Can’t Shake Jake (Arrieta)

When it comes to prospects and young players, I’m an absolute sucker for tools. Yes, I’m one of those idiots who reaches for B.J. Upton in fantasy drafts. I still follow Mark Prior’s career closer than I should. And the news that Scott Kazmir has started a comeback attempt piqued my interest. I was bullish on Mark Trumbo coming into this season based solely off his insane power, and I near-hopelessly believe that Derek Holland will blossom into an ace one of these years.

In recent years, one of my recurring crushes has focused on Baltimore Orioles starting pitching prospects. Remember how they had a trio of young studs who were supposed to carry the franchise to new heights? Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta were supposed to be The Future. Unfortunately, so were the Hindenburg and the RMS Titanic.

So when Arrieta started off his 2012 season on a dazzling streak of success, I was initially skeptical. After all, Arrieta is 26 years old and he’d shown no sign of putting things together. He was way too wild (11% walk rate) in the past, and even if he were limiting his walks, what were the odds he could keep it up? But then I caught another glimpse of his mid-90 mph fastball and his stellar curveball, and I picked him up in the FanGraphs staff ottoneu league. What can I say, I’m a sucker.

Immediately following this —  of course — Arrieta went into a dark period, and his season line is about what you expected coming into the year. His 6.13 ERA is the second-worst in the majors among all qualified starters, edging out Tim Lincecum by about a third of a run. He hasn’t thrown a pitch at 90% the speed of light, but the end result has been about the same.

And yet, call me crazy. I still believe in Jake Arrieta. Even if the Orioles don’t.

First and foremost, there’s a reason I haven’t given up on Arrieta after 321 innings of 5.00-plus ERA baseball. The guy has top notch “stuff.” His four- and two-seam fastballs both average around 94 mph, and he’s getting nearly as many swinging strikes with his fastballs as David Price (95.5 mph) and Josh Johnson (93 mph). His curveball is his best knock-out pitch and has generated 37% swinging strikes in two-strike counts. His changeup, too, is well above average.

It’s taken Arrieta some time, but it seems like he’s finally beginning to make his repertoire work for him at the major-league level. His strikeout rate (20.1%) is above league average for the first time in his MLB career, and he’s lowered his walk rate dramatically so far this season (from 11% to 7%). He’s finally hitting the zone with his pitches at a league-average rate, which is considerably better than he’d done in the past. As a result, his xFIP and SIERA are both the best they’ve ever been — and they rate him around the same level as pitchers like Dan Haren, Jordan Zimmermann and Jered Weaver.

So what’s Arrieta’s problem? Well, he’s been hit hard (.324 BABIP) and he’s been the second-most un-clutch pitcher in the majors this year (58% LOB%, -1.18 Clutch), so runs are finding a way to sneak in on him. He’s also allowed 13 home runs, which had made his season look a lot like James Shields, circa 2010.

Graph courtesy of the Joe Lefkowitz PITCHF/x Tool.

The more that Arrieta continues to struggle, the more I feel like his problem is similar to what plagued Shields two years ago: inconsistency with pitch location. As much as we like to imagine that BABIP fluctuations have little to do with skill, that’s not entirely true. If you leave pitches over the plate too often, you’re going to get hit — no matter how good your stuff is. Shields dominated lineups back in 2010, but then he fell apart by allowing hard-hit balls off pitches that he left over the plate. Arrieta has gone through periods of dominance, as well. But as you can tell from the above chart, he’s also let some of his pitches — especially his slider and two-seamer — catch far too much of the plate. For that, he’s paid the price. His pitch accuracy may have improved, but his precision still needs work.

Shields eventually fixed his problem and shied away from the pitch that was getting hit hardest; he now throws the fewest number of fastballs among every starter not named R.A. Dickey. And through improved pitch sequencing, he got hitters off balance more often. Pitching backwards and throwing his off-speed pitches in any count were the kinds of changes that helped Shields transition from being a complete disaster in 2010 to being a Cy Young Award contender the next year.

Arrieta might want to start by scrapping his slider — or at least throwing it considerably less often — as he already has two above average off-speed pitches whith his curveball and his change up. His slider has been the one pitch that’s gotten hit the hardest this season, and his cutter has had similar success without being nearly as home-run prone. And if he can then keep improving his command and become more consistent with his fastball location, there’s not much holding him back from success.

Listen to me go: if, if, if, if, if. Considering that the Orioles demoted Arrieta to Triple-A before the All-Star Break, it’s possible that I’m more than slightly delusional at this point. Maybe my fandom is blinding me, but I do think Arrieta isn’t far away from breaking out in a big way. With a few tweaks and a bit more consistency, he could still become an anchor for the O’s pitching staff in the years to come.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

89 Responses to “Can’t Shake Jake (Arrieta)”

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  1. Kyle H says:

    Id also like to see what Rick Peterson can do with him in AAA. Albeit one start, Chris Tillman hit 95+ in the 8th inning, when before this year he rarely hit that speed ever, if at all.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Jsh says:

    Peripherals!!!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. JR says:

    Nice write-up. Since you mentioned him briefly at the top…what are your feelings about Chris Tillman in the second half as a MLB starter?

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    • CubsFan16 says:

      I think Tillman should have a decent second half. I would like to see him pitch against a team with a better offense though. The Orioles need him to be solid down the stretch because the Starting Pitching has struggled in recent weeks.

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  4. Parlay says:

    I dont believe in any of these fancy pants stats. Back in my day we didnt need stats to tell us if a player is good at baseball. Let me tell you Jake isnt. He just doesnt have it, he doesnt pass the look test. Now Hoss Randbourn, theres a pitcher that had it.

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Wobatus says:

      “I don’t need a weatherman to tell me it’s rainin’, I just stick my head out da winda.”

      Alton Benes

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Aldon Benes says:

        “Master of the House, Doling out the charm, Ready with a handshake and an open palm!”

        BTW, I pretty much think everyone’s gay.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. ZNATE says:

    My boi AJ throws better than Arietta.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. 286 says:

    Kimbrel >>>> Arrieta

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  7. Oral says:

    Very nice write up. Can you share your home address so I can come and congratulate you personally on a job well done.

    +17 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. FTN says:

    Andino sucks

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  9. bkmalik says:

    A very boring and unremarkable write up. You need some lessons. I would be glad to help you.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Nats fan says:

    What channel is the game on. I cant find it.

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. lester bangs says:

    Less Than Jake.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Jay says:

    At least Jake isnt as bad as Doc Gooden.

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Detroitterp says:

    Porcello >> Arrieta

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  14. Buddha says:

    Just give him some Gatorade he will be fine

    +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. lester bangs says:

    Zippermann won’t think outside the (spreadsheet) box.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Majopa says:

    Arrieta is the biggest bust since Matt Wieters

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. 54321 says:

    BUT HIS ERA IS SO HIGH

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  18. Jeff Ermann says:

    Who designed the comments section to not need approval, the best and brightest?

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      This comment section is completely baffling to me. I am aware that they may serve as some sort of performance art, and that at least 30 of these are the same person under different pseudonyms indulging in some kind of bizarre stream of consciousness, but the joke eludes me.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • FRED44TERP says:

        White-Beard Englishman, you need a class in logic? You accuse these sweet fangraphs posters of sitting around the basement, using SYNONYMS to post. Do you really think that is happening. My successful DAUGHTERS would never behave that way? You shouldn’t try to stop the FREE SPEECH on the internet, let posters say what they want to. We don’t need the mods? FRED44TERP

        +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. TheAman says:

    Yea, but have you seen him pitch from a press box?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. FP Santangelo says:

    Did you guys know that Bryce Harper is only 19?

    +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Jerry Sandusky says:

    19? Too old.

    +24 Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Joe Paterno says:

    I aint see nothing

    +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. ravensnterps says:

    Arrieta sucks. Trade him and Schoop for Kershaw.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • GoToWarMissAgnes says:

      I’ll go out on a limb and guess that if the they could, they would. Unfortunately (and I don’t know who came up with these rules), the Dodgers get a say in this too.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Justin says:

    I would welcome Arrieta in a trade package for Greinke.

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  25. FTN says:

    Well before forming an opinion I better check keith laws and Rochs twitter.

    +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Keith Law says:

      I don’t like Arrieta at all. For that matter, I don’t think there is a player I like. Now Spaghetti and meatballs OTOH…

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  26. Boz says:

    The Nationals are the greatest team since the ’27 Yankees, and the best thing to ever happen to me (or all of mankind, really). And yes, I wear my Harper jersey in the pressbox.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. Tim McCarver says:

    In my view as bad as Arrieta was in the first year of his career thats how as bad he has been now.

    +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

  28. Joe Buck says:

    The comments on this article have been a DISGUSTING ACT.

    +14 Vote -1 Vote +1

  29. Majopa says:

    If Ron Paul was the manager of the Orioles they wouldnt lose a game.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  30. TheOx says:

    OINK OINK

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  31. Michael J Fox says:

    Boy this Arrieta kid is good. If I had to get in the box and face him I would be shaking in my boots.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  32. TheHugeCZ says:

    Has anyone heard that sick new song? I think it’s called “Werewolves of Thunder”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  33. Annette Cameron says:

    Yall just nede to give Jake sum moar time and have pations.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  34. terpyderby says:

    IIIIIIIIINNNNDDDDDYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  35. Damascusterp says:

    Hey Jake, this isnt TCU anymore.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  36. 54321 says:

    When is the next Nicki Minaj concert? I beez in da trap beez beez in da trap

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  37. Blind Orioles Fan says:

    -36 Run Differential in the first half??

    -Playoffs!!!!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  38. Shawn Fatcock says:

    I’m going to have to review Arrieta’s contract

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  39. FTN and JSH says:

    Well since January 8th at 6:36pm Jake Arrieta has a xvdsfip of 3.16 and an R2d2 of .56. This suggests he is good.

    +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  40. Oliver says:

    Whatever happened to that Zach Britton fella?

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    • Colin says:

      Shoulder problems, plus (IMO) higher ratings as a prospect then deserved based on his stuff and not his results which were not that of an elite prospect.

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  41. JeffErmann says:

    Adam Jones and Matt Wieters traded…

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  42. Colin says:

    He will get it together eventually. This is a dangerous case where it is tempting to evaluate somebody based on results rather than the method. Just because the results have been bad over a large sample does not mean he isn’t doing the right things. Sometimes unlikely bad results happen over big samples, it’s a low probability event but without the yearly Jake Arrieta’s of the world, it would be a no probability event.

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  43. Bizarrely Intrigued says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody experiencing a psychotic break in an internet comments section before. It looks like it took him about an hour to write all of those comments. I think it would be really interesting to see a video of this character while he was doing it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  44. henry says:

    i have a scary feeling that even the people posting normally on this are all the same person just screwing with us. really, this is the most impressive flash flood of comments i’ve ever seen.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Yeah, I posted normally way the hell up there and I still have no idea if I was replying to a normal poster, or if there had been any normal posters at that point. It was a strange, claustrophobic, paranoid feeling, like that part of the psychological thriller film where they convince the hero that he’s the mad one and everyone else in the asylum is perfectly sane.

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  45. hernandez17 says:

    Personally I would like to see the Joe Buck persona come to predominate over the 18 other ones. And then comment regularly.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  46. Kyle says:

    Jake Arrieta’s changeup is absolutely not “above average”. It is average at best. The speed difference is mediocre, he doesn’t get great movement on it, and his command of the pitch is ATROCIOUS. It’s not that far off from being a good pitch but to call it an above average pitch at this point is ridiculous.

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  47. JimPalmer says:

    Jake needs to stop letting batters speed up their bats by throwing off-speed. He has a 95 mph heater and the bats are too slow. Reminds me of 1977 when I threw 319 innings. Against Kansas City that year, Frank White was on second and I was pitching to Brett. I didn’t have my best stuff that day, but lets be honest, my C game was good enough to dominate, and in this era I’d be a $20MM/year pitcher. Earl came to the mound and I told him all he knew about pitching was that he couldn’t hit it. I think I went something like 20-11 that year and it was not our best team. What were we talking about again?

    +36 Vote -1 Vote +1

  48. Clarity says:

    This article was link in a certain online community. What you are seeing in the comments is a certain person parodying well known posters on that online community.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  49. balticfox1917 says:

    I’m going with what Jim Palmer says over and over about Arrieta: throw the pitches that you are able to command, ditch the pitches (except for bullpen sessions) you aren’t able to throw for strikes or keep away from the middle of the strike zone.
    Palmer recommends: stick with your fastball and curve for now and cut back on the other pitches. His “show” pitches, esp. his slider, are getting hammered.
    He’d like to say: throw strikes and trust your defense behind you, but with Betemit/Reynolds at third, and Davis/Reynolds at first, that would be madness.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  50. Radivel says:

    Hey, I just read you
    And it was crazy!
    I’m Arrieta
    And you can’t shake me…

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  51. Tucker says:

    The comment section made my night.

    Thank you

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  52. Brandon says:

    Jake is still suffering the retribution of the baseball gods for his blasphemous mustache of years past. Hopefully the gods will one day acknowledge his remorse and redirect their wrath to Derek Holland. Maybe by then the Orioles will field a defense that can catch the fucking ball.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  53. Ryan says:

    I’ve really enjoyed the comment section so far. Keep it up guys!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  54. Chris Berman says:

    Arrieta is going back back back back back back back back back back back back back back back to the minors

    +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

  55. Sammy Sosa says:

    Can you translate this article to Spanish por favor?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  56. Michael Kay says:

    Back to the minors for Arrieta, seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ya

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  57. Tim Kurkjian says:

    I talked to an AL scout at the beginning of the year and they told me 2the ball was coming out of his hand like never before. I also talked to two NL executives who saw him pitch last year and they really believe his stuff will carry through the whole year.

    Tim Kurkjian……….espn

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  58. Dirck says:

    I frequently read that one pitcher or another is “unclutch” as you described Arrieta or whose top notch stuff doesn’t yield top notch results .Though I very rarely hear it mentioned as a possible cause , might inability to pitch effectively from the stretch be the problem ? It seems that there are many pitchers who have dominant stuff , but are prone to giving up the big inning . While there are probably psychological issues involved to some degree or another ,I have suspected for a while that pitching from the stretch or using the slide step might be a big part of the problem and I continue to be surprised that it is almost never put forth as a cause .

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  59. umcp77 says:

    Jacob “Jake” Arrieta is going through a rough patch but it’s certainly not as rough as the time James Thomas “Deacon” McGuire, when pitching for the Toledo Blue Stockings threw 34 straight balls and was moved to catcher! From then, as we all know he went on to a stellar career for a number of teams including my beloved Washington Statesmen. And talk about multitasking! He found time to manage at the same time! In that way, Deacon reminds us of Benjamin David “Benny” Goodman’s alternating between the ol’ licorice stick and leading the band!

    Jake should see if his arm plays better behind the dish.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  60. umcp77 says:

    Marissa Colman “lay-in”. Lady Terps 32, Lady Deacs 21.

    Kristi Tolliver turnover. Lady Deacs ball.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  61. Viper652 Xray says:

    Jeff Ermann stuck a dildo down Ken Gerhart’s ass.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  62. Oralterpitude says:

    I wish I could have molested Nick Markakis in my free candy van when he was 5 years old.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  63. coltsfan says:

    Maybe if Jake Arrieta could have Adam Jones playing in the stands to rob HR’s, his ERA wouldn’t be so high.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  64. MattW says:

    If Arrieta was one of my schoolkids, he wouldn’t be able to spell ERA.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  65. HGoodman says:

    Where is Toogs to ban him for ruining every thread?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  66. fox's donut says:

    Even I am better looking than Jake’s pitching.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  67. BigAlcDog says:

    Go Jake!
    Woof!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  68. Cowboy4eva says:

    For as bad as Arrieta pitches the complete opposite can be said for how good his dick tastes.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  69. turtleinchainz says:

    trade hardy at the 2013 trade deadline
    ????
    Profit

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  70. Roboheel says:

    Krzyzewski minions breed alternate life on planet Jupiter while Jason Capel nets triple double. Wuffie hubris on Pack Pride breeds inferiority complex while Mark Gottfried wrestles chupacabras.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  71. DML Heel says:

    Anyone have Alana Beard’s current phone number?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  72. PGTerp says:

    As long as the Orioles emphasize Baltimore instead of PG county their going to keep having an empty stadium. PG county has the best baseball fans in the entire world.

    Also Im going to get downvoted because these boreds are full of racists but the Orioles treatment of Dontrelle Willis was basically modern day slavery.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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