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What’s With All the Jake Arrieta Home Runs, Man? And Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

It kills me when I can’t stay up for a game. Last year, I stayed up for all West Coast and extra-inning games. Didn’t miss a single one. But this year, we’ve now got The Littlest Girl (an infant) in addition to The Little Girl and The Little Boy. My (Eastern Time Zone) inability to stay up for last night’s game, then, is for two reasons: (1) I’m just extra tired all the time because kids of this age are great, but tiring; and (2) I can’t afford to be a wreck the next day when I’m trying to be a good dad.


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So, that is to say: sorry not sorry that I didn’t make it to the end of last night’s game.

  • All pitchers make mistakes. It happens in every start: you’re trying to stay down and away, and you catch too much of the plate, and get it a little elevated. But the batter fouls it off. He shakes his head, frustrated that he missed his pitch. Can’t hit them all. When you’re following the pitcher’s team in that situation, you don’t always notice those pitches. You see a foul ball, and you start thinking about the implications of that strike. When the batter doesn’t miss the mistake, though, you notice. You lament. You wonder why the pitcher keeps screwing up.
  • Embedded in there is a luck element we don’t talk about too much, because it’s almost impossible to quantify and because there’s obviously skill and performance intermingled in there. Some pitchers, over the course of a season, get more lucky than others when it comes to batters missing their mistakes. The skill aspects involve velocity and movement (more margin for error when you do make a mistake), but, again, we’re talking about the universe of pitches that are already mistakes. And, through no fault or skill of their own, some pitchers are going to give up more damage on mistakes than others in a given season. I wish we knew how to account for the skill part of that and the luck part of that.

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  • The problem, of course, is on a given pitch, you can’t really know how much “luck” or “blame” to assign for a negative outcome. All we can really do is say “well, that was a bad pitch, and when you make a bad pitch, you put yourself at serious risk for the very thing that happened.” And the more times it happens, the more you start to think there has to be some reason, beyond mere luck, that a certain pitcher’s mistakes are being punished more often than others.
  • That is all background, of course, to Jake Arrieta’s season so far. He’s striking guys out, and he’s not walking them. He looks like he has good command more often than not. I like what I see. It’s just that he’s making some mistakes up in the zone, and it seems like they’re always getting punished. The two homers and run-scoring double he gave up last night were all on pitches belt high, which is not where you want to live (even if, again, you’ll often get away with it). It’s frustrating, because when a dude strikes out nine and walks one, and gives up only five hits, you expect that was a really good start … unless those hits were for extra bases. So it was last night, and it’s been for Arrieta all year – he’s up to 10 homers in just 56.2 innings. In general, he’s giving up too much air contact (his 41.1% groundball rate is WAY down from the last couple years when he was above 50%), and much more of that air contact is leaving the park (16.1% HR/FB ratio). A ratio that high is almost always *some* bad luck, but it’s also sometimes just a reflection of simply giving up too much hard contact.
  • Joe Maddon’s perspective on this particular issue sounds a lot like I think mine would (Cubs.com): “My analysis would be the homers [he’s giving up are because] he’s getting in some counts and making mistakes and they’re not missing them. Maybe because the velocity is not 95, 93 [mph] might bleed into that a little bit, but I thought he had good movement today, a good breaking ball. There’s nothing to criticize. They just hit homers.” In other words, Arrieta is making mistakes in situations where you especially don’t want to make mistakes … but you don’t always expect those to wind up as dingers.

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(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
  • The Adrian Gonzalez homer, by the way, was his first of the season. Naturally.
  • The Cubs and Dodgers, and their front offices, have developed a friendly rivalry (CSN), which is what it should be between two franchises that are well-positioned for near-term success, have young talent, and have resources. It will be interesting to see, in the coming years, how the Dodgers use their extreme resource advantage, though, with the new CBA adding significant baseball-related penalties for overspending the luxury tax limit.
  • As a pace-of-play truther, I greeted this FiveThirtyEight study with sheer dread: the longer a pitcher takes between pitches, the more incremental velocity he’s able to add. Fffffffuuuuuuu … It’s not a huge amount of velocity, but, according to the data, and speaking very broadly, if you increase your wait time from 10 seconds to 25 seconds, you can add about 0.3 mph. For some pitchers who prefer a certain rhythm, it might not be worth the wait, but for others who really want to max out velocity? I kind hope this study doesn’t get out. It is a further confirmation, by the way, of a theory I’ve had: if you want to improve pace of play while simultaneously reducing the soaring strikeout totals that have accompanied rising pitcher velocity, a pitch clock is a two-birds-one-stone situation. And it could be three birds, because fewer strikeouts means more balls in play, which in turn means an even further improvement in pace of play/actual game action.

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  • And sure enough, by the way, pace of play (and length of game) is slowing down this year, often in egregious ways. Hardcore fans like us, we don’t necessarily mind. But more casual fans? New fans? Younger fans? I am convinced that, at the margins, they do care about how much action there is in a game, and how long the game overall lasts. Given that the median age of a baseball fan is in the 50s and increases by one every year, this remains a serious issue for the sport as a whole.
  • Scott Boras says the only time he’s seen Kris Bryant show anxiety: when he’s anticipating donuts (Tribune).
  • Good job, good try, good effort:


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Brett Taylor

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