After one of the most dominant second halves in the history of baseball, Jake Arrieta was labeled “fatigued,” after a couple less sharp postseason appearances in 2015.
Whether “fatigued” was the right word to use, or rather, to what extent fatigue actually affected his performance, is up for some debate, but there is little doubt that his huge workload – vis à vis 2014 and the rest of his career – affected his abilities down the stretch.
In fact, that’s probably something that can be said for many of the Cubs’ players, positional guys included. Playing baseball well into October is no easy task. And, for a few guys – technically Arrieta included* – this was their first full professional season at the Major League level.
As I’m sure you’re aware, the Cubs are widely projected to reach the playoffs in 2016, as well. That would mean, beyond the 200+ regular season innings, Arrieta will be expected, once again, to carry this team late into October. If he’s going to pitch at the elite levels to which he’s capable, then, he’s going to need to start preparing right now.
Luckily, he is.
At CSN, Arrieta and Joe Maddon addressed the pitfalls of pitching too many innings during the regular season and how they will address those challenges early on this year. First, and most obviously, they’re going to limit the amount of innings Arrieta gets each game, starting at the beginning of the season.
“If that means only going 210 (innings), up to October instead of 230, I’m fine with that. Arrieta told JJ Stankevitz at CSN. “We’re more than capable of having guys come in and successfully close the door.”
Because the Cubs are carrying four super utility pitchers on the roster, they can and will lean on the bullpen for far more innings than you might be used to seeing from the average team. While it’s most often discussed in terms of limiting the back end of the rotations’ exposure to lineups the third time through the order, it can also be used to artificially limit the front of the rotation’s innings early on (effective ones or not), as we see here. Maddon also addresses the strategy from a psychological perspective, saying, “listen, you (Arrieta) know you can do it, you’ve done it now … but permit us to protect you a little bit in the latter part of the game.”
For many pitchers, even those with long, consistent track records, early spring velocity starts off relatively slow. But, as it turns out, Arrieta is apparently already in mid-season form. Further dispelling concerns over any lingering fatigue, Arrieta told Jesse Rogers that there are “no aches or pains or bumps or bruises,” and that he’s, “ready to go,” for the season.
Once more, the only thing more encouraging than Arrieta feeling good right now, is the obvious buy-in on a more protective plan from Arrieta, himself. Arrieta tells Rogers that he both understands and agrees that, “the bullets will be more important in October.” And that was something he learned, perhaps the hard way, last season. Given the Cubs’ big season and lofty expectations, it’s never too early to start planning. Lucky for the Cubs, Arrieta is as hardworking, comprehensive and forward-thinking as they come.
*(To the extent that Arrieta had never finished an entire big league season, end-to-end and healthy, in his career to that point.)