By game scores, it was Jake Arrieta’s best start since August 23. By my eyes, it was probably his best start since June.
Yesterday, Jake Arrieta had excellent fastball command, an incredibly sharp break on his slider and curveball, and a killer changeup. The Cardinals never had a chance in his seven dominant innings. In the process, Arrieta lowered his ERA/FIP/xFIP line to 2.85/3.44/3.66, and increased his WAR to 3.9. It’s not quite a repeat of his historic Cy Young campaign in 2015, but those numbers are still very good. That WAR is good for 8th in the NL, and the ERA is 8th lowest.
Incredibly, Arrieta got a whopping 22 swings and misses yesterday out of 99 pitches (a league average swinging strike rate is about 10%, for context). Moreover, those whiffs came on a variety of pitches – 6 on the four-seamer, 5 on the two-seamer, 4 on the changeup, three on the slider, and four on the curveball. Everything was working.
Further, Arrieta’s much-discussed, but-never-really-a-concern velocity was back up, as he sat right around 95mph on both his four and two-seamers yesterday, after being closer to 93-94mph in his preceding three starts.
Arrieta was paired with Miguel Montero on the day, which is probably notable given the stretch of starts with Willson Contreras that coincided with Arrieta’s most recent struggles. That’s not to put the blame on Contreras – nor to necessarily put the blame on Arrieta for not being able to succeed with Contreras behind the plate – but it is worth pointing out. Also worth noting: it wasn’t a matter of Montero stealing strikes and framing better than Contreras; Arrieta was just dotting the edges of the zone perfectly, and coming back into it with nasty stuff.
Montero, who had caught Arrieta for most of the first half and in 2015, hadn’t caught Arrieta since August 6, largely because the Cubs wanted to prepare Contreras and Arrieta a bit for the possibility that they’d be working together in the playoffs. With Montero playing so well lately, and with the familiarity there with Arrieta, it’s not surprising that the Cubs might change course at this point. If anyone but Montero catches Arrieta in the playoffs, I’d be shocked.
You can read more about how well the two worked together yesterday (and before) here at Cubs.com and ESPN. Suffice to say: these two just get each other out there, and that helps put Arrieta in the best position to succeed.
You can also watch each of Arrieta’s 10 strikeouts here in 10 seconds:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 23, 2016
How about that nasty changeup and the wiffle ball slider, eh?
If Arrieta is able to command all five of his pitches going forward, then it’ll be like a switch flipped, and he’s suddenly the ridiculously dominant guy you remember from last year. Because we know he has that ability – and because we know that he and the Cubs have done a good job of “saving some bullets” for late in the year – it’s not impossible to imagine that actually happening. That said, usually guys don’t have a feel for all of their pitches every single time out (which is a part of what made Arrieta’s second half run last year so magical), and Arrieta can still succeed without everything working perfectly.
We saw yesterday, though, just how good he can still be when it is. And it’s not irrational to dream on that happening for a handful of those starts in the playoffs.