Jake Arrieta’s last two starts have been of the spectacularly implosive variety, yielding a 7-0 lead in one and giving up a grand slam to the fourth batter of the game in the next. Neither start made it two innings, and each came after it was already reasonable to want the Cubs to move on from the 2021 version of Arrieta. His ERA was 7.12 over his 10 starts BEFORE the Milwaukee implosion, and nothing in the peripherals or Statcast data suggests it is anything but deserved. Unfortunately, he cannot locate his pitches whatsoever, and the pure stuff is considerably down since the start of the year (including a very noticeable drop in his spin rate over the past month).
We all know it’s time for the Cubs to move on, even if Arrieta is resolute in believing he is far from finished.
“No, not even close,” Arrieta said when asked after the game if he thought he was nearing the end of his career. “This sucks. Really, it does. But I’m not going to hang my head. I’m going to continue to work. I’m going to do whatever needs to be done. The stuff is too good. I still have a lot left in the tank. There’s no question about that. The stuff plays. The execution’s not there. It hasn’t been for a while. But I’ve been in similar situations in my career. I’ve been in worse situations than this.”
Maybe so. And maybe Arrieta does figure some things out and become competitive again. But if that were to happen, it would happen despite the weight of evidence screaming that it will not after four years of consistent decline in every way you could evaluate the 35-year-old. It’s hard to watch this playing out in a Cubs uniform, and while I don’t love the idea of the Cubs having to dump him, I don’t see how Arrieta makes another start for the Cubs.
As you would expect, David Ross demurred when asked about Arrieta’s rotation spot after the game: “I’ve got to look at that. We’ve got a lot going on. Eleven losses in a row. I think there’s a lot to look at. I’ll wrap my brain around this one tonight and try to attack the problems in the morning.”
Ross still wants to believe in Arrieta, though he knows his heartstrings might be getting to him a bit.
“I’ve seen him at his best,” Ross said, per The Athletic. “I still feel like there’s a better version of him in there somewhere. It’s on him and us to try to figure out how to unlock that. I’ve seen too many good outings to believe this version of him. Maybe that’s me being naive, but I know that there’s more in there. This guy’s meant so much to the franchise, to me personally, that it’s a hard thing for me to wrap my brain around.”
Totally get all that. But there was a certain hope for what Arrieta could possibly be for the Cubs this year, and it just hasn’t worked out. And it hasn’t worked out in the precise way that you would have projected in advance if you were told it wasn’t going to work out. That is to say, while you hoped for a nice transition into a back-end, contact-managing innings eater, you feared a guy who just got hammered a lot. Worth the shot in a year like this? Yes. But it didn’t work, and it didn’t work out in a way that makes it feel very real and not flukey.
With Trevor Williams back and pitching multiple innings on the same night, it would be very easy for him to simply take that next turn on Sunday, instead of Arrieta. The Cubs could, at this point, DFA Arrieta and let him try to catch on with another organization, or they could put him on the Injured List and re-assess after the All-Star break (if he’s, well, injured). Either way, starting Arrieta on Sunday serves no real purpose other than to keep hoping on something for which there is no basis in objective reality. Moreover, let’s get really real: there’s a teeny tiny chance that Williams pitches himself into being one of those depth starters a team picks up at the deadline in a very minor trade. There is no such chance on that front for Arrieta.
I suppose your only justification for starting Arrieta on Sunday is to be able to say you gave him the full first half of the season, and, since wins and losses sure don’t seem like they matter anymore, it’s whatever. Plus, if the eventual plan is to allow Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele to make some second half starts, this would buy them a little more time to stretch out.