Jake Arrieta will be the Chicago Cubs X-factor

This winter has been all gravy for the Chicago Cubs and their fans, especially with addition of Jon Lester – which bolsters the starting rotation – but after him still remains a lot of question marks, ifs, and potential. Can Jason Hammel recreate his stellar first half of last season with the Cubs, before imploding after being traded to Oakland? Is Kyle Hendricks the real deal with his low strikeout per innings rate though it’s a small sample size? Will Jacob Turner ever live up to his first round selection? Caan Joe Maddon help Edwin Jackson regain his form; and will the real Travis Wood please stand up!?

Obviously it takes a team effort to get to the playoffs, and a 2015 playoff berth could come down to a win and your in scenario, then even a wild card play in game. The real key, could be the starting pitcher on the mound on that particular day, and it could come down to a pitcher that wasn’t acquired this off-season but midway through the 2013 campaign.

At 6’4, 225 pounds, Jake Arrieta has always had the build and the “stuff” to be a top of the rotation type guy, but has never been able to put it all together, as they say; some of us are just late bloomers. He possesses an arsenal of pitches that can slow a batter down, speed a batter up and down right buckle some knees. His five pitch mix includes a curveball that sits at 80 mph, with a two-plane break, a four seam fastball that sits 93-95 and tops out at 100 mph, a sinker, a change-up and a slider/cutter hybrid.

After dealing with some shoulder tightness early in spring training, Arrieta was intelligently held back by the Cubs coaching staff. He began his season in the minors, where he dominated in five starts, holding opposing hitters to a .178 batting average. Arrieta finally made his 2014 debut May 3rd and became one the best starters in National League . He owned a 5.23 ERA in 78 career games between 2010-2013, but he looked like an entirely new pitcher this past season.

Per Fangraphs.com: “FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a measurement of a pitcher’s performance that strips out the role of defense, luck, and sequencing, making it a more stable indicator of how a pitcher actually performed over a given period of time than a runs allowed based statistic that would be highly dependent on the quality of defense played behind him.” The lower the number the better, Arrieta posted a dominant FIP of 2.25 in 2014, which would be second best in all of baseball if only the hurler pitched enough innings to qualify.

Its been a long journey for the once former Baltimore Orioles prospect , and one of the biggest hurdles in his career thus far has been his inability to keep runners off the base paths, as he’s always struggled with a high WHIP. In 2014 he limited his walks and home runs as well as anyone, finishing with a career best 0.99 WHIP and allowing only FIVE long balls all year. On three occasions the big righty took a no-hitter past the seventh inning. In a league known predominantly for pitching, Arrietta finished fifth in the National League in wins above replacement for pitchers with a 5.3 WAR.

The 28-year-old made his final start September 24th , finishing off his breakout 2014 with a win versus division rival St. Louis Cardinals and his fourth double-digit strike out performance of the season. Arrieta seems to be coming into his own, concluding his season with a 2.53 ERA, 167 strikeouts in 156 2/3 innings pitched, that’s almost 10 K’s per nine innings and unquestionably was the Cubs ace this past year. Arrieta will be entering his age 29 season, but only has 566 1/3 innings pitched under his belt at the major league level, which means he should have a lot of bullets left his arm and his production should be sustainable. His peripheral numbers suggest that his excellent results were no fluke and though Jon Lester will no doubt be the ace of the staff, Jake Arrieta could be the x-factor.