Jake Arrieta Was Throwing Strikes Early and Often
The outcome of yesterday’s game against the Mets was not the one the Cubs were looking for.
Not only did they lose to an increasingly frustrating New York team, but they did so in the worst (or maybe best) way possible, giving us hope in the bottom of the ninth inning.
But despite the roller coaster journey and disappointing finish, I feel great about yesterday, as a whole.
Why? Because Jake Arrieta was his former, dominant self for seven strong innings – throwing strikes, commanding his pitches and doing so in an effective, efficient manner. Given the rough patch he’s gone through, I’d take that outcome (for yesterday) over a win, 10 times out of 10.
So let’s take a closer look at his start and the comments from after the game, to see exactly what went right and if it’s something he can use going forward. You can watch highlights from the start here and watch his postgame interview below:
On the evening, Arrieta was impressive from start to finish. His final line read 7.0 innings, with 1 earned run (1.29 ERA) on 5 hits (.192 AVG), 1 walk (3.7% BB-rate) and 8 strike outs (29.6% K-rate).
Perhaps more encouragingly, he needed just 85 pitches to get through seven innings, and threw 63 of them for strikes. Before last night, you’ll recall, Arrieta was having trouble commanding his fastball for strikes, which led to – among other things – more balls, which led to more walks, which led to very inefficient/short outings.In just one night, however, he simultaneously confirmed what we thought to be the problem and showed that if he could fix it, he would immediately be back to his 2014-2015 form.
But it’s not just about throwing strikes in general. Instead, it’s about throwing strikes and challenging batters early in the count. And that’s just what Arrieta did.
“That’s when I’m at my best, when I’m challenging guys right away from the first pitch and putting them on the defensive side and making them swing the bat,” Arrieta told Cubs.com after the game. “I expect to pitch more like this as far as the aggressiveness and keeping the ball down in the strike zone.” Arrieta faced 27 batters in his 7.0 innings last night, throwing a first pitch strike in 74.1% of the plate appearances. In his previous three outings that number was just 52.6%, so last night represents an enormous improvement.
That said, Arrieta’s approach should be focused on challenging hitters in the zone (early in the count or not), because even when they do make contact, it tends to be exceedingly weak. In 2016, Jake Arrieta has induced the tenth most soft contact (22.2%) and sixth lowest hard contact (25.1%) in all of baseball. His stuff, for a number of reasons, is just difficult to square up and hit well. Challenging hitters and allowing his defense to make the plays behind him, will help Arrieta last longer into his outings, because it’ll take him fewer pitches to get there. Last night was a perfect example of that, and I expect him to continue doing so going forward.