Cubs: Jake Arrieta proving it’s better to be gutsy than good

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Through two starts, Cubs starter Jake Arrieta’s baseball card numbers look pretty good.

He’s 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 2.69 FIP. The bearded right-hander has not allowed a home run this season and Chicago’s won both of his outings. But that’s not to say he’s cruised, either. In his second start of the year on Thursday, Arrieta really had to buckle down to get the job done.

"“That’s what a veteran pitcher does, a guy of his status,” Cubs manager David Ross said after the game. “When you’re not feeling your best and things aren’t sharp, and you’re walking guys, you can’t find your rhythm, they still find a way to compete.”"

Not feeling your best is probably the easiest way to describe the veteran early in that start. He looked really uncomfortable on the mound and was forcing things – and it showed in his pitch counts, namely the 54 pitches he needed to get through the first three innings.

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But he kept grinding and, somehow, he wound up gutting his way through six innings, allowing just a pair of runs. That made him a perfect 2-for-2 in quality starts this year, doing his part to help will the Cubs to wins as the offense continues to struggle.

So it’s all sunshine and daisies, right? Not so fast.

If you look at Baseball Savant, the data paints a wildly different picture – one of a pitcher who’s been fortunate to pitch as well as he has to this point. He ranks in the bottom 17 percent of pitchers in whiff rate and the bottom third of the league in xSLG, xwOBA and  average exit velocity, and some other metrics are worrisome, as well.

Although he’s yet to allow a home run, Arrieta’s fly ball rate has sharply risen while his ground ball rate has plummeted. The difference in his strikeout and walk rates are negligible, and given his waning velocity and reliance on control, this fly ball rate (which would easily be the highest of his career) is particularly worrisome.

Cubs hoping Jake Arrieta can defy the numbers and the odds

Heading into the season, virtually every preseason projection was low on what Arrieta would offer the Cubs. He’s proven them wrong to this point, but it’ll take the right-hander keeping the ball on the ground more often if he’s to sustain his early success.

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Pitching has been a major strength of this team to this point (at least it had been up to Zach Davies’ absolute clunker on Saturday). But we might be putting too much stock in some of the early performances we’ve gotten, especially when it comes to Jake Arrieta and his back-to-back quality starts to open the 2021 campaign.