Well, the Cubs may have lost last last nights’ finale against the Reds, but that was no fault of the pitcher, Jake Arrieta.
Because for the eighth start in a row, Arrieta was mostly excellent: 5.2 IP, 4H, 0ER, 3BB, 8Ks. And in fact, had he gotten just one more out, he would’ve continued an eight-game streak of 6.0 IP and 2 or fewer earned runs dating back to the All-Star Break.
So yeah, he’s been pretty good for a while now and we’re going to take a closer look, starting with last night’s performance. The highlights of which, you can watch below (starting around the 0:23 mark).
According to Brooks Baseball, Arrieta recorded nine whiffs last night (which, in 5.2 innings is neither amazing nor terrible), the majority of which came off his sinker (6). And speaking of his sinker, he threw that for an average of 93.2 MPH last night, reaching up to 95.3 MPH at its height. His velocity may still (and forever) be down from years’ past, but it’s certainly up from the beginning of the season.
But not everything was great last night, despite the results. For one, Arrieta got just a 25.0% ground ball rate, which is well below his 45.4% season average (29th in MLB), and also didn’t get a ton of soft contact, either (15.4%). Of course, on the flip side, Arrieta did his part to limit the hard contact (28.2%) and struck 33.3% of the batters he faced, so, you know, the good at least matched the bad.
And speaking of that contact management, Arrieta’s 28.2% hard-hit rate this season is now tied for 6th best in baseball with Clayton Kershaw. Meanwhile, even with last night’s start dragging him down a bit, his 21.0% soft-contact rate ranks 15th best overall. And when you pair great contact management, with a good ground ball rate, plenty of strikeouts and a manageable walk rate, you’re going to be one of the best pitchers in baseball … and that’s just what Arrieta is.
For the season as a whole, Arrieta’s 3.49 ERA ranks 15th in MLB, while his 3.87 FIP ranks 21st. His 2.98 K/BB ratio is among the top 25 and by WAR (2.7) he ranks 21st. When you’re looking at the season as a whole, Arrieta may not be among the top 5-10 pitchers in baseball like he was from 2014-2015, but he’s still among the very best.
But like I said, that’s when you’re looking at the season as a whole. If we shorten our horizon to the All-Star break, Arrieta’s 1.78 ERA through eight starts is second best in MLB, while his 3.31 FIP drops to 13th in MLB (5th in NL).
Usually, at this point, I like to try to identify one specific thing our focus needs to address to improve going forward, but that’s a bit more difficult with Arrieta right now. While very few of his season-long stats are elite, they’re all pretty damn good. Compared to the league averages, he strikes out more guys, walks fewer, gets enough ground balls, induces a ton of weak contact, and limits the hard contact. When those five things are working for you at once, it’s as hard to pinpoint a specific area of improvement as it is easy to understand the success.
And when you consider that Arrieta’s been lasting deeper into ball games lately (12th most innings by any pitcher in the second half), getting a tad more velocity, and doing all of this with a higher than his-average BABIP, lower than his-average strand rate, and higher than his-average HR/FB ratio (meaning he’s been unlucky across the board) all I can do is shrug and think to myself … well, this is working out at precisely the right time.