Jake Arrieta set the baseball world on fire two years ago, pitching to the tune of a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts, winning the National League Cy Young Award. Looking at the numbers, there are a few anomalies from that season. His command was noticeably better and velocity noticeably up.
In 2015, Arrieta’s average fastball velocity was 94.6 miles per hour, an uptick from the 93.5 a year prior. His walk rate (BB/9) dipped significantly from 2.36 in 2014 to 1.89 in 2015.
Regression was expected in 2016, and it came in many ways. His walk rate nearly doubled, from 1.89 to 3.47. Along with the rest of the league, he also struggled keeping the ball in the yard, posting a 0.73 HR/9 rate, up from 0.39 in 2015. His fastball velocity went down to 93.7 on average, so about on par with 2014.
Through two starts this year, Arrieta’s numbers have been perplexing, to say the least. He currently has an 11.08 K/9 rate and a 2.77 BB/9. What is strange about these numbers is that they are being posted with a significant drop in velocity. So far, his fastball has averaged 91.6 miles per hour, easily the lowest of his career. How can a pitcher that made a name for himself by dominating the opposition be getting these great results without his dominant stuff?
It’s simple: He has reinvented himself.
Last year, Arrieta threw his fastball 65.4 percent of the time and his curveball just 12.2 percent. This year, he has thrown the fastball 52.7 percent and the curveball a career-high 20.7 percent. After losing his cutter for most of last year, it has made up just over a quarter of his arsenal through his first two starts. This reliance on more offspeed pitches has helped him generate more soft contact than last year. For any pitcher looking to limit home runs, this is a very big deal.
Arrieta has opted to throw his four-seamer more than his sinker thus far, meaning he will likely generate fewer groundballs. This might not be a bad thing, though. In many ways, a softly hit fly ball is as valuable as a strikeout. Runners are less likely to advance on a popup on the infield than a groundball. It could also limit pitch counts, allowing pitchers like Arrieta to go deeper into games, giving his team a better chance to win every time he takes the mound.
He may not be as electric as years past, but Arrieta still has the stuff to dominate the opposition.