Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta is pitching like a man with something to prove

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

In his first seven starts with the Philadelphia Phillies, former Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta has shown no indication he plans on slowing up anytime soon.

When Jake Arrieta took the ball in Game 5 of last year’s National League Championship Series, we knew it was likely his last start as a Cub. The team was down 3-0 in the series, it was Arrieta’s contract year and the Chicago Cubs front office showed little interest in pursuing him in the offseason.

Arrieta didn’t disappoint with his team’s season on the line. He went 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on three hits against a Los Angeles Dodgers lineup that was absolutely locked in at the time. The bearded right-handed walked off the mound to one last standing ovation at Wrigley Field.

What a run it was

When Arrieta came over from the Baltimore Orioles in late 2013, expectations were low. He was deemed a bust in Baltimore despite having electrifying stuff. Theo Epstein saw an opportunity of a low risk, high reward payoff and made the move.

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In Chicago, Arrieta blossomed into a perennial All-Star. By the end of 2017, he had a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship to his credit. His run in the second half of 2015 was something baseball fans haven’t seen in generations. Call it Bob Gibson-esque, call it Pedro Martinez-esque (depending on what generation you were born), but the fact of the matter is that Arrieta was absolutely unhittable.

He went 16-1 with a 0.86 ERA in the second half of that season. His success rolled over to the Wild Card game when he dominated the Pirates at PNC Park in a complete game shutout.

Big Game Pitcher

While his stats declined over the next two seasons with the Cubs, he still maintained ace-like stuff and showed up in the big moments. Most notably, his two World Series wins. Through the highs and the lows of his career, his work ethic and confidence never wavered. He’s not the type of guy you want to bet against.

Long Offseason

Arrieta was one of the last dominos to fall in free agency, waiting until the latter part of spring training before signing a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Teams were cautious when negotiating with Arrieta, including the Cubs. His velocity was declining, his strike out numbers were down, and he was allowing more hard contact than he did in his prime. All that being said, this wasn’t the guy to pass up on.

He’s been defying the odds his whole career. Disrespect is fuel to a personality like Arrieta’s and he felt like he was worth much more than the contract he ended up settling for. He noted that he wasn’t going to take anything less than how much felt he deserved to be paid annually, and was willing to bet on himself.

Adapting and succeeding

In Arrieta’s first seven starts with the Phillies, he has been worth every dime. He is currently 3-1 with a 2.59 ERA. Arrieta went 7 2/3 innings without allowing a run to the Mets in last night’s outing before his bullpen let him down by giving up the lead in the ninth.

Arrieta is dominating differently than he used to with the Cubs. Recognizing that he doesn’t have the same 95 MPH fastball he used to have, he has embraced a more pitch to contact-centric approach.

So far, Arrieta has only struck out 5.83 batters per nine innings, well below his 8.71 mark from last season. He’s also producing many more ground balls than he has in previous years. His 57.9 percent ground ball rate is the highest its been his entire career. Furthermore, it’s well above his 45.1 percent rate from last season.

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If Arrieta’s going to have success as he gets older, things must change. He knows he’s going to have to do it by inducing soft contact rather than blowing hitters away. Thus far, he’s shown the ability to keep hitters off balance and keep the ball on the ground.

The Cubs may have made a mistake by letting Jake Arrieta walk. The Phillies may have found the perfect guy to help them turn things around.