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gods-wrathYesterday, the Chicago Cubs announced that starting pitcher Jake Arrieta suffered some “shoulder tightness” this offseason, which has pushed back his timeline for being ready to start the 2014 season. Arrieta, who turns 28 next month, was expected to be in the rotation this year as something of a high-upside experiment for the Cubs in a year when high-upside experiments seem to be among the best uses of playing time/roster spots/dollars/etc. For years, Arrieta has flashed exceptional stuff with disappointing results. The Cubs, who acquired Arrieta from the Baltimore Orioles last year in the Scott Feldman trade, hoped they could finally harness that stuff.

So, yeah, the “injury” kind of sucks.

I put injury in quotes there, because we still don’t really know if the Cubs would characterize the “tightness” as a shoulder injury, or just some kind of precursor to an injury – which is what they’re trying to avoid by slowing him down this Spring.

After revealing the issue at yesterday’s press conference, GM Jed Hoyer explained that, “We slowed him down. We sort of restarted his throwing program, but he’s going to be a little late as far as throwing bullpens and getting into games. No timetables yet, but he is throwing and he is feeling good now.”

That’s good to hear, but we still don’t really know how behind schedule he is. Rick Renteria later told the media that the Cubs aren’t currently expecting Arrieta to begin the season with the team. If he’s already throwing and feeling good, though (even if not on the mound yet), it’s possible he could be just a couple weeks behind schedule. Guys need about a month to gear up once they get back on the mound, so that’ll be your timing indicator for his return. Of course, with a great deal of pitching depth, and with Arrieta’s possible long-term importance, there isn’t going to be a need to rush him back.

Completely anecdotal thought with no data or medical knowledge to back it up: it seems like shoulder issues are either far worse than an elbow issue, or far better. In other words, when a dude has an elbow issue, it seems like there’s a reasonably high likelihood that he’s going to miss significant time (either rest or surgery). When a guy has a shoulder issue, however, it seems often to be either a two week, minor thing from which he comes back to no ill effect, or it is a career-threatening, extremely serious problem, from which he may come back not the same guy ever again.

In other words, “shoulder issue” isn’t necessarily a reason to freak out, because sometimes it’s totally minor. Sometimes elbow stuff is totally minor, too, though, I guess. This is why people shouldn’t rely on anecdotes and/or people without any medical knowledge whatsoever.

Regardless of the severity, even the hiccup is a bummer, particularly with respect to Arrieta. As a guy with a huge ceiling – but who just hadn’t been able to harness and maximize the stuff in Baltimore – Arrieta has been someone to dream on for 2014. If he finally breaks out, the Cubs will have just discovered a key rotation piece for the next four or five years. That was never the most likely scenario, but it was a reasonable possibility. Hopefully this shoulder issue is truly minor, and that scenario stays on the table.

  • Jason P

    You never want to see guys injured, but Arrieta’s replacement will probably end up being almost just as good as he would have been, and May-on is still plenty of time for us to “see what we’ve got”.

  • Blackhawks1963

    The addition of McDonald telegraphs (to me) that the Cubs are concerned about Arrieta.

    Sigh.

  • Darth Ivy

    Arrieta will still be on my fantasy watch list.

  • ced landrum

    If Arrieta’s shoulder issue isn’t serious it may be a good idea to back off his start date to the season so he isn’t pitching in the coldest part of the year anyway.

  • V23

    I chalk this up to “it happens every season”. That’s why rotation depth is needed, there is always one guy that starts late, or gets hurt for a good amount of time.

    While Arrieta was decent last season once on Cubs, I only look at him as a 5. He really hasn’t produced any real success since 2010 AAA.

  • Spoda17

    I guess Arrieta won’t be saying he came to camp in the best shape of his life…

    • Oregon Cubs Fan

      You can be in great shape and still suffer a shoulder injury. There is no correlation between physical conditioning and elbow/shoulder injuries.
      The reality is that throwing a pitch overhand at 90+ miles per hour puts tremendous unnatural strain on your arm and injuries can happen no matter how good of shape you are in.

      • Spoda17

        OCF… if you took my comment literally… you may need to cut back on your coffee intake.

  • Ballgame17

    Brett, I respect your daily hard work/dedication but please can we think of something other than “God’s Wrath”? Pretty please…

    • DarthHater

      Your protestations only harden his heart . . .

    • Edwin

      And miss out on getting a chance to use that comic picture? No sir.

    • Darth Ivy

      I can’t decide if you don’t like this because you’re a person of faith or an atheist.

    • Brocktoon

      I’m really confused as to why this bothers anyone

      • Jason P

        It shouldn’t. It’s harmless.

      • ssckelley

        It does not bother me, neither do gays.

        :D

    • jamespk

      Ugh. The very funny far side cartoon and article name fits the humor of the site.

  • another JP

    Nothing seems to come easy for Arrieta and I hope these continual hiccups in his development as a productive #4 or #5 come to an end this season. As far as I’m concerned this is just another opportunity for Kyle Hendricks to show what he can do and break into the rotation…

  • Mreverything

    I was so bummed out (and still am) about this. It seemed to me that with this high ceiling guy this year was crucial to his development; almost as crucial as a good showing from Baez. If he was going to be good (and I had hopes he was) we really would get a boost. Now we have his replacement James McDonald to look forward to. I hope it is nothing, but I fear the worst.

  • Brocktoon

    At what age does a guy stop being high ceiling and start being mediocre?

    • Kyle

      Whatever that age is, Arrieta is past it.

      • Fishin Phil

        Thank you Kyle Bosio.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Are you saying you don’t believe Arrieta still has a reachable ceiling that is higher than his past performance?

        Drawing a line with age, only, is a little reductive, especially for pitchers.

        • Kyle

          I think every player on earth has a theoretically reachable ceiling far beyond his past performance.

          But for a pitcher Arrieta’s age, the odds of him taking a step forward are small enough that I’m not really interested in factoring it in to his evaluation.

          • MightyBear

            Pure bullshit and conjecture. I can think of two examples where this is wrong.

            • Kyle

              Don’t pretend like you don’t love bullshit and conjecture. You just want it saying positive things about the Cubs.

              • Darth Ivy

                haha, that’s a pretty good and funny point. Although, can you blame cubs fans for preferring bullshit and conjecture that makes us feel good about our team? There’s no reason to be fair and objective when it comes to sports

            • Edwin

              I bet if you look hard, you can think of even more examples where it’s right.

            • Edwin

              I’m also curious what your 2 examples are.

            • YourResidentJag

              Apparently, one example is Dominic Brown whereby his accelerates to new heights in ability and performance….right?

              • YourResidentJag

                *he

              • ssckelley

                Didn’t the Phillies want to trade him to the Cubs in exchange for Soriano?

              • Kyle

                Domonic Brown, who I’m still not particularly sold on, was two years younger when he broke out that Arrieta will be this year.

                • YourResidentJag

                  Did he really breakout though and it is sustainable?

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            Given that Arrieta didn’t pitch professionally until he was 22, it’s pretty silly to draw an age line for him as a cut and dried thing. I’m all about age/level evaluations, but I’m also about considering everything when it comes to a player. Arrieta isn’t some 28-year-old dominating AA because he’s way too polished.

            I don’t think anyone would/should say he’s a prospect with considerable upside that he’s 50/50 to reach. But I also don’t think anyone should say he’s a has-been-never-will-be just because he’s going to turn 28 and hasn’t mastered the command of his excellent stuff. On the rare occasion that guys do put it all together for the first time in their late-20s, their story looks a hell of a lot like Arrieta’s.

            • Kyle

              Unless he spent the intervening four years frozen in carbonite, I don’t think ignoring his age is the right way to handle it, either.

              The body ages the way the body ages, whether you spend it playing baseball or not.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                I am definitely not *ignoring* his age. We don’t automatically have to go to one extreme or the other now, Kyle. :)

                • Kyle

                  Betting on my extreme will lead to more accurate results, imo.

                  I pretty much never bet on the “but he’s baseball-young!” argument. And while I sort-of lost on Jeff Samardzija, for the most part it’s served me well.

                  • DocPeterWimsey

                    Pitching might be a partial exception to this, though, simply because pitching is such a violent and damaging thing to do to the body. In some part, it is a question of how long a guy has been pitching: normal aging from (say) 18 to 22 does not incur anywhere near the soft-tissue scarring that pitching does.

                    However, like smoking, it does reach a point where it doesn’t much matter anymore: granny is going to drop dead of something someday, and a pitcher is going to stop being able to improve much at some point, too.

            • Edwin

              Arreita has more going for him than most 28 year old pitchers in his type of situation, yes. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not too likely for him to turn into anything more than a 4th/5th starter.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                I agree with that.

                • another JP

                  Seems to me Shark fits the profile of a late bloomer. Until he became a full-time starter his results were quite a bit worse than Arreita’s… his cumulative WAR value at age 27 was only .3 as opposed to Jake’s 2.5. And in 2012 Arrieta had 1.6 WAR in 116 IP, so it’s not like he totally sucks. I’d say his chances of succeeding are just as good as Samardzija, but he needs to be healthy and in the rotation on a full-time basis to see if he’s the real deal.

              • Darth Ivy

                and that’s the reason why the cubs were able to get him (plus strop) for a rental. That discount was there for a reason, but the interest was there for a reason, too.

        • aaronb

          The ship has likely sailed on him being a consistently upper tier pitcher. I’d still think he can have some level of success going forward though. Even if it is eventually as a Rich Hill/Andrew Miller bullpen type of guy.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      A better way to think of it is that the ceiling starts lowering as a guy ages. After all, the ceiling is where you think the guy might be in his prime: and Arrieta is pretty much at that age. Thus, the probability of him making a jump to a higher level X is necessarily much lower than it was 3 years ago because three years ago he had three more years to do it.

  • Napercal

    Any reports on whether he is doing with the “towel drill”? If we get those reports, he might as well head straight to the OR.

  • Ballgame17

    I only ask for a “God’s Wrath” replacement because it gives me the vibe of Fox having a goat trotting across the TV everytime the Cubs are in the playoffs. *Hold sarcastic comment*. Last year when it would show up nearly everyday, it gets rough after awhile

  • ssckelley

    I find it odd that the shoulder issues come up now that spring training has started. If he had shoulder issues during the off season then were they addressed or did he wait to get to Mesa and then complain about his shoulder hurting?

  • NorthSideIrish

    Carrie Muskat ‏@CarrieMuskat 11m
    #Cubs Arrieta says felt discomfort in shoulder few weeks ago. Has been able to play catch with no pain now. Says they’re being cautious

    Still expect his arm to be amputated by mid-April.

    • Fishin Phil

      That’s the Cub Way!

    • ssckelley

      “Still expect his arm to be amputated by mid-April.”

      Bummer, that might hurt his trade value.

      • mjhurdle

        ha! well played sir :)

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