Last March, the Phillies signed pitcher Jake Arrieta to a 3-year, $90 million contract. This was the biggest free-agent signing, both money and impact wise, that the team had made since they began their rebuild in 2014. It was a sign that they were taking a step forward to contending, which excited the fans for the first time in a half-decade. Unfortunately, this move blinded fans to something about the former ace: he was on a sharp decline.
Before he broke out in Chicago, Arrieta struggled with the Orioles despite showing great stuff, specifically a mid to high-90’s fastball and a great, sharp cutter. The right-hander struggled with his control in Baltimore, but the change of scenery catapulted him to become an ace with the Cubs. His best year came in 2015, when he pitched to the tune of a 1.77 ERA en route to a Cy Young Award. After a solid year in 2016, Arrieta began to tail and struggled at times in 2017 despite a strong second half. His fastball velocity dropped nearly two miles per hour, implying that he may not age well
Arrieta signed with the Phillies in March and had, while he had an inconsistent first half, he showed some flashes of the guy who won a Cy Young award in 2015. One specific start that comes to mind was in April against the Pirates. Arrieta pitched 7 shutout innings and showed swing-and-miss stuff all night, striking out 10 while only allowing one hit. He had several other solid starts throughout the 2/3rds of the season and had an ERA as low as 3.11 in early August. This is when things fell apart.
In his last nine starts of the season, Arrieta went 1-5 with a 6.35 ERA. It was the worst stretch of Arrieta’s career since he left Baltimore, and he clearly was not the same guy that he was with the Cubs. Even before this disastrous stretch, Arrieta showed a lack of ability to strike guys out and allowed more baserunners than he had since he landed in Chicago. Some concerning stats:
Here's something fun (not):
19.1 Whiff %
2015 (CYA) Arrieta:
25.4 Whiff %
19.2 Whiff %
— Jonny Heller (@JonnyHeller) February 3, 2019
Arrieta struggled to go deep into games and failed to miss bats at a high rate, leading to his worst full season since 2013. And, unfortunately for the Phillies, he may not bounce back in 2019. Arrieta turns 33 in March, and there is nothing to suggest he may return to his Chicago form. With his velocity down, and his peripheral numbers all matching his high ERA, middle-to-back of the rotation may just be who he is now.
While he flashed brilliance in the start against the Pirates, Arrieta showed in all of his other starts that he no longer relies on strikeouts; instead, he pitches to contact. Even with a better defense behind him, this is not the ace the Phillies thought they signed. The contract that once excited fans for the first time in years is now a burden, and the team must look elsewhere to find pitchers to join stud Aaron Nola atop the rotation.
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports