Although the biggest stories of the year for the Chicago Cubs, in terms of big league performance, are probably localized mostly around Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro, you can’t dispute that two of the best stories have been Jake Arrieta and Luis Valbuena.
In recent days, I’ve heaped a chunk of analysis and love on each of Arrieta and Valbuena, and I thought I’d point you in the direction of a couple great pieces on the two players’ 2014 campaign to help you appreciate them even more.
First, here’s a great article written by Sahadev Sharma for ESPN, going through Arrieta’s success this year in great detail, complete with excellent quotes from Arrieta, himself. Of particular interest is Arrieta’s discussion of his slider/cutter (slutter?), which he has been varying in speed from 85 to 92mph this year, and which he has comfortably been throwing for strikes all year. Thanks to some mechanical tweaks, Arrieta feels much more confident in that slider, and has upped its usage increase dramatically. When well-located, he can not only produce swings and misses, but also weak contact (which helps buoy his groundout rate, even as his sinker usage has declined this year).
The article is a great read, including Arrieta’s thoughts on repeating his delivery, and being more aware of his body as he pitches.
In the same vein, Neil Greenberg writes at Fancy Stats (the Washington Post’s sabermetric arm) about Luis Valbuena’s big year, and explores the “why” behind Valbuena’s increased BABIP and line drive rates.
What do the numbers show? Among other things, Valbuena is wrecking fastballs in a way he hasn’t in the past. After previously not doing much with fastballs – most big league hitters show their best results against fastballs – Valbuena is now ripping fastballs more frequently with more authority.
That suggests a sustainable improvement, though you can always argue that he’s just been lucky so far this year in barreling the bat to fastballs. We’ll see if it continues, but it’s great to see yet another measure that explains Valbuena’s success this year in a way that is not entirely “luck.”
It’s also great to see guys like Valbuena (a waiver claim before the 2012 season) and Arrieta (a “reclamation” type acquisition in the Scott Feldman trade) turning into successful, significant pieces for the Cubs this year. Each could easily play a big role on the Cubs in 2015 and beyond.