The Best Option for Cubs Ace of the Future May Not Be Who You Think
Off the top of your head, name the Cubs’ starter with the most strikeouts per nine innings and best ERA? No, it’s not Jeff Samardzija. He also has the best ground ball rate among Cubs’ starters, and the second lowest walks per nine innings? Not Jason Hammel either. He has the lowest FIP and xFIP of any Cubs’ starter by more than half a run too. Travis Wood? Nope.
It’s Jake Arrieta, the pitcher who many groaned to see be the biggest piece the Cubs received in return for Scott Feldman early last July. Sure, Arrieta was a highly regarded prospect in the Orioles organization, where he was named a Top 100 prospect in both 2009 and 2010. But he never converted his plus stuff into results, and for the most part was unable to even convert it to consistent strikeouts, at least not without also giving up far too many walks.
Some adjustments to his pitches and pitch selection, though, have given the 2014 the Cubs a decent sized look at the dominance many thought Arrieta could achieve. Through his first nine starts, Arrieta sports a 1.98 ERA, 2.31 FIP, 2.66 xFIP, 9.90 K/9 and 53% ground ball rate, besting all other Cubs’ starters on those rates. On top of that, only Jason Hammel has allowed less walks per nine innings (1.87) than Arrieta (2.70).
The only negative to Arrieta’s 2014 is his average of less than 6 innings per start, compiling 50 innings in his 9 starts to date. The Cubs, however, heavily influenced that rate by being extremely cautious with Arrieta during his first three starts of the season after he missed the first month of the season due to minor shoulder soreness. After averaging under 4 and a half innings per start over those first three games, Arrieta averaged just over 6 innings in his most recent half dozen starts, throwing less than six innings only once.
The small sample size caution should be noted because Arrieta has only pitched about a quarter of a season’s worth of innings, but the peripheral statistics pointing to a meaningful possibility of sustainable success (strikeout rate and walk rate in particular) are among the first statistics to stabilize.
Quite simply, no one would have guessed Jake Arrieta would do what he is doing this season. Just as many people in the industry thought the Cubs should have converted Arrieta into a reliever. But if he can keep performing like this all season, the “will this pitcher be extended” talk won’t focus on Samardzija or Wood. Instead, the discussion will be if the Cubs should try to lock up Arrieta through his early 30s just as he enters arbitration.
Q: Who is the only Cub to steal at least 20 bases in a season at age 40 or above?
A: Click Here