The 35-year-old hurler is coming off a bad season in 2020, with a 5.08 ERA; and he wasn’t much better in 2019, when he finished with a 4.64 ERA in a much larger sample of 135.2 innings.
Chicago is where Arrieta had his best years, including a Cy Young award in 2015.
That year, he was marvelous, compiling a phenomenal 22-6 record and finishing with a 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP and 236/48 K/BB ratio over 229 innings.
He is a shell of that pitcher nowadays, but it is fair to wonder whether the Cubs, who inked Arrieta to a one-year, $6 million contract with a $10 million mutual option for 2022, still has something left in the tank to help Chicago.
Jake Arrieta Signs One-Year Deal With Cubs Worth $6 Million – Beyond The Ivy https://t.co/xtw2sS531Z
— Beyond The Ivy (@beyondtheivypod) February 14, 2021
Arrieta has a rotation spot locked up in the Cubs’ rotation to start the year.
The pitcher himself recently said that arm slot issues have led to his poor performance in recent seasons.
He had knee issues in 2018 and underwent elbow surgery in 2019, so health could have also been a factor in derailing his mechanics.
As he recently told The Athletic:
“My arm slot wasn’t where it needed to be, it wasn’t as effective. I was more on the side of the baseball. My off-speed didn’t necessarily have the depth and the late life that I’m accustomed to. That’s what we’re working on to get back to.”
Does Arrieta Have Anything Left In The Tank?
Arrieta, currently 35 years old, deserves the benefit of the doubt if he says injuries affected his pitching mechanics, and he will get a chance to show what he can do now that he is healthy.
However, expectations should be tempered, given his advanced age and the natural decline usually associated with it.
And the numbers aren’t working in his favor, either.
His strikeout rate in his last season with the Cubs was 23.1%, in 2017.
After joining the Phillies in 2018, the number declined all the way to 19.1%, the first time he was under 20% since 2013.
During the 2019 campaign, there was another decline in strikeout rate, at 18.5%, and the number went further down in 2020, at 16.8%.
An Alarming Trend Clouds Jake Arrieta’s Outlook
The trend is very clear: his strikeout rate has been going down for six straight years, as it started at 27.2% in 2014 and ended at 16.8% last year.
It’s hard for a pitcher to be successful if he is not missing bats, as strikeouts are the easiest paths to outs in the major leagues.
It also doesn’t help that Arrieta allowed his highest hard-hit rate since the Statcast era at 38.3%.
A lack of strikeouts and a high hard-hit rate against won’t get Arrieta too far, but if he is truly healthy and can get his mechanics under control, he could potentially contribute league-average innings in the back of the Cubs’ rotation.
He recently adjusted his delivery to increase the effectiveness of his curveball and has been decent in spring training, so for the Cubs, it makes sense to see if he has anything left.
Jake Arrieta's curve has looked as good as ever and he's sharing his knowledge with young pitchers. With guidance from Arrieta, Alzolay is seeing progress as well. “My last two games I’ve been able to throw my curveball for a strike whenever I want to.” https://t.co/n0Q4jhPx4w
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) March 20, 2021