Greinke or a Kershaw, but over the last two seasons, he’s blossomed into a top pitcher in the National League.
Back in July of 2013, the Cubs hit the trade market early and dealt overachieving starting pitcher Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles for underachieving starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop. The deal was kind of a head-scratcher at the time, not because it didn’t make sense but because no one knew what to make of it.
The Orioles got Feldman, who would end up going 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA, and would finish in third place in the AL East at 85-77. Feldman signed a deal with the Houston Astros in the off-season, leaving Baltimore with very little positive legacy. The Cubs, on the other hand, were bringing in two pitchers who were known to have talent but not much tangible success.
Arrieta was a top-100 prospect for the Orioles in 2009 and 2010, coming up to the big leagues in 2010 and posting a 4.66 ERA in 100.1 innings pitched. Young Jake Arrieta was a different guy than we’ve seen the last few years, as he only struck out 52 while walking 48 in those 100.1 innings. That’s not very good, but at 24 years old there was a lot of promise in that arm.
But then he didn’t improve. He would have a stretch where he would pitch well, but would lose command and struggle sometimes, too. He was so inconsistent, that Mark Brown wrote this about him at SBNation back in 2012:
“Perhaps they still are trying to salvage Arrieta as a starter, and they know he needs more work at what they are having him work on. Perhaps the reason they haven’t sent him into the bullpen is they just no longer care about him. He could be a spare part to be traded for someone else’s spare part, or, if they are tired enough of him, non-tendered at year’s end, or even designated for assignment sooner than that.
There’s always someone out there willing to give another chance to an arm like Arrieta. They can convince themselves they have just the guy to teach Arrieta just the thing to have some value to the team.”
If you got confused halfway through, those were quotes from an article about Jake Arrieta of the Cubs. Once the Orioles finally did give up on Arrieta and send him to the Cubs, Jake magically found himself. That is to say, he found Chris Bosio.
Arrieta worked with Bosio on the use of his slider, as well as a sinker that has semi-slider and semi-cutter movement, and started to dial back the use of his four-seam fastball. Check out this graph from Brooks Baseball on the usage of his slider and fastball:
The Cubs had convinced themselves that they had just the guy to teach Arrieta just the thing to make him more valuable to their team, and they were right. The results have been magnificent. Arrieta came up and made nine starts for the Cubs in 2013, putting up a respectable 3.66 ERA in 51.2 innings pitched. He went into 2014 penciled into the Cubs rotation as the number four starter.
Stiffness in his throwing shoulder pushed back the start of his season and he didn’t make his debut until May, throwing five shutout innings against the Cardinals. Arrieta would go on to start 25 games, throwing 156.2 innings and striking out 167 batters. He put up a 2.52 ERA, good for 10th in baseball, and a 2.26 FIP, which placed him third behind the two Cy Young winners, Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber.
Arrieta started 2015 just fine, but stood on June 16th with a 3.40 ERA after losing 6-0 to the Cleveland Indians. He gave up four runs on three hits and six walks in five innings that day, having perhaps the poorest control of any outing in his Cubs career. Since that game, however, Arrieta has been a man on fire.
His next game was a nine inning shutout against the Minnesota Twins in which he allowed just four hits and no walks, while striking out seven. Overall, Arrieta has a 0.96 ERA in his last six starts. He’s thrown 46.2 innings with 44 strikeouts and just seven walks.
He was left out of the All-Star game, mostly due to the tremendous amount of pitching in the National League. But he just keeps getting better, start after start, and in any other season you’d be talking about Arrieta as a possible Cy Young candidate. Unfortunately, Arrieta is finding himself in tough company in that race.
Depending on which metric you like to look at, Arrieta is right there with just about anyone else in the National League this season. Greinke has been dominant this season, but his 1.30 ERA is boosted by his 89.9 percent left-on-base rate (which is extremely high). His 2.52 FIP, you’ll notice, is exactly the same as Arrieta’s.
In terms of FIP, Arrieta is tied for third in the National League behind only Scherzer and Kershaw. It’s almost a certainty that Greinke is going to end up winning the Cy Young, barring some major falling off of his numbers or a major surge by Scherzer in the second half of the season. Right or wrong, old school thinking among voters will cause some to look at Scherzer’s win-loss record as a major negative towards him.
Arrieta may not win a Cy Young this season, and he may not even get much more than a few secondary votes. But there’s no doubting that Arrieta has transformed into an ace with the Cubs, which is something that few expected two years ago at this time. The Cubs didn’t just salvage Arrieta as a starter, they allowed him to blossom.