Arrieta and Davis

Jacob Arrieta and Wade Davis are both aged 24, right-handed, and rookie starting pitchers cutting their teeth in the frenzied American League East. Neither is recording the kind of whiffs their stuff would seemingly demand – as David Golebiewski covered with regards to Davis just a few days ago – and they share something else in common: their inability to finish batters after getting ahead 0-2.

It seems odd to discuss that attribute of pitchers with an FIP over 5.00 apiece. After all, isn’t the problem that they simply don’t get ahead enough? Well, no. As it turns out, Davis and Arrieta both go 0-2 on 25% of their plate appearances; that figure places them within the top 20 of American League pitchers- more often than Jon Lester, James Shields, John Danks, and equal to Felix Hernandez – worthwhile company, to say the least.

Davis is actually just behind David Price for the best rate amongst Rays’ starting pitchers, while Arrieta leads the Orioles’ staff. League average is 23%, so both get to the optimal pitcher’s count at a steadier rate than a good number of their peers. The issue, though, is finishing. Golebiewski noted how Davis used his heater more often in two strike counts than league average, and while Arrieta doesn’t have that issue when it comes to non 0-2 counts, he does rely heavily on his fastball on 0-2 counts.

The results are Davis striking out batters after 0-2 counts less than 31% of the time while Arrieta is at a modest 35%. Compare that to some of the better pitchers in the American League, like Cliff Lee and Jered Weaver (45%) or David Price (44%) and the youngster’s strikeout rates look subpar. Major League average is at 42% while American League average is nearly identical.

Causation and correlation aren’t always bedmates and one of the byproducts of being a good pitcher is finishing batters after getting ahead- meaning it’s no surprise that bad pitchers struggle to finish while good pitchers excel at it. The issue just seems like a case where young pitchers need to make adjustments. That’s good news for these youngsters, although it could quickly turn sour if either fails to make those required adjustments in a reasonable frame of time.

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6 years 20 days ago

If a pitcher doesn’t have a pitch to finish off major league hitters, it’s not surprising that they get to 0-2 at a decent rate. Both guys walk quite a few, so waiting on them is a good strategy, especially if 0-2 isn’t such a bad spot to hit in (not ideal, obviously, but likely worth the tradeoff of more walks and hitters counts). The article by Golebiewski showed that Davis isn’t getting hitters to chase, or getting them to swing and miss, so what’s he supposed to do at 0-2? It sounds like adjustments need making, but not on strategy, moreso on the actual pitches, which can take a while to get right.

Small samples of course, but I see this as bad news for the pitchers – they aren’t going to start throwing much harder, and if hitters are making contact even in pitchers counts, some mechanical tweaking (in the minors) is probably in order.

6 years 19 days ago

What if was only a matter of confidence in their breaking stuff? It’s human nature to rely on your best asset to try and outcompete others. They both heavily rely on their fastballs (Davis more so than Arrieta at ~72%).

Davis has a plus curveball that he should use on a more regular basis, on any count to keep hitters off-balance. He also has to refine his craft by changing the batter’s eye level to make his curveball even more effective, something he didn’t have to do in the Minors. I believe he’s got what it takes to become a Major-league regular on the mound.

Arrieta still is a work in progress – he heavily relied on his fastball to quickly climb the ladder. He will have to work hard on those breaking pitches (apparently, his changeup might become a plus offering down the line) in order to be successful at Major-league level.