Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta’s tale of two halves in 2016

Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs’ front office is able to find diamonds in the rough. One trade brought a struggling starter and turned him into one of the best pitchers in the MLB.

JAKE ARRIETA. B+. 197.1 IP, 3.10 ERA, 72 R, 68 ER, 190 K, 76 BB, 1.084 WHIP. SP. Chicago Cubs

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, …” Thus starts Charles Dickens’ classic The Tale of Two Cities, a novel depicting the revolution and resurrection of London, England, and Paris, France, during and after the French Revolution. And, just like these cities, the Chicago Cubs witnessed change and rise to prominence after difficult times. This, in part, is credited to the moves generated by President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein.

One move in particular stands out in significance and success.  On July 2, 2013, a trade sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles for Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta. The swap of players worked out well for the Cubs, especially in terms of Arrieta.

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Jake’s two 2016’s

After a stellar 2015 performance, one that brought a Cy Young Award, Arrieta’s 2016 is a tale of two halves. The first half showed a continuation of previous success. With an ERA of 2.62, Jake finished the first half of the year with a record of 12-4, with 121 strikeouts, 43 walks, and allowing only seven home runs. Opponents batting splits were .197/.276/.288 against Jake. With his second no-hitter in just eight months, Arrieta appeared destined for another season of greatness.

However, that changed during the second half of the season. Arrieta admitted several times to losing the feel for his cutter, and batters took advantage. While their batting average dropped a few points (.191), both on-base percentages and slugging rose to .279 and .331, respectively. That does not seem that great of a rise, yet it led to more walks, fewer strikeouts, and more runs when compared to first half stats. Arrieta finished the second half of the season with a 3.69 ERA, a 6-4 record, 69 strikeouts, 33 walks, and nine home runs. All of this was in five fewer games and 31 less innings than the first half.

The overall season

When looking through all the stats, Arrieta had a solid season. In total, he ended with an 18-8 record with a 3.10 ERA and 190 strikeouts. However, his 68 earned runs and 16 home runs were most he allowed since 2012. As for the 76 walks? The most allowed in his career, by 17. Furthermore, he led the league in wild pitches.

The largest concern for Arrieta came when facing batters for the third time. The first and second times through the lineup, batters hit .163 and .185, respectively. The third time jumped to .241. Arrieta’s ERA in the sixth inning was 6.14 for the season and only made it to the seventh 16 times. Compared to 2015, he made it past the sixth inning 22 times, but his ERA in that inning was also his highest….

At 2.67.

The Future

Arrieta is up for arbitration this year, but 2017 is his final contract year with the Cubs. While contract talks appear to be imminent, it is unclear how much the team is willing to spend. Arrieta could demand top starter money but was the third best pitcher on the team in 2016. His focus on health and fitness, it is conceivable that the 30-year old pitch can perform well for six or seven years. With his recent history–and the fact that teammate Jon Lester signed a six-year $155 million contract–Arrieta may see like money. If no contract is agreed upon, it is speculated that he will earn $16.6 million in arbitration.

Next: Jason Hammel’s inconsistency made him expendible

The Chicago Cubs want to keep Arrieta. Can they afford him? Possibly. But with several contracts of young players needing attention, a huge contract may not be wise. Only time will tell.