After taking yet another no-hit bid into the late innings on Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs’ Jake Arrieta is once again drawing the attention of the baseball world, with many evaluating what type of pitcher he will be in his big league career. Could Chicago have a future bona fide ace in its hand?
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This season, Arrieta has enjoyed the best season of his big league career – limiting opponents to a .208 batting average in a career-high 149 2/3 innings of work spanning 24 starts. The 28-year-old right-hander, who is under team control through the 2017 season, emerged early on as a crucial member of the Cubs pitching staff, further growing into a leadership role in the rotation following the midseason trade of Jeff Samardzija and Scott Feldman to the Oakland Athletics.
Tuesday marked the second time this season Arrieta has taken a no-hit bid into the eighth inning. He’s also flirted with perfect games into the middle innings of contests on several occasions, showcasing his swing-and-miss repertoire that has been on full display for much of the 2014 campaign. According to ESPN, the right-hander has set down the first nine batters of a game five different times this season – the most in all of Major League Baseball. He is also the only pitcher in the big leagues to have more than one no-hit bid go into the seventh inning – both times coming against Cincinnati.
With the Cubs set to move out of rebuilding mode and into contention in the next couple of years, meaning increased free agency spending and trade talks, the role of Arrieta will likely change, as well. Now, he finds himself at the head of a Cubs’ rotation that features two rookies – Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks – as well as a pair of reclamation projects in former Marlins prospect Jacob Turner and former Boston southpaw Felix Doubront. The team’s six-man September rotation is rounded out by Travis Wood, who, after a stellar 2013 campaign, has taken a big step backward this season, pitching to the tune of a 4.86 ERA.
In other words, there’s a lack of established arms in this team’s pitching staff – a fact that’s highly likely to change in the next 12-to-24 months.
"Some point to the fact that he is 4-4 in the season’s second half with a 3.64 earned run average – as opposed to his sterling 1.95 clip from prior to the All-Star Break, when we went 5-1 for the Cubs. However, a closer look at some other numbers indicate that he’s performed just as well, despite the less impressive numbers as the season has worn on."
Opponents batted just .204 against the Missouri native in his first 13 starts, and have hardly fared better in the second half, hitting a minuscule .212 across his 11 starts. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has actually improved as the season’s progressed, from a 3.86 mark to a 4.00 clip following the Midsummer Classic. His WHIP is also similar from the first-to-second half of the season, noting a minor increase from 1.009 to 1.023.
So what do these numbers mean?
That season, the now-28-year-old righty went 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA for the M’s, following up his breakout 2009 campaign with another lights-out performance. Keeping in mind that Hernandez made 34 starts totaling 249 2/3 innings that season, while Arrieta has made just 24 starts totaling 149 2/3 innings – the two have eerily similar numbers.
"Hernandez was no-doubt impressive, limiting opponents to a .202 mark, to go along with a 1.057 WHIP and 3.31 SO/BB ratio. However, this season for the Cubs, Arrieta has a 1.02 WHIP, opponents are hitting just .208 against him and he bests the Mariners ace’s 2010 strikeout-to-walk ratio, as well – coming in at 3.93 on the season."
Granted, there are differences between the two. Arrieta is 28 in his breakout season, while Hernandez picked up a Cy Young Award in 2010 at the age of just 24. The Seattle right-hander was in his sixth professional season at that point, while Arrieta is in just his fourth – also his first full season in Chicago. But both saw their second half numbers drop slightly when compared to the first half marks of their respective campaigns; in fact, Hernandez also saw his WHIP, SO/BB ratio and earned run average increase as the season wore on – much in the same way that the Cubs’ right-hander has in 2014.
With his latest no-hit bid fresh in the minds of the organization and fans alike, it’s quickly becoming clear that the Cubs have an ace in Arrieta – one that could , and likely will, form a formidable front-of-the-rotation combination with acquired pitching in the seasons to come.