Position: Stating Pitcher, Picture to Stare at While Listening to “I Will Remember You” on Repeat
2017 Stats: 3.53 ERA/4.17 FIP/4.24 DRA, 93 cFIP, 14-10, 2.5 WARP
Year in Review: I already miss Jake Arrieta like the deserts miss the rain.
Or like Matt Carpenter misses every slider he’s ever thrown.
Which is not to say that signing Arrieta to the type of long term extension that Scott Boras will land for him is a good idea at all. The logical part of my brain recognizes that. But the role he’s played in the Cubs’ ascendance over the past five years, his spot-on Bob Gibson impression in 2015, and his World Series heroics manage to transform the emotional part of my brain into 2007-era Jim Hendry.
So I assume our only hope for seeing Arrieta in a Cubs uniform next year is if the front office goes back to only looking at websites if someone prints them out first.
Like the rest of the staff, Arrieta was wildly inconsistent throughout the beginning of the 2017 season. Things started off really well with Jake tossing six innings of four hit baseball to nail down the Cubs’ first win of the year in St. Louis, but beginning with his third appearance, Arrieta went through a month of painful struggle. Over the span of six starts from April 15 through May 14, he amassed a 6.52 ERA and allowed an opposing slashline of .338/.379/.579.
Those numbers were so Baltimore, they almost rebooted The Wire.
Again, as with his compatriots in the rotation, Arrieta’s diminished velocity inspired a lot of sturm und drang among the fanbase and sportswriting community. Throughout 2017, his sinker consistently sat in the 92 MPH range and steadfastly refused to get any faster.
Yet despite this development, he maintained an almost comical level of self confidence as he continuously assured the press and the fans that he would make the adjustments necessary to return to effectiveness. Arrieta publicly refused to panic so often that he officially qualified as the sixth installment in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.
And gradually as 2017 progressed, that confidence became a self-fulfilling prophecy. From May 21 through the end of June, Jake mixed several very good starts (i.e. 7.0 innings of one run ball on June 22 against the Marlins) with occasional mediocre steps back (4.1 IP and four runs on June 11 versus Colorado).
Once the calendar turned to July, though, something clicked. On July 2, Arrieta prevented an embarrassing sweep by the Reds with a stellar seven inning, one hit performance at Great American Ballpark. No one anticipated it at the time but he was about to embark on a two month run of vintage dominance.
From that start through the end of August, Arrieta put up a 1.69 ERA over 69.1 innings, sending the Lincoln Park Chads in the bleachers into a möbius strip of infinite high fives. During that same time, opposing hitters slashed a Todd Hundley-riffic .183/.259/.309.
Perhaps most impressively, in a year where home runs flew out of all ballparks at an unprecedented rate, over those 69.1 innings Arrieta gave up all of five. The only launch angle Arrieta was concerned with in the second half was the one directly into the catcher’s mitt.
So what happened? Over that stretch of time, Jake rediscovered how to throw his slider/cutter hybrid effectively. Over the first two months of 2017, he mixed that pitch about evenly with his curve and suddenly all but eliminated it in June. Then from July through August, he gradually brought it back from 8.28 percent of his repertoire to 15.43.
During that time, Jake utilized a nearly 15 percent whiff rate from his “slutter” to generate a lot of the swings and misses over this stretch of stellar pitching. Meanwhile, opponents’ batting average against the pitch dropped from .400 in April all the way down to .095 in August. Over the first three months, the erstwhile ace kept promising everyone he was going to make the adjustments necessary to dominate. And it turned out he was telling the truth.
Unfortunately, a Grade 1 hamstring strain suffered against the Pirates sidelined Arrieta for most of September, leaving his playoff status in some doubt. But after four solid but wild innings against Washington in the Division Series, he gave us one final moment of brilliance in the NLCS.
In what was inarguably the only thing worth remembering about the Dodgers series, Arrieta was wild again with five walks in 6.2 innings. But unfortunately for Los Angeles, just about every pitch that did find the strike zone was completely unhittable as he allowed only a Cody Bellinger home run while punching out nine batters.
On this night, Arrieta was so dominant that even Curtis Granderson couldn’t lie his way out of three straight strikeouts. It was a fitting coda to five of the most stellar years we’ve ever seen from any starting pitcher in Cubs history. And for one final time, he walked off the Wrigley Field mound and tipped his cap to a sold out throng voicing their appreciation for a half decade of brilliance and his outsized role in the team’s renaissance.
Weep not for the memories.
“A big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.”
It looks like Boras does to metaphors what Arrieta did to the 2015 Pirates.
Maybe the reason the Cubs aren’t going to resign Jake is because Theo Epstein doesn’t want to commit $200 million to an agent whose chief negotiating tactic appears to be mangling C&C Music Factory lyrics.
There’s a situational comp from Epstein’s past that might provide some insight into how he’s looking to proceed from here. After the 2004 Red Sox won the World Series, Theo made the fairly bold decision to let team legend Pedro Martinez walk following a great age 32 season.
Obviously, Arrieta doesn’t have anything close to resembling Pedro’s singular Hall of Fame track record. But his emotional connection to the clubhouse, beloved status with the fanbase, and fresh memories of dominance are certainly similar. And if the past is any indication, Epstein is again going to remove all that emotion from the equation and make a pragmatic decision on a pitcher he believes is a strong candidate for regression.
After leaving Boston, Martinez signed a four-year deal with the Mets and looked like vintage Pedro in 2005 (8.4 WARP). However, this was followed by a sharp decline in year two (3.2), rotator cuff surgery in year three (0.6), and replacement level performance in his final New York season (0.1).
It would not be surprising if Epstein felt that the risk of a similar pattern from Arrieta was too much to consider extending him for the length and dollars that Boras will command. And then there’s this to consider: Pedro’s final season in Boston was worth 6.8 WARP. Jake, for all of his dominance in the latter half of this year, only amassed 2.5.
Arrieta will be pitching somewhere else in 2018. But no matter where that is, he will always be a Cub and a big part of the reason why it’s the best time in history to be a Cub fan.
Now for God’s sake, just don’t sign with the Cardinals.
Lead photo courtesy Jim Young—USA Today Sports