Jake Arrieta had himself another fine start yesterday against the Brewers, eh?
He lasted a lengthy seven full innings, surrendered just three earned runs (all thanks to one swing of the bat from Ryan Braun (because, who else?)), and struck out 10 batters, to just two walks.
In almost every way you’d hope, Arrieta was cruising:
For the (early) season, Arrieta’s now earned a 2.08 ERA with a very strong 2.69 FIP through his first 13.0 innings pitched.
His stellar 31.4% strikeout rate might not last, but it’s sure been fun to watch. And, most importantly, his 7.8% walk rate here in the early going represents a near-2.0 percentage point improvement over his efforts last season.
According to Brooks Baseball, Arrieta netted eight whiffs yesterday afternoon, with three coming on each of his sinker and slider, plus another two off his curveball.
Of course, if you were watching the radar gun (as you undoubtedly were), you’ll have likely already noticed that his velocity was down a bit once again, though it was up from the readings in his first start.
But before we get too far down this rabbit hole, I’d like to point out that for the second consecutive start, the announcers made note of potential errors/issues in the tracking system.
Here’s exactly what Len Kasper said on the air:
“Some fans have noticed, and we apologize, we’re still having issues with out Pitchcast system. All the local TV stations and networks are using the new MLB technology and still working through some kinks.
You know, JD, life is just not perfect – as hard as we try.”
I know, it’s frustrating.
Just when we thought we knew exactly what was going on (Arrieta has lost some velocity, but is clearly still effective), we have to (somewhat) punt until his next start again. I’m not saying this means Arrieta’s velocity was definitely not down (it almost certainly is, he even conceded as much), but without knowing EXACTLY how much and WHY, it’s very difficult to land on any kind of concrete and reliable analysis.
For what it’s worth, Joe Maddon noticed the readings (Cubs.com), and says he prefers the lower-velocity, better-control version of Arrieta than the 94-96 MPH “all-over-the-map” alternative. And for his part, Arrieta seems to be content with the new look, as well. “Everybody wants to talk about it – I don’t care about that,” Arrieta said, per Cubs.com. “I know I’m smart enough to work around that, and the velocity is still good enough to get it by guys and do certain things in certain situations with it.”
If Arrieta is really dealing with a huge drop in velocity, that’s not a good sign, no matter how you slice it, but if he’s dropping some additionally velocity (on purpose) in exchange for some command, that’s just called aging gracefully (it’s probably a bit of both, to be sure). One thing that’s becoming increasingly clear, however, is that there has definitely been *some* drop off in velocity, whatever the reason.
With that said, if we can trust the data that has been pulled out, Arrieta’s average four-seam fastball velocity last night (92.5 MPH) was actually up from the first start of the season (90.6 MPH) by quite a bit. Indeed, last’s night’s figure even matches some of the depressed velocity readings from the end of last season when Arrieta’s fastball trailed off a bit.
Arrieta recognizes just that (CSN): “I know that kind of stuff can come and go from time to time. I had periods last year where I was at the same spot I am right now …. It is what it is. I still have good feel for everything. Movement is really good. The command’s good.”
Even more encouragingly, and you’ll have to forgive me for how this will sound like the opposite at first, Arrieta hinted that he might just experiencing what some guys call “dead arm.”
Like I said, that may sound scary, but it’s not actually that uncommon of an occurrence. For many Cubs fans, the most notable and recent experience with dead arm, is when Jon Lester went through it his first Spring with Chicago. You know, the one in which he went on to put up a 5.0-win season and lead his team to the NLCS for the first time in 12 years. It’s not something to be happy about, of course, but it is certainly something that could clear up at some point.
And in any case, Arrieta’s clearly been able succeed through two starts even without his premium velocity. He mentioned that he’s at a point in his career where he’s able to work around those dips by attacking hitters in other ways (CSN): “If I’m commanding the ball on the inside part of the plate to left-handed hitters with some sink – like I was able to with a couple big strikeouts (where they’re) taking third strikes in – that’s a big deal.”
So when you consider everything together (velocity improved compared to his first start, he feels good, the results are good, the data may be incomplete), like Brett said after the first Arrieta start, I’m not sure this is something to freak out about.
We’ll have to continue monitoring, of course, but it’s entirely possible that Arrieta is just transitioning into a different, but equally effective version of himself. It happens.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.