Yesterday, Jake Arrieta started against the St. Louis Cardinals, won the game and made history in the process. What else is new?
What kind of history did he make? Well, with the win yesterday, the Cubs have now won each of Arrieta’s past 23 starts. That’s a franchise record already, and tied the Major League record set by Kris Medlen and the Braves in 2012.
But yesterday’s performance wasn’t all that great by Arrieta standards, regardless of the fact that he and the Cubs got the win. When his day ended, Arrieta had thrown just 5.0 innings, giving up four earned runs on seven hits (including a homer) and a walk, and had just four Ks. It was not a typical Arrieta start by any stretch of the imagination and he’ll be the first to tell you that.
Arrieta spoke to reporters after the game (MLB.com, ESPN) “I picked a good day to be sh*tty,” Arrieta said to reporters after the game, referencing the nine runs the Cubs put up in support. “I came out and felt really good. My timing was as good as it’s been all year. They put some good swings on some pitches.” That they did.
Yesterday marks the first game in which Arrieta has allowed 4 ER since June 16 of 2015(!). It was also his third five-inning start of the season. For comparisons sake, he lasted 5.0 innings or fewer only twice in 2015, and failed to go a full 6.0 innings only three times total. Some of that is presumably part of the Cubs’ effort to protect him in the early going, but some of it is performance-related.
For their part, Arrieta’s manager and teammates are fully understanding and supportive. “He has not pitched as well as he can yet,” Manager Joe Maddon said, per Cubs.com. “You’ll see the day when he goes out with fastball command and it’ll be the eighth inning with 92 pitches and it’ll be a good day.” Kris Bryant added that the team knows it’s impossible for Arrieta to go out there and blank their opponents every time he takes the mound. He echoes Arrieta’s sentiment that the Cardinals simply “battled” the Cubs yesterday.
Although Arrieta admits that “things got away from him,” on Wednesday, he doesn’t believe the start was all bad, adding “I was throwing a lot of strikes.” And, to that end, he’s right.
Taking a peek into his start at Brooks Baseball yesterday, you’ll notice that Arrieta still got 12 whiffs in just five innings (the exact amount he recored in his no-hitter from earlier this season). That’s equal parts impressive and encouraging. In addition, he didn’t get any help from the umpire, who called three pitches balls that were actually inside the zone and made zero mistakes in the other direction. That may or may not swing a performance too dramatically in any one direction (though sometimes it takes just one pitch), but the point is that Arrieta was getting whiffs and still fooling batters.
And, not that this was ever in question (to be sure, it wasn’t even when he wasn’t successful in Baltimore) Arrieta’s velocity looked fine. His fastball averaged out at 95.5 MPH on the night. The Cardinals were just seeing the ball well and making good contact.
But one bad start does not a trend make – indeed, the fact we can even call that start a “bad start” is evidence of Arrieta’s dominance, dating all the way back to the beginning of 2014. In fact, he’s been so good over that stretch that David Schoenfield openly wonders about his *chances* of entering the Hall of Fame. It’s a really interesting read.
Although there have been several other pitchers that have had singular seasons nearly as good as Arrieta’s 2015 effort, writes Schoenfield, even though none from that group have come close to Cooperstown. That said, Jake Arrieta appears to be a little bit different. First, Schoenfield explains that Arrieta’s shown he’s capable of pitching at a “high Hall of Fame level,” and has done so again into this season (9-0, 1.79 ERA). Second, Arrieta is also one of the best-conditioned athletes in the game, which might help to extend his career longer than many others could have hoped. Given that he’s already 30 years old, though, that second one may be especially important.
But interestingly, his age might not be as much of a factor as you think. Using a chart, Schoenfield points out some excellent, if surprising, statistics from former aces. Namely, the amount of WAR several Hall of Fame members and candidates have put up beyond the age of 29. Of the 22 pitchers listed – including names like Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson, etc. – 12 of them put up 75% or more of their career WAR at the age of 30 or later. Jack Quinn, Randy Johnson and Phil Niekro each put up more than 90% of their career WAR later in life. Of course, the percent of Arrieta’s career WAR after 30 will only matter if he puts up about another 50 or so WAR in his career (far from a guarantee). Which is why Schoenfield closes with a “Arrieta has to have a nice decade.”
Although it’s certainly premature, it is definitely a fun conversation and one that is more possible than I originally thought. But before we start talking about the Hall of Fame, let’s focus on a strong bounce back for Arrieta in his next start (most likely) against the Dodgers.