After winning the National League Cy Young award in 2015, Jake Arrieta established himself at the Chicago Cubs’ ace. In 2016, that has not been the case.
It was a magnificent run. The second half of the 2015 season for Jake Arrieta was something to behold. He started 15 games, winning 12 and allowing nine earned run. He struck out 113 and walked 23. It was magical and a huge reason the Chicago Cubs made the playoffs.
The 2016 season started with great fanfare, and Arrieta was designated as the Cubs ace. The opening month showed similar promise to the magical second half of last year. Arrieta featured a 1.00 ERA with five wins, including a no-hitter, in April. It helped that the offense was supporting him with no less than six runs a game.
But if you watch the Chicago Cubs games regularly, something is off with Arrieta. His fastball does not seem to have as much life or late motion. The breaking ball is flatter. It is just not the same Jake Arrieta. It is not bad, but just not the pitcher we as fans hoped to see. Especially during the second half of this year.
Sure, he has won four of his eight starts since July 10, and batters are hitting .158 against him. However, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 1.82. And, in August, it was 1.38, the lowest it has been since he joined the Cubs in 2013. For reference, in all of 2015, his SO/W ratio was 4.92. That split is for the first and second halve of the season individually.
There are three potential hypotheses for the lack of control as we saw last year. First, there is the pressure to repeat the Cy Young performance. History supports this thought as there are rarely repeat winners for consecutive years. At least in the America League. But, when you look at the National League, as seen several. Clayton Kershaw won it in 2013 and 2014, Tim Lincecum in 2008 and 2009, and Randy Johnson from 1999 to 2002.
Secondly, Arrieta has thrown to three different catchers this year. His main catcher is Miguel Montero, but his performance offensively is concerning. When Montero went on the disabled list, Tim Federowicz was behind the plate for Arrieta. Now, Willson Contreras is his catcher. It is hard to remain consistent when you have different catchers with differing style calling the game. In 2015, it was mostly Montero behind the plate.
The third, and most plausible, would be the lack of offensive run support. From opening day through May 25, the offense scored less than six runs one time. It was a no-decision for Arrieta. Since then, they have scored six or more only six times in 16 games. In five of those games, they scored two or less. In 2015, during the Cubs scored two or fewer runs for Arrieta three times in the second half. Even so, he did not allow runs.
The issues for Jake Arrieta could be many things. The pressure to perform, the worry of repeating the performance, the catchers, or even the concern of performing well in the playoffs. Regardless, he is not the ace we hoped for this season. It is my opinion that Jon Lester has taken that role.
But when it comes to the playoffs, the Chicago Cubs will be wise to consider starting Arrieta on the road. He is by far the best pitcher in the rotation on the road, while Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks are far better at Wrigley Field. Arrieta is has won 10 of his 13 starts away from home, while only six of 13 at home.
If the Cubs are to win the World Series, they will need to win one game on the road each series. Arrieta gives them the best chance to do so. Maybe he is the pitcher we need in that spot.