Cubs: Breaking down Jake Arrieta’s early success on the mound

Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Before the season started, all the predictions and projections were low on Jake Arrieta. Well, the 35-year-old right-hander doesn’t seem to care about that because he’s off to a strong start, emerging early as the most consistent presence in the Cubs starting rotation.

That’s key because the guys this team expected to lead the rotation have been ineffective far too often in Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies. Trevor Williams has been so-so and Adbert Alzolay has shuttled in-between Chicago and the team’s alternate site at South Bend as the team looks to limit his workload.

Entering Saturday’s matchup with the Brewers, Arrieta is the only Cubs starter with a sub-5.00 ERA. Despite that fact, Chicago is in the thick of the NL Central race nearing the end of April – and the former NL Cy Young winner is a big reason why.

"“I’m throwing the ball the way I expect to throw it,” Arrieta told after his most recent start. “There’s things I could do better, for sure. You take what you have at your disposal, and you use it to the best of your ability and try to help the team win.”"

After leading Chicago to a win over New York at Wrigley Field, Arrieta owns a 3-1 record, 2.86 ERA and 3.87 FIP over his first four starts. It’s been some time since he put up numbers like this. His three-year run in Philadelphia was marred by injuries and it’s safe to say the Phillies didn’t get what they’d hoped for from him during his time there.

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But if you go back to his final year on the North Side back in 2017, his early performance this season looks pretty similar. And, at the end of the day, the Cubs will undoubtedly take that from a guy in the home stretch of his career.

In addition to his strong work on the mound, Arrieta brings a seasoned presence to the clubhouse – one that’s unwilling to accept losing and is a great mentor to younger arms on the team, namely Adbert Alzolay. Back on a one-year deal, so far, he’s delivering in every sense – and there’s no reason to expect that to change.

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He’s been incredibly effective working through innings where he’s fighting his mechanics and laboring to get outs. That’s what separates guys like Arrieta from the rest of the pack. At this point in his career, it’s about how he mixes pitches and hits spots rather than just overpowering hitters.

This season, he’s relied largely on defying the odds. Seriously, his Baseball Savant page doesn’t inspire much confidence. But he’s got the job done, thanks to a curve ball that ranks in the top 10 percent of the league in spin rate that he’s throwing more than he has at any point since he won the NL Cy Young back in 2015.

He’ll live or die with his sinker, though – a pitch he relies on nearly 60 percent of the time. Hitters look for that and his slider – and you can tell his change-up and curve have caught guys off-guard given their poor numbers specifically against those two pitches.

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Will Arrieta keep this up over the course of the full season? It’s too soon to tell. But so far, it’s been a bright spot in the midst of a rotation that’s left plenty to be desired.