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jake arrietaJake Arrieta’s performance yesterday wasn’t quite as good as Clayton Kershaw’s, but it was pretty damn good.

Arrieta threw seven innings, allowing just one run (a Giancarlo Stanton homer), five hits, one walk, and notched 11 strikeouts. He also got 12 swinging strikes, which is excellent (he got 13 last time out – the guy is on fire).

Coming into the game, Arrieta’s numbers were already silly good: 2.09 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 2.90 xFIP, 3.14 K/BB, 24.6% K rate, 7.8% BB rate, 1.3 WAR. After the game, every single number improved: 1.98 ERA, 2.32 FIP, 2.68 xFIP, 3.67 K/BB, 26.7% K rate, 7.3% BB rate, 1.5 WAR. Even his groundball rate increased from 52.1% to 53%.

If Arrieta had the innings to qualify, his numbers would place him second in baseball in ERA, second in baseball in FIP, fifth in baseball in xFIP, and 13th in K%-BB%. Really take a second and wrap your head around those rankings. The only knock we could lodge on Arrieta’s season? He’s averaging less than six innings per start, which is a big problem. But that’s been improving, with five of his last six starts going at least six innings. Remember, he started the year on the shelf because of a Spring Training shoulder issue. It’s understandable that he’d be slowly ramping things up.

What I like best about Arrieta’s performance this year so far – and let’s be clear, it’s just 50 innings – is the convergence of results, underlying metrics, and what the eyes see. Typically, one of those things is off from the other two, which gives you pause when starting to feel good about a player’s performance, especially in a small sample. Here, everything points to the same conclusion: Jake Arrieta has pitched like an ace so far this year. The results say it. The underlying metrics say it. And the eyes say it when you watch him.

And how’s this for his own cerebral take on his performance (Cubs.com): “Strikeouts are just a byproduct of throwing several plus pitches for strikes and keeping the ball down.” (You can see some more fun quotes from Arrieta on those trade rumors earlier in the week, and on his social media usage, here at CSN.)

For a guy who’s had efficiency issues in the past, and not nearly as many strikeouts as you would expect given his stuff, perhaps there’s been a change in mindset? Strikeouts aren’t something you try and pitch to get (which can lead to nibbling and attendant problems) – they’re something that happens, incidentally, when you execute your plan and your pitches.

We’ve discussed his apparent efforts to improve efficiency by inducing groundballs early (a la Jeff Samardzija’s notable change this year), but his strikeouts are now way up as well. That all means fewer balls in play, and the ones that are put in play are far less likely to do serious damage. It’s a recipe for dominance, especially if you’ve got the kind of stuff Arrieta has.

If Arrieta can keep this up, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that your outlook on 2015 changes significantly.

 

(Tip, though: as amazing as you think Arrieta’s been (and he has been), don’t go traipsing over to Clayton Kershaw’s stats thinking that you’re going to surprise everyone with how close Arrieta has been to the unquestioned best pitcher in baseball. Turns out, it’s not really very close. Kershaw is a freak.)

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