Is Jake Arrieta the New Jesse Chavez?

Corey Kluber gave us Kluberization: the ditching of a bad four-seam for a better two-seamer. Dallas Keuchel gave us The Keuchel Excercise: the turfing of a bad curve for a better slider. Is Jake Arrieta following the Jesse Chavez Legacy? It certainly looks like he’s in the process of a major change in his pitching mix, and it might be what allows him to finally make good on all the promise that he’s shown to date. It should at least help him improve his command.

Jesse Chavez dropped his four-seam fastballs for a cutter, for the most part. That was important because of his iffy command. You need your fastballs for strikes, and look at his relevant career rates on the four-seamer, two-seamer, and cutter, courtesy BrooksBaseball:

Pitch Type Ball Whiffs GB%
Fourseam 34.30% 8.29% 26.64%
Sinker 32.17% 4.96% 48.18%
Cutter 29.82% 9.06% 42.46%

Looks pretty clear that the cutter is a better pitch than his four-seam fastball. And so he’s gone from using the four-seamer 30+% of the time years ago to less than 3% this year. And the cutter is up to 40%, or second-highest in baseball. And his walk rate is at a career-best.

For more evidence that Chavez is using his cutter as a fastball, let’s look at his usage per count. Fastball usage in baseball is highest in 3-0, 3-1, 2-0, 2-1, and 0-0 counts respectively. Four-seamers and two-seamers are used 65% of the time in those counts. Cutters and sliders are used 17% of the time. Chavez uses his fastball in those counts 41% of the time, and uses his cutter 34% of the time.

Let’s look at the relevant fastball rates for our new Jesse Chavez candidate, Jake Arrieta. Here they are over the last three years. (The broadcast team calls Arrieta’s slider a cutter, and so we’ll go with their name for the pitch.)

Pitch Type Ball Whiffs GB%
Fourseam 38.08% 6.95% 36.17%
Sinker 35.37% 4.79% 46.20%
Cutter 36.42% 13.20% 39.66%

It’s not as clean-cut here. The cutter does better than his four-seamer, if not by the same margins. This year, though, the margins have increased — his ball rate on the slider is down below 30%. It certainly looks like Arrieta has begun to follow the path set forth by Chavez:

Pitch Type 27-May 3-Jun 8-Jun 13-Jun 18-Jun
Fourseam 25.5% 17.3% 11.8% 23.2% 23.8%
Sinker 36.2% 27.0% 31.2% 10.1% 25.7%
Cutter 12.8% 26.0% 34.4% 43.4% 32.3%

He’s never used the cutter more than 15% for a season, and now he’s doubling that number regularly all of a sudden. Maybe we can believe his improved walk rate.

But there’s more to it than just raw usage — Arrieta was also using the pitch in fastball counts in yesterday’s seven-inning, 11-strikeout, one-walk win. His first pitch of the game was a cutter, and he threw the cutter on the first pitch against a third of the batters he saw. That’s almost three times higher than his first pitch cutter usage over the last three years (12%) and higher than the league’s first pitch cutter/slider usage as well (17.6%). That trend holds for those last five games, when Arrieta has used his cutter 24% in the fastball counts described above (57% for his fastballs). Not quite as stark as Chavez, but still different than league average.

Of course there are risks with this approach. Dan Duquette banned the cutter from the Orioles’ organization, and it looks like the “baby slider” version of the cutter might have some bad velocity outcomes. Dan Haren, the starter that’s currently throwing the most cutters in baseball, admits that he agrees that the cutter causes velocity loss. Then you have to add in injury risk. Jeff Zimmerman has found increased injury risk among heavy breaking ball users, and even if the ASMI doesn’t agree, there are others that back Zimmerman’s findings.

But, 450 innings into a career that has seen results that don’t follow his upside, and still sporting a fastball averaging nearly 94 mph, Arrieta has velocity to lose and command to gain. Now he’s got his walk rate down to a career best at least partly due to throwing his cutter more often in fastball counts, and he may have that in common with Jesse Chavez. All it took was a new approach.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

20 Responses to “Is Jake Arrieta the New Jesse Chavez?”

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  1. Joe says:

    good article. Tells more than we can see just by looking at the main player page.

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  2. boo ya says:

    This kind of analysis is awesome. I know I should ‘trust the projections,’ but understanding what drives changes in performance is much more interesting.

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  3. Chicago Mark says:

    Wow! Eno! Excellent! I just commented on Pods article about Odorizzi and asked him to give an opinion or article about Arrieta. Great timing for me! Of course, we’ll probably see him traded to the Jays or Yankees soon. But great for us Cub fans and not so great for us fantasy guys. Enjoy and…great article.

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  4. Charles Leroy says:

    Eno, great article! With Chavez transitioning to a starter’s workload this season, who would you rather have in a points league with quality starts as a major category ROS- Chavez or Arrieta? Thanks!

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      • LRG says:

        Really Eno??!?!?!?!? That’s surprising. One is in the AL West the other in NL central. Arrieta’s FIP is a full run lower than Chavez, he get’s 2 more K per 9, gets more ground balls, throws harder and he gets more swing and misses. I’d take Arrieta all day.

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      • Andrew says:

        what about now? I’ve still got both

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  5. Brad Johnson says:

    Like any pitch, there is more than one way to throw a “cutter.” Some of those ways are probably better classified as a slider – perhaps any time you’re using pressure or getting around the ball. Some pitchers can throw a cutter by just using a grip and normal fastball mechanics. Others need to “cheat” with pressure or a twist. I wish we had data on that to test the difference between the two groups.

    My own grip is such that the very last thing that comes off the fingers is the seam. It’s the curve of the “C,” so the ball goes from rolling straight to tumbling sideways at the very last moment. If I try to get extra movement with pressure or by getting around the ball, I actually end up with less movement.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Check out the Baby Slider link. I tried to use the velocity gap (bigger for the more slider-y pitches) to identify baby slider throwers vs true cut fastball guys. Arrieta is definitely more of a baby slider than Chavez, but hey, if the four-seamer ain’t working, turf it.

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  6. Woodman says:

    Jesse Chavez is still in the process of becoming Jesse Chavez, solid pitcher, and he’s already being emulated. Wow.

    Solid article!

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  7. Randolph says:

    As an O’s fan, this makes me sad. Would it really have been so dangerous for him to have a cutter? Now all we have is the empty seat that Scott Feldman briefly filled…

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    • EL says:

      That trade was such a massacre for the Cubs: the O’s don’t even come out ahead when just 2013 is considered.

      Feldman put up 1.1 WAR and RA-9 WAR for the O’s last year in 90 innings while Pedro Strop (35 innings, 0.8 WAR, 0.8 RA-9 WAR) and Arrieta (51.2 innings, 0.0 WAR, 0.8 RA-9 WAR due to sterling BABIP luck) combined to offer similar-to-slightly-better value.

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  8. Grumpy Old Kirk Gibson says:

    The cutter seems like a magical pitch that gives all batters fits. And yet Orioles’ GM Dan Duquette adamantly discourages his young pitchers from throwing the cutter…..

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    • GM Logic says:

      Step 1. Take away the #1 pitching prospect’s #1 pitch to prevent injury.
      Step 2. Prevent #1 pitching prospect from long tossing to prevent injury.
      Step 3. See #1 pitching prospect succumb to a torn UCL.
      Step 4. Smile, shake your head, and rest easy knowing that retaining your GM position is not based on how good you are at being one.
      Step 5. Negotiate for salary raise by threatening to retire and advocating either Ruben Amaro or Dayton Moore for your replacement.
      Step 6. Profit.
      (Repeat Steps 5 and 6 as necessary.)

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  9. Jim says:

    Where are you getting your numbers for pitch usage? Looking at the Pitchf/x game charts, I see only four cutters thrown on June 13 (and two seem to be mis-categorized sliders). Is what Fangraphs categorizes as his slider the “baby slider”/cutter you’re referring to?

    The pitch sounds similar to what others have described as a slutter (which also has the benefit of wordplay, given the pitch is both fast and loose).

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  10. Jesus Mejia says:

    For what i have seen in his stats i think he has dropped the slider for the cutter

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  11. Jesus Mejia says:

    Still using fourseam in a fair ammount and relying on cutter as his out pitch.

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  12. Chino_S says:

    Just ao you know Eno. Jake was interviewed today and he calls that pitch a slider

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