Jake Arrieta Was Solid Again Last Night, Being the Guy the Cubs Need Him to Be

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Jake Arrieta Was Solid Again Last Night, Being the Guy the Cubs Need Him to Be

Chicago Cubs

We are so far removed from the nightly no-hitter watch Jake Arrieta used to deliver throughout his first stint with the Chicago Cubs. But one day before the five-year anniversary of his second career no-hitter, Arrieta held the Mets hitless through the first three innings of the game … and you could just tell by the broadcast, even that early in the game, that Boog Sciambi was hoping the first hit of the night (a slicing, opposite field single in the fourth) was going to find Joc Pederson’s glove. We were all hoping it.

Alas. Jake wasn’t no-hit-level last night, but he was really dang good.

Relatively speaking, Arrieta has already been really solid so far this year.

Arrieta has won three of the four starts he’s made, allowing just 7 earned runs and 20 hits through his first 22.0 innings pitched. It’s nothing stellar – and there have been warts along the way – but his results have been good and he’s also *looked* really good at times. Both in terms of stuff (that’s where we’ll start) and game plan.

Last night, for example, Arrieta came out heavy with his sinker, and it was working. Well. He netted five whiffs on that pitch alone (10 total for the night), for his highest swinging strike rate of the season. Just look at this beauty:

As the game went on, however, Arrieta began shifting towards his changeup, particularly against the lefties (against whom it pairs so nicely with his sinker), and that pitch was also equal parts effective and mesmerizing:

Altogether, Arrieta allowed three walks and netted four strikeouts through five innings, which brings his strikeout rate up to 19.4% for the year (still low, but better than it had been throughout his time with the Phillies) while keeping his walk rate at a serviceable 8.6%. He also got six groundouts over those five innings.

“I’m throwing the ball the way I expect to throw it,” Arrieta said via Cubs.com. “There’s things I could do better, for sure. You take what you have at your disposal, and you use it to the best of your ability and try to help the team win.”

The second-half of that quote is the money-line, for me though. Arrieta knows who he is and who he isn’t these days.

Which brings us to game-planning and execution. We all know Arrieta isn’t the guy he was 4-5 years ago, and not just because of the significant drop in velocity. He’s 35 years old now, and he needs to take a page out of Jon Lester’s book by figuring out what’s working and what’s not on any given night, make a decision to adjust the game plan on the fly, and execute on that decision throughout the rest of his start. That is not always an easy thing to do – indeed, it’s why Lester aged so gracefully relative to other starters his age – but it’s exactly what Arrieta did so well yesterday:

It’s tough to determine what exactly Arrieta’s ceiling looks like this year, and like I said there are still concerns (for example, his average exit velocity and launch angle are both elevated, so we’ll keep an eye on that). But as of now, he’s making it work by being the newly-crafty veteran that he is.

So while the expected stats say things should be a good bit worse than they have been, we also know that guys like “35-year-old Jake Arrieta” tend to find ways to succeed that exist beyond the purview of our familiar advanced analytics. If he can be some version of himself throughout the rest of the season (5-6 IP, keeps his team in the game), he’ll be very useful all season.

And since today *IS* the anniversary of that second no-hitter, how about we enjoy a little more Arrieta:

I’m not sure where to put this, but it feels only fair to point out that the Mets offense has been struggling mightily this season and it was a particularly tough night to hit. Even still, this is not just a “big league lineup,” this is a really good big league lineup, loaded with offensive threats and Wrigley isn’t some massive cavernous park. Maybe the factors were working to Jake’s advantage, or maybe he pitched to the conditions successfully, or maybe it was a combination of a lot of things. I don’t really think we need to discount his performance too much, though I did think it merited at least this little flourish here at the end of the post. OK, bye!

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami