December 13th, 2014 marked the day that the Chicago Cubs broke open the pocket book and splurged on their first big-name free agent since entering the rebuilding phase.
At six years and $155 million, Jon Lester not only became the highest paid player for the Cubs, but also the highest paid player in the history of Chicago sports.
One slot below in the Cubs staff, Jake Arrieta is being paid peanuts compared to Lester – and he’s arguably the better pitcher.
It’s not often the star that shines brightest is overshadowed, but in the case of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, this rings true.
Since being traded to the Cubs in July of 2013, Arrieta has taken full advantage of his change in scenery. Oddly enough, Arrieta thought that calling it a change of scenery was the best way to put it when he was traded.
Arrieta on change of scenery: “I think that is really the best way to look at it. This is something that is going to do me a lot of good."
— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) July 2, 2013
Little did we know that ’a lot of good’ would mean Arrieta was transforming into one of the top starting pitchers in the game. He finished out 2013 on a positive note, but nobody had lofty expectations heading into last season.
It was during the 2014 season that he left hitters dumbfounded in 156.2 innings of work, to the tune of a 2.53 ERA and a 2.26 FIP (fielding-independent-pitching, something you want lower than your ERA). Unfortunately, 156.2 innings isn’t enough to be considered a qualified starter for a full season, but when that number is lowered to 150 innings the results are quite crazy.
Of pitchers to throw 150 innings, the only MLB starter to post a better FIP than Jake Arrieta was Clayton Kershaw. In addition, he posted the sixth-best K%, eighth-best K/BB%, and second-best average against, behind only Kershaw again.
If you’re not sure, those advanced statistics indicate Arrieta was ridiculously good in 2014.
Last season was a career high in innings pitched for him, so it’s reasonable to be hesitant about him replicating those results this season. He’s already off to a good start in 2015, so sustainability is the only question.
It wouldn’t be outlandish to predict that Arrieta will have will have a better season than Lester. In fact, I think he’ll outpitch Lester.
But that doesn’t change the perception of the almighty dollar, and the fact that Arrieta will continue to be overshadowed by Lester.
You see, the 29-year-old will make $3.63 million this season, a sizable raise over the $544,500 he made in 2014. If Arrieta does replicate his 2014 season, the Cubs will likely open up contract negotiations with him this winter.
But until they do, Jon Lester is the new guy in town, and he’s got the massive contract to live up to. I mean come on, the guy gets a $15 million dollar signing bonus on top of the $15 million he’ll make this season.
Lester has his struggles – like not being able to throw to first base because he has a case of the ‘yips’ – and that’s all the media needs for a story. It gives them a reason to be critical, and you sure as hell know that he will be under the microscope all season and beyond.
Meanwhile, Arrieta doesn’t have to deal with any of this. If he struggles, so what? It wouldn’t be the first time a pitcher was a one-hit wonder. He doesn’t have the pressure of a huge contract hanging over his head – and no matter how well he pitches, he’ll always be viewed as second in town to Lester.
And that’s what makes Jake Arrieta the most important pitcher in the Cubs starting rotation. Jon Lester will be fine, and he’ll deal with the pressure because he’s a known commodity. That’s why he got $155 million.
But the unknown commodity – Arrieta – can be the team’s second ace that they’re paying next to nothing for. If he takes full advantage of Lester taking the media heat like he capitalized on his trade to Chicago, then the Cubs will have two aces for the price of one.
And for a team that needs consistent starting pitching to complement their massive arsenal of young bats, it doesn’t get more important than that.