Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta certainly has a lot of things going for him these days. He’s the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. He’s the ace on a team that’s the favorite to win the World Series which would end the longest championship drought in professional sports and cement his place in MLB history. He’s in tremendous physical shape and he’s not afraid to show it off. He’s won 16 games already this season, and his 2.84 ERA and 1.05 WHIP are once again among the best in the game. However, despite all of these great things that Arrieta has working in his favor, he’s actually been in somewhat of a slump recently. Over his last twelve starts, Arrieta is just 5-4 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. These are certainly not terrible results, but it almost feels like blind luck when he delivers the finishing blow to his opponents these days. So what’s going on here? Is Arrieta’s slide just the result of bad luck in a relatively small sample size or something more concerning?

Let’s take a look at Arrieta’s profile to determine if his recent production is just a blip in the radar or a sign of things to come. Here are a few thoughts and observations:

His walk rate is up and his strikeout rate is down. Over his first 15 starts this season, Arrieta’s 9.83 K/9 was actually higher than his 9.28 K/9 rate from his 2015 Cy Young campaign and his 9.59 K/9 from his 2014 breakout season. Over his last 12 starts dating back to June 27th, his K-rate has fallen all the way down to a 7.22 K/9. Conversely, his 3.47 BB/9 is nearly double his 1.89 BB/9 rate from last season, and it’s risen from 3.21 over his first 15 starts this year to 3.79 over his last 12. A big reason for the regression in these areas is the fact that…

Hitters aren’t chasing pitches that are out of the strike zone as often as they used to. Arrieta’s opponents’ O-Swing% has dropped from 34.2% last season to 29.4% this season, or a whopping 4.8% decline in chase percentage. This more disciplined approach by opposing hitters may also help to explain why his SwStr% has fallen from 11.3% over his first 15 starts this year to just 8.7% over his last 12. Another reason that hitters aren’t chasing or swinging and missing as much anymore is that…

His slider isn’t as effective as it used to be. Arrieta’s opponents managed just a .508 OPS against his slider last season, but that number has risen more than 200 points to a .710 OPS against that particular offering this year. The good news is that Arrieta has recognized this issue and cut his slider usage from 28.9% last year to 17.9% this year, but the bad news is that one of baseball’s best pitches from a year ago has lost much of it’s effectiveness. Arrieta’s subsequent reliance on his inferior offerings this season has resulted in a…

Spike in home runs allowed. Arrieta’s HR/9 rates were just 0.29 and 0.39 over the previous two seasons, but that number has jumped to a 0.67 HR/9 this season. That’s still a solid ratio to be sure, but he’s allowed the majority of these longballs over this recent stretch (0.28 HR/9 over his first 15 starts of ’16; 1.18 HR/9 over his last 12). Perhaps another reason that Arrieta hasn’t been as sharp recently is the fact that…

He’s had one of the heaviest workloads in MLB since the beginning of last season. Arrieta is one of just eight MLB pitchers who have thrown at least 400 regular season innings since the start of the 2015 campaign. If you include postseason innings, Arrieta ranks third behind Max Scherzer and David Price. The difference between Arrieta and those other pitchers is that Arrieta had never pitched more than 176 combined innings in any professional season prior to last year’s whopping 248.2 combined total. He’s piled on another 174 innings thus far this season with a month remaining in the regular season. Fatigue and/or soreness could certainly be factors.

Bottom line: While it would be unrealistic to expect Arrieta to duplicate his historic 2015 season this season, there certainly has been a fairly significant drop off in production. His once dominant slider doesn’t appear to be so dominant at the moment, he’s walking more hitters, and he’s allowing more balls to leave the yard. Given his heavy workload over the past couple of seasons as well as the likelihood that the Cubs will want to keep him as fresh as possible for the postseason, I’d expect underwhelming numbers from Arrieta over the next few weeks.

Final Verdict:

Brown Bear Walking in Snow

  1. Mike Honcho says:

    Bull or Bear…Jake deGrom?
    Bull or Bear…Mike Fulmer?

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:

      @Mike Honcho: deGrom is a Bear. He’s been shut down with forearm soreness for the time being and might end up just missing the rest of the season. Fulmer is a Bull. He’s only had one bad start recently and that was against Boston (who have been crushing everyone). He’s unlikely to be shut down early or skipped until possibly the last week of the season with Detroit fighting for a playoff spot.

  2. Vacoarrfb says:

    Bear or bull on Duffy, DeSclafani, and Hernan Perez in a keeper league? All are $5 next year.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:

      @Vacoarrfb: I like Duffy the most out of that bunch. His stuff didn’t drop off after moving from the pen to the rotation, and he’s in a great situation.

      Perez is interesting. I think he’s playing a bit over his head, and his plate discipline isn’t great, but players with 20+ steal speed, a little bit of pop, and positional versatility aren’t very common. I think he’s worth that price.

      DeSclafani has good stuff, but he’s had injury issues and pitches in a hitter’s park for a bad team. Probably pass on him unless your other keeper options aren’t that appealing.

      • Vacoarrfb says:

        @Big Magoo:

        Thanks! I had the same order so we’re on the same page. I don’t think I’ll have room for Hernan since I can only keep 6 and also have Arenado at $16, Correa at $10, Desmond at $8, Dahl at $5, and Bregman at $5.

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