Last night, Jake Arrieta had a great start against the Miami Marlins.
Through six innings, he allowed just two earned runs on two hits and three walks while striking out five batters. At one point he even retired 16(!) batters in a row, before exiting the game at the beginning of the 7th inning. If it weren’t for some bad luck and a botched double play in the first, Arrieta may have been able to go even longer.
So what was last night’s secret sauce? Adjustments.
After giving up a couple walks and a run in a lengthy first, Arrieta decided to change up his game plan based on the conditions and how he felt.
“From that point on, I wanted to utilize the sinker as much as possible, have a few quick innings and get to the seventh,” Arrieta told Cubs.com after the game. “I was relying pretty much exclusively on the sinker and I was pitching to the conditions to force some contact and let the guys play behind me.”
After checking Brooks Baseball this morning, Arrieta wasn’t kidding. Nearly 70% of hits pitches last night were sinkers, with only curveballs (20%) registering more than a blip. And, in case you were wondering, he threw the sinker around 92.8 MPH, and topped out at 95.4 MPH (which is pretty solid for his sinker).
You can watch the highlights from last night’s effort here, but I want to turn our attention back to the big picture.
Adjustments are what allowed Arrieta to succeed during last night’s game. After struggling through some rough patches early, he took stock of some external variables, decided on a change, and then implemented that change perfectly. But, as it turns out, in-game adjustments are not the only kind with which Arrieta’s had success.
Back on May 20, I wrote about a potential mechanical issue Arrieta was facing, wherein the Cubs’ righty was throwing across his body more than he usually does. A day later, Sahadev Sharma caught up with Arrieta and learned that he was aware of that particular issue and had actually already begun making adjustments to correct it.
Well, guess what? It may have worked.
Check out his stats in the four starts since May 21:
Raw: 24.0 IP, 17H, 7BB, 27Ks
Slash: 2.63 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 3.12 xFIP
Rates: 28.4 K%, 7.4 BB%, .195 AVG against
Batted Ball: 51.7 GB%, 11.1 IFFB
In just about every meaningful way possible, Arrieta has been far better in the four starts since May 21 than the eight starts prior.
His groundball rate, perhaps most notably, rose from 40.2% before this stretch to 51.7% during. His infield fly ball rate increased (good sign), his batting average against dropped nearly 100 points (!), and he’s striking out more batters while walking a similar amount.
Again, Arrieta has been better in just about every way possible, and that began on the DAY he admitted to tweaking some of his mechanics. It doesn’t get much more encouraging than that.
Time and again, we discussed advanced metrics that saw something better coming for Arrieta, but even those were relatively tame improvements compared to what we’ve now seen. But that’s probably because before, Arrieta was pitching poorly and getting unlucky. If the luck starts to turn while he makes a mechanical adjustment on the mound, a quick and exciting jump in his numbers is entirely possible.
Heck, it’s probably already happening.