This has not been Jake Arrieta’s season, and one start alone is not going to change that.
I know it, you know it. That’s fine. But yesterday, he made one really good start against the Cincinnati Reds and it’s certainly worth a closer look.
You can watch the highlights from Jake’s start here, but in short, he allowed just one hit and two walks in his seven full innings pitched. He also struck out six batters and earned his highest Game Score (82) of the season. In fact, yesterday’s start was the second best by Game Score for the Cubs this year:
Jon Lester – 93 v. San Francisco Giants
Jake Arrieta – 82 v. Cincinnati Reds
John Lackey – 80 v. Colorado Rockies
And, in reality, given the varying qualities of the offenses each pitcher faced, you can argue that Arrieta’s start was the most impressive. After all, the Reds rank 10th in the league by wRC+ and 7th by wOBA, whereas the Giants (27th, 30th) and the Rockies (30th, 14th) are the clearly worse offenses. (Did you see that coming?)
But let’s get more into the start, itself.
Arrieta was relatively efficient in this one, needing just 100 pitches to go 7.0 innings – only the third time this year he’s gone that deep in a game. He didn’t get a ton of whiffs (8) in this one, but he got way more soft contact (31.3%) than he does usually (21.4%) and, get this, allowed absolutely NO hard contact (0.0% for the day).
In case you were wondering, he was sitting 92 – 93 MPH, but reached up to 95.1 MPH with his sinker, so he had some velocity when he needed it. But he’s not crediting his fastballs or slowly improving velocity for his success. Instead, he’s crediting his new and improved changeup.
“My progress with the changeup is coming along real nice,” he said via the Chicago Sun Times. “I’m getting more comfortable with it. It’s just allowing me to open up some more doors and be able to do some different things to right-handers as well as lefties. It’s a big pitch for me.” Arrieta’s not wrong. It was a big pitch for him yesterday.
By the end of the 7th, Arrieta threw 14 changeups – which was ultimately his third most utilized pitch, behind the curveball (16) and sinker (56). However, he got by far the most whiffs out of it (4). And with about 6 MPH of separation from his fastball, with tremendous movement, it’s not too hard to see why it works.
According to FanGraphs, Arrieta threw his changeup more yesterday than he has in all but two other starts this season (though, to be sure, neither of those other two starts were very successful). His changeup was his most valuable pitch yesterday and earned its second highest value rating of the season (7.64). Perhaps the improvement he’s cited is a more recent development and we’re about to see a real change in his productivity thanks to a newly-improved pitch.
And, hey, maybe we’ve already seen a significant change. If you recall, Arrieta discussed a mechanical adjustment back on May 20, one day before his start against the Brewers. Since then, he’s made nine starts (51.0 IP) and has worked a 3.35 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.79 xFIP. Which, whoa … thats actually really, really good.
If he did that for a whole season, his ERA would rank 16th best in baseball, while his FIP ranked 23rd and his xFIP 2oth. Of course, you can’t just lop off a pitcher’s bad starts and say BOOM! here’s a good pitcher. But if you’re trying to see if something will change or may already be different, then there’s a whole lot to be learned in nine straight starts following a mechanical adjustment.
It’s way too soon to say Arrieta is “back,” (he may never fully be back), but with a new pitch working well and some improved velocity, he may just be able to stretch those past nine starts into another nine. And by then, who knows, maybe his season will look a whole lot different.