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Another Year of Closely Watching Jake Arrieta’s Command and Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

OK. Whew. You made it through one of the worst annual traditions in baseball: the off-day after Opening Day. I don’t hate it in the sense that I totally understand why it’s necessary (if Opening Day is rained out, the home team needs to have the ability to reschedule that special game right away) … but I do hate it in the sense that it is awful and painful and I hate it.

Especially after the Cubs lose a game like they lost on Sunday night


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  • Tonight’s starter for the Cubs is Jake Arrieta, one of the most fun pitchers to watch in the game when he’s going strong. He was also perhaps one of the most discussed Cubs players this offseason thanks to his unique situation. By that I mostly mean: he’s a free agent after this season (and figures to reach free agency), is coming off a good year overall, which in turn came after an absolutely dominant year, and it all ties back to one primary thing: the ability to command all of his pitches. When Arrieta can consistently spot his pitches (especially his two and four-seam fastballs), he can literally be one of the best pitchers in history (because he was in the second half of 2015). When he cannot consistently command his pitches, he can still get by with his killer stuff and above-average velocity, but there is so much more variance in the results. As we discussed last month, when Arrieta’s command really left him in the second half of 2016, the results were not great:

“[G]oing back to his June 22 start through the end of the regular season (17 starts), Arrieta posted a 4.31 ERA, a 4.44 FIP, and a 4.23 xFIP over 104.1 innings. His strikeout rate (20.6%) was below league average, and his walk rate (10.4%) was well above league average. The spread between his strikeout rate and walk rate was nearly halved after June 22, from 19.3% (just about top ten in baseball) to 10.2% (way below the league average of 13.0%).

Even on a more granular level, there were alarming signals. Arrieta’s swinging strike rate from June 22 through the end of the regular season was just 9.8%, below league average (10.1%). Before June 22, that number had been a healthy 11.4%, and for all of 2015 it was 11.1%. Even if Arrieta’s game is more about inducing weak contact than getting whiffs, he previously was getting a ton of whiffs – and why wouldn’t he, given his nasty stuff and velocity? But without the ability to effectively locate pitches, the batter’s task of spitting on pitches he’s not going to be able to touch becomes much easier, regardless of the stuff or velocity.

Moreover, Arrieta gave up much more hard contact from June 22 on, and more contact in the air: 27.8% hard contact, 21.0% line drive rate, 30.2% fly ball rate, each up dramatically from his pre-June 22 numbers (21.9%, 17.7%, and 24.8%, respectively). His groundball/fly ball ratio fell like a stone, from 2.32 to just 1.61.”

  • How will Arrieta fare this season? There’s a ton riding on that question, not only for the free-agent-to-be, but also for the Cubs. Arrieta looked very good again in the postseason (and the results matched), for what that’s worth. Arrieta doesn’t have to be perfect to be successful, but when he’s hitting his spots more often than not, he becomes virtually impossible to hit well.
  • As for Arrieta and his presumed catcher Miguel Montero, they suggest to the Tribune that Arrieta may look to pitch more to contact in order to reduce deep counts and walks. It’s one of those things that is always easier suggested than executed – the batter is up there trying to make hard contact, after all – but given Arrieta’s consistent late movement on all of his pitches, he has been one of the best contact managers in baseball for years now. If the batters want to try to attack him early in the count, then so be it. For now, I’d rather see Arrieta aggressive in the strike zone early in the game and giving up hard contact (but hopefully not), than working the edges, giving up walks, working deep (often hitter-friendly) counts, showing all of his pitches early, and shortening his night.

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  • MLB stat guru Daren Willman re-shared a great list he put together, with obvious Cubs connections:

  • In case you were unsure just how good, on a granular level, Carl Edwards Jr. was last year. (If you missed it, I actually wrote about several of the other Cubs on that list (and then even more Cubs relievers) earlier. It was a fun wormhole to get lost down.)

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  • You’re welcome/I’m sorry for alerting you to a big clearance sale:


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Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor of Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.