Jake Arrieta had a pretty bizarre start yesterday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
On the one hand, he lasted just five innings, while giving up three earned runs on nine hits and a walk. In other words, that’s a pretty “meh,” start, when taken at face value. But from another angle, Arrieta struck out 12 batters (out of 15 total outs) and looked fairly dominant throughout the day.
Which is what makes this start so bizarre. While he technically had the type of underlying performance you’d expect on a completely dominant day (12 Ks to just 1 walk), the actual results on the field were quite a bit worse. Check out his numbers before and after the start to see exactly what I mean:
- Before start: 1.56 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 3.15 xFIP
- After start: 1.80 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 2.89 xFIP
His ERA went up by a quarter of a run, but his FIP and xFIP both went down by just as much. So what was it? Was this good or bad? Should we be happy or confused? Well, it’s probably a little bit of everything, but “strangely awesome,” is the most fair representation, and I’ll tell you why.
There’s no question that ringing up 12 batters (52.2% K-rate) is an utterly dominant, difficult thing to do. Doing it in just five innings, however, is nearly unheard of. Consider that if his pitch count weren’t so high, Arrieta would have had a legitimate shot at reaching 20 Ks yesterday without blinking. Moreover, allowing just one walk (4.4% BB-rate), is not only good on its own, but especially encouraging for Arrieta who had shown some early season command issues, before tightening up over his past few starts.
But then there are all the hits. Nine hits is a fair amount for an entire ball game, let alone one pitched by Arrieta … double let alone just 5.0 innings of a game pitched by Arrieta. So what gives? There’s no explaining that, right? Well, not so fast. Nine hits is a lot, of course, but Arrieta’s BABIP yesterday was a hilarious .900. I don’t need to tell you how flukey that is. Sure, baseball is always a game of BABIP – that’s just sorta how it works – but Arrieta is known to yield very soft contact as it is. Put another way, a BABIP that high doesn’t make sense for anyone, but it especially doesn’t make sense for someone like Arrieta. [Brett: Even if all 10 balls in play Arrieta had given up were line drives (they weren’t), you still wouldn’t expect to see nine hits, all else equal. Expected BABIP on line drives is about .700, which means even if they were all liners yesterday, you’d still expect three of those ten to be converted into outs.]
But it wasn’t just the BABIP gods that had it out for Arrieta yesterday. They were joined by the gods of unfair sequencing. Although it wasn’t nearly as outlier-ish, Arrieta’s strand rate yesterday was just 70.0% (all three D-Backs runs came as a result of three or more consecutive hits). Last season it was at 80.0% over 229 innings and it was at 84.8% for the 2016 season, before yesterday’s game happened. So, like with BABIP, his LOB% (strand rate), was low for anyone, but especially low for Arrieta.
All of which (Great K-rate, Great BB-Rate, unsustainably high BABIP, unsustainably low Strand-rate) explains why his peripheral statistics like FIP and FIP can get much, much better from a single start, while the actual results like his ERA and WHIP got worse. But that’s the beauty of being aware of these advanced statistics. If you’re using stats to better project or predict what a certain player might do going forward (like you should), you would be encouraged by a start like this (given the advanced stats), not discouraged by the results. Arrieta looked good, Arrieta was good. It was the happenstance that wasn’t.
And he knows it, because of course he does.
In a series of comments after the game (which you can read here at CSN Chicago, and watch the attending video for his remarks about BABIP and sequencing), Arrieta mentioned that “everything they put in play seemed to be a base hit,” and Joe Maddon later echoed that sentiment saying, “Every time they put a ball in play, it found a hole.” Maddon called Arrieta’s stuff “electric,” and the remarks all seemed to echo the “strangely awesome” theme we’re laying out.
Speaking of that electric stuff, let’s take a look at each of those 12 punch-outs, but let’s do in just 12 seconds (I know we don’t have time to waste):
Yeah, that’s what an utterly dominant start looks like to me, regardless of what else happened.
But we all know Arrieta is dominant. He has been for the past two years and the Cubs hope he’ll still be for the next two years, but remember, that’s as long as they have him under team control.
As of now, Jake Arrieta will be a Chicago Cub until the end of the 2017 season, and then he’ll head to free agency to pick which mega-deal he wants to take from which team. You’ve heard his thoughts on an extension in the past (1. he’d like to stay in Chicago, but 2. he won’t take a home town discount and 3. he’s willing to test the market and bet on himself), and not much has changed.
The two sides loosely worked on an extension this offseason, but according to Jon Heyman at TodaysKnuckleball.com, the two sides are still pretty far apart. How far? Well the Cubs extension was reportedly for four years, while Arrieta’s camp (backed by notoriously tough agent Scott Boras) was pushing for something closer to seven. In fact, Heyman quotes one person familiar with talks having said that two sides are sufficiently far enough apart that “Arrieta will not sign.” Things can change, and perhaps there is a middle ground to be found, but it remains likely that Arrieta will be able to get far more on the open market than what makes sense for the Cubs to give. Given his confidence and belief in himself, I’d say that’s a pretty likely outcome.
But finally, because I don’t want to think about Jake Arrieta not being a Cub, let’s take a look at his new, awesome TV spot for the North Siders (this one is probably my favorite yet):
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 1, 2016
Also, Arrieta is stepping up (not necessarily directly tied to recent external accusations, but a nice response nonetheless):
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 2, 2016
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.