When the Chicago Cubs signed starting pitcher Jon Lester to a lucrative 6-year, $155 million contract last offseason, they envisioned him as the ace of their pitching rotation on a team being constructed to bring the first World Series championship to the franchise since 1908.
But at least for the 2015 season, the best pitcher in the Cubs’ starting rotation has actually been righthander Jake Arrieta, a player who the club signed for just $3.63 million this past January. Arrieta is having a career year, and is in contention for the NL Cy Young Award if he keeps up his current strong pitching.
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A 5th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2007 MLB Draft out of Texas Christian University, Arrieta never really pitched well over 63 starts from 2010-13 with Baltimore. The O’s dealt him along with reliever Pedro Strop to the Cubs on July 2nd, 2013 in exchange for pitchers Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.
The Cubs have certainly gotten the best of the deal. Arrieta has gone 25-12 with a 2.70 ERA across 53 starts with the team. In 2015, he sports an 11-5 record while posting a 2.52 ERA. His 11 wins are second most in the National League, and his ERA is eighth best in the league. He ranks fourth in the NL in strikeouts (133) and is tied for fourth in innings pitched with 128.2.
His performance has been a revelation for the upstart Cubs, who own a 51-43 record and are embarking on their first winning season since 2009. Though it is only July, Arrieta’s 2015 has been very reminiscent of his 2014 campaign, when he started 25 games for the Cubs and finished ninth in the NL Cy Young voting. Last season, he went 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA in 156.2 innings. He also struck out 167 batters, a mark he should have no problem surpassing in 2015.
“It’s just my job to anchor things and be the guy every five days that our team knows can get us the ‘W.’ And that’s what I plan to do” ~ Arrieta
Look at Arrieta’s stats even closer and you will see just how similar his last two seasons have been. In 2014, he owned a 9.6 K/9, while in 2015, he has a 9.3 K/9. Last year he had a 2.4 BB/9. This year, that number is 2.0. In 2014, he gave up 6.5 hits per nine innings. In 2015, he’s allowed 6.9.
Though Arrieta has enjoyed success since coming over from the Orioles in that July 2013 trade, his time in Baltimore wasn’t as pleasant. After pitching well in the minors leagues after being drafted, Arrieta never lived up to the hype surrounding him when he was finally called up to the Orioles.
In his three plus seasons in Baltimore, Arrieta’s lowest ERA came in his rookie year of 2010, when he pitched to a 4.66 mark. As a member of the O’s, Arrieta reached double-digit victories only once — in 2011 when he notched 10 wins. Arrieta, who was ranked in the top ten of the Orioles’ farm system three years in a row from 2007 to 2009, never seemed able to establish consistency at the MLB level, and the Orioles eventually grew tired of waiting for him to figure it out.
Since coming to Chicago, Arrieta has been dominant. The Farmington, Missouri native has chalked-up 15 Quality Starts this season, good enough to tie for 4th most in the NL and 5th most in all of baseball. He is just three off his 2014 mark of 18 quality starts with just over two months to play in the season.
Arrieta started 63 games for the Orioles from 2010 to mid-2013. During that time, he never tossed a complete game. In 53 starts for the Cubs, Arrieta has thrown three complete games, including two in his last six outings. Arrieta is also working on going consecutive years with a WHIP under 1.00, something he never accomplished while in Baltimore.
If they hadn’t already, Arrieta is making the Orioles regret dealing him, as it seems all the righthander needed was a change of scenery for him to finally find himself on the mound.
Arrieta comes into his start against the Phillies nearly unhittable in the month of July. In his four July starts, he owns a 1.17 ERA. In those starts, his shortest outing has been 6.2 innings, and he hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of those games. He is coming off a stellar outing against the Atlanta Braves in which he hurled seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just three hits while striking out 10.
According to MLB.com projections, he is on track to finish the year with a superb 16-9 record and a 2.86 ERA. With Arrieta being arbitration eligible this offseason, the righthander could be in store for a big raise should he finish the year with those kind of stats.
With Lester having a down year, Arrieta has risen to the occasion and become the team’s ace. Right now, as he told the Chicago Sun Times, he is focused on being the rock of the rotation and doing his best to get a win for the Cubs every fifth day.
“It’s just my job to anchor things and be the guy every five days that our team knows can get us the ‘W.’ And that’s what I plan to do,” Arrieta said.
The team currently holds a half-game lead on the San Francisco Giants for the second NL wild-card spot, and is nine games behind the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon told CSNChicago’s JJ Stankevitz that even with Arrieta’s masterful season, he has the potential to get even better as the team enters the homestretch.
“He’s just figuring everything out right now,” Maddon said. “That’s what’s going on. And I hate to tell you, but there’s actually some more in the tank there. There’s another level of him. So as he gets more self-awareness and is really able to deal with all these weapons that the has, he’s going to get even better.”
In three career starts against the Phillies, Arrieta is 2-1 with a 5.09 ERA, allowing 10 runs in 17.2 innings pitched. Those numbers are a bit misleading. Nine of the earned runs came in his first start against the Phillies as a member of the Orioles back on June 8th, 2012, when he lasted just four innings in a 9-6 Phils win.
Since that start, Arrieta has been a tough opponent for Philadelphia. In a start for the Cubs on September 1, 2013, Arrieta tossed a strong 6.2 innings, giving up a single earned run on three hits. And last June, Arrieta spun a seven-inning, two-hit gem at Citizens Bank Park, allowing no runs and recording nine strikeouts in a 2-1 Cubbies win.
In all honesty, few Cubbies fans probably envisioned Arrieta being the team’s best starting pitcher before the season began. But with the struggles Lester has had and the overall inconsistent starting pitching from the team, Arrieta has consistently stepped up and gotten the job done for the Cubs when they have needed him most.
If Arrieta is able to replicate his first half performance over the second half of 2015, and help get the Cubs back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, he deserves serious National League Cy Young Award consideration.
Arrieta is scheduled to take the mound on Saturday at Wrigley Field at 4:05pm.