Phillies: Examining Jake Arrieta’s underwhelming tenure

Philadelphia Phillies Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Philadelphia Phillies Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
Philadelphia Phillies Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

If pending free-agent Jake Arrieta never pitches for the Phillies again, it’s hard to say, in hindsight, that signing him to a three-year deal was worth it.

The 2020 Major League Baseball season being delayed — or potentially canceled — due to the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many aspects of the game.

On the stats sheets, it means Bryce Harper‘s second season with the Phillies could potentially come as a 28-year-old, rather than 27; also, adding onto his 219 career doubles and home run totals are on hold.

The same can be said on the pitcher’s mound, particularly for pending free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta. And, with players still receiving service time equal to the amount they accrued in 2019, the 10-year veteran on the last year of his three-year, $75 million contract may never pitch in red pinstripes again.

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The Phillies signed Arrieta following the 2017 season after the right-hander posted a 68-31 record and 2.73 ERA across 128 starts with the Chicago Cubs. His best year came in 2015, going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA, along with a MLB-best four complete games and three shutouts en route to a Cy Young Award; in the 2016 World Series opposite the Cleveland Indians, Arrieta went 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA and 15-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 11 1/3 innings.

Arrieta simply was considered to be among the best pitchers in the game.

His Phillies tenure started out promising, too; the right-hander’s fastball touched 95 miles per hour in his 2018 spring and team debut on March 22, with him striking out two and walking none across 31 pitches and two innings. But, perhaps the five that were ejected in the game was an omen for what was to come.

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Arrieta had polarizing months during the 2018 season; he went a combined 5-2 in April and May, but followed going 0-4 with a 6.55 ERA in June. The following month, July, proved to be his best to date in a Phillies uniform: 4-0, with a 2.80 ERA; the club won all six of his starts, three against formidable opponents in the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox. However, the law of averages kicked in soon after, with Arrieta going 1-5 over his final 10 starts as the Gabe Kapler-led team fell short of a postseason berth despite a strong start to the season.

In 2019, injuries started to kick in for the Missouri native, particularly a bone spur in his right elbow; Arrieta started out relatively strong, going 4-2 with a 3.46 ERA, but then in May he went 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA. The right-hander won three of his five June starts, including June 30, away against the Miami Marlins in a 13-6 victory. As of now, that could be his final winning decision in red pinstripes.

Arrieta went 0-2 with a 5.34 ERA over his next seven starts; however, the bone spur finally got the best of him following his August 11 road start against the San Francisco Giants. Days later, he was placed on the injured list and eventually underwent season-ending surgery to remove the spur from his right elbow.

Arrieta was owed $20 million this season; now, it looks like his three-year, $75 million pact could result in a higher AAV over two seasons on the mound depending on the status of a 2020 schedule.

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So, if Arrieta never pitches in a Phillies uniform again, his 18-19 record and 4.26 ERA across 55 starts and two seasons surely is underwhelming compared to his pinnacle success with the Cubs. Phillies fans should still give him credit for trying to pitch through an injury last season, nonetheless.

Signing him appeared to be the right move at the time and helped the team connect with super-agent Scott Boras one offseason before the Harper deal.

In hindsight, however, those dollars could and should have been spent elsewhere. Still, the 34-year-old holds a respectable 106-75 career record and 3.72 career ERA, not to mention a World Series title to his name. Unfortunately, his better years and the championship did not come in red pinstripes.