Game 155 Recap: Cubs 4 Pirates 0

Top Play (WPA): A small side-effect of using WPA to determine top play, a dominant starting pitching performance almost never allows the starter to collect the hardware. Tonight is the exception, as Jake Arrieta took matters into his own hands. In the fourth inning with the Cubs leading 1-0, Pirate starter A.J. Burnett left a 91-mph sinker up and over the plate:

Arrieta is an incredible physical specimen, and he mauled the mistake to the opposite-field for a solo home run (+.103). It was another picturesque moment for Arrieta in a storybook season.

Bottom Play (WPA):  The Pirates had exactly one scoring chance, and that came in the seventh. Arrieta carried a perfect game into the inning, with Gregory Polanco leading off. After getting behind 1-0, Polanco lined a solid single to left to break up Arrieta’s bid for perfection. Arrieta will carry no regret with the pitch, as it was simply a tip-the-cap moment to Polanco. The pitch was six inches off the plate.

Following Polanco, Arrieta plunked Andrew McCutchen to put the potential tying run on with one out. Aramis Ramirez roped a 1-0 slider, but it was right at Addison Russell who started an easy 6-4-3 twin-killing (-.131). 

Key Moment: Because of the absurdity of Arrieta, the game-winner came in the very first inning. After Dexter Fowler worked a walk to open the inning, Kyle Schwarber moved him over with a ground out to second. Kris Bryant followed by roping a single into center for his team-leading 99th RBI. I won’t spoil it, but this week’s edition of ‘The Beer List’ will feature some convincing evidence that as Bryant goes, so the Cubs go (hint, he’s been MVP-like since the beginning of August).

For the second time on a national stage in the last 30 days, Arrieta was completely infallible. Seven innings, one hit, nine strikeouts, no walks. How did he do it? Let’s look at his pitch mix:

Pitch Statistics as coded by the Automatic MLBAM Gameday Algorithm
Pitch Type Velo (Max) H-Break V-Break Count Strikes / % Swings / % Whiffs / % BIP (No Out) SNIPs / % LWTS
FF (Four-seam Fastball) 97.3 (98.1) -5.99 8.84 8 5 / 62.5% 3 / 37.5% 0 / 0.0% 0 (0) 5 / 62.5% -0.14
SI (Sinker) 97.2 (98.4) -8.08 7.25 38 27 / 71.1% 15 / 39.5% 2 / 5.3% 8 (0) 19 / 63.3% -2.69
CH (Changeup) 91.6 (92.0) -9.54 2.85 4 3 / 75.0% 3 / 75.0% 1 / 25.0% 1 (1) 2 / 66.7% 0.31
SL (Slider) 92.1 (93.9) 3.65 1.90 26 16 / 61.5% 12 / 46.2% 8 / 30.8% 3 (0) 13 / 56.5% -2.61
CU (Curveball) 83.1 (84.5) 6.69 -9.17 8 3 / 37.5% 3 / 37.5% 2 / 25.0% 0 (0) 3 / 37.5% -0.22

While throwing just seven innings to protect from wear-and-tear, he still managed to collect a massive 42 SNIPs. I commented previously about Arrieta’s steadily-improving velocity as the season progressed, and tonight was more of the same. His fastball averaged 97.3 mph, and by my count he hit 98 on the gun eight times. He also mixed his pitches exceptionally well, keeping hitters off-balance all night:

An incredible amount of ink has been spilled documenting the historical statistical greatness of Arrieta, but the most striking feeling I am left with tonight is this: Jake Arrieta has been the most valuable player in the National League.

Trend to Watch: I just can’t seem to quit this guy:

Two more knocks tonight, including the above home run, as his late-season renaissance continues. Let’s check out his line drive rates before and after the demarcating benching:



The sample size is too small to draw absolute conclusions, but the evidence on pitches middle-out point to an all-fields approach change that has taken hold. Despite the rumor-mill churning loudly at the deadline, Castro remains a critical component of this team’s playoff aspirations.

Coming Next: The newly-minted 90-win Cubs get to sleep in their own beds tonight, as the Royals arrive in town to make up a May rainout. It’ll be a tale of two pitchers, as finesse-oriented Kyle Hendricks (3.55 FIP, 3.99 DRA) faces young fireballer Yordano Ventura (3.75, 4.45). Hendricks is coming off a quality start, giving up three runs and striking out eight Brewers his last time out. Ventura has had a disappointing season, but he also managed a quality start against the Mariners in his last appearance, also allowing three runs while striking out four. It will be a critical velocity warm-up for Gerrit Cole in the Wild Card game for the Cubs offense, as Ventura maintains some of the best velocity in the game:

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 872 37.04% 96.91 -6.08 9.18 -1.93 6.04
Sinker 499 21.20% 96.76 -8.41 6.36 -1.84 5.99
Change 356 15.12% 87.97 -6.16 5.11 -1.61 5.96
Curve 536 22.77% 84.45 3.44 -5.73 -1.80 6.05
Cutter 90 3.82% 92.55 -1.33 5.70 -1.91 5.95

Let’s compare to Cole:

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 3454 48.15% 96.71 -7.27 7.56 -2.62 5.76
Sinker 1291 18.00% 96.33 -8.86 5.63 -2.67 5.69
Change 374 5.21% 88.46 -8.37 3.89 -2.70 5.59
Slider 1259 17.55% 88.01 2.75 -0.00 -2.72 5.63
Curve 792 11.04% 83.78 6.68 -3.53 -2.61 5.69

While the repertoire is slightly different, the comparison is striking. Cole uses his four-seamer considerably more often, and relies less on his changeup and curve. Both men throw hard, effective sinkers. Look for Joe Maddon to closely monitor at-bats against Ventura to gauge how effective certain hitters fare against the premier velocity. It could assist him in filling out his game-163 lineup card.

Lead photo courtesy of Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

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