Baseball is unpredictable. Whether it’s the teams or the players, it seems the sports parity will never stop. That is what makes it great, and for Cubs fans, we have seen that unpredictability happen right in front of us. Jake Arrieta went from an inconsistent flamethrower to the most dominant pitcher in the majors in 2015. His eight-year road to success has been different than his award-winning predecessors and really embraces the embodiment of baseball.
The Texas native had a successful college career at TCU where he led the NCAA in wins his sophomore year with 14. After a solid junior season, the Baltimore Orioles took him in the 5th round of the 2007 MLB draft. Arrieta pitched well during his three-year minor league stint and made his Major League debut on June 10th, 2010 against the New York Yankees. He went 6 innings with 6 k’s while allowing three earned runs in route to a win. The righty would go on to finish his rookie season 6-6 with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.535 WHIP. His rookie numbers were inflated, but he had flashes against a loaded AL East that showed he could be a viable mid-line starter. He was the home opener starter for both the 2011 and 2012 seasons and earned wins in both starts, but his career was a constant bounce between Triple-A and the majors due to his inconsistency on the mound. After four seasons with Baltimore, Arrieta owned a 20-25 record with a 0.3 WAR.
On July 2nd, 2013 the Baltimore Orioles were fighting for an AL East title and ended up trading Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop to Chicago for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger. After the acquisition, Arrieta started in Triple-A Iowa making five starts before his debut for the Cubs on July 30th against the Milwaukee Brewers. He earned a no-decision after pitching six innings and giving up only one earned run. He had another short stint in Iowa before being recalled to finish the 2013 season in Chicago. In nine starts for the Cubs, the newly acquired Arrieta impressed with a 3.66 ERA in 51 innings with a 1.123 WHIP. It was the best stretch of the pitchers young career and it had seemed that the change of scenery had done him some good.
The 2014 season found Arrieta as a staple in the Cubs rotation making 25 starts. He posted a career best 2.53 ERA and an even more impressive 5.3 WAR. In 156 innings, Arrieta struck out 167 batters while only walking 41. In my opinion, two of the biggest roles in Arrieta’s resurgence can be found in Chris Bosio and a change in his windup. Since joining the Cubs in 2013, Bosio has helped turn around many of the journeyman pitchers that have found themselves in Chicago. Working together to change a few nuances in his windup, Arrieta honed the command of his fastball and slider. He was missing more bats and inducing more ground balls than he had throughout his career. Major league hitters and coaches alike were taking notice and it even resulted in a few Cy Young votes as he finished ninth in voting. That season gave us just a glimpse of what his talent could really produce.
The term “video game stats” is often hyperbole when describing an athlete’s season, unless you’re talking about Jake Arrieta in 2015. At the All-Star break, he had already matched his career high in wins with 10 and had 123 strikeouts in 121 innings. The continuous trend upwards as a pitcher was no longer surprising, but what he would produce in the second half was nothing the baseball world had seen to date. In 107 innings, Jake would only allow nine earned runs. Hitters only batted .148 with 76 total bases and a .205 slugging percentage. To put that in perspective, Arrieta himself slugged .341 with a .195 batting average during the second half. Technically, I guess you could say he was a better hitter than the guys he faced. On August 30th against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arrieta’s season came to a culmination of sorts. In his 14th straight quality start, the Dodgers would go hitless against the best pitcher in the National League. He struck out 12 and ended the month of August a perfect 6-0.
Video Credit: MLB.com
In total, he finished 2015 at 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA (2.35 FIP) and an absurd 0.865 WHIP. He also led the league in complete games and shutouts while posting an 8.7 WAR. In November, he took home the NL CY Young award over Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. He was the first Cub to win the award since Greg Maddux in 1992.
Looking forward to 2016 most projections have Arrieta pitching well again. His Steamer projections have him winning 15 games with a 2.93 ERA (2.94 FIP) and a 5.2 WAR. PECOTA is a little more reserved projecting him to win 14 games with a 3.07 ERA and a 3.6 WARP. He will pitch for the Cubs through the 2016 season (ARB eligible in 2017) if he doesn’t sign an extension before then. It has become public knowledge that the two parties have spoken about an extension, but I believe it will be push into next offseason before anything is done. Regardless, Arrieta is in Cubs blue for another two seasons and it gives the World Series favorites an edge at the top of the rotation.