2018 Player Profile: Jake Arrieta
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For a while this offseason it looked like Jake Arrieta wouldn’t find a home. Eventually, he did signing a 3-year, $75 million deal with the Phillies (the deal has an opt out, and also two extensions meaning he could end up making $125-135 million over the course of five years). A few years ago Arrieta was the bee’s knee’s. Who is he at this point after a solid but unspectacular 2017 season?
32 years old
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 225 lbs
Position: Starting Pitcher
Here is an excerpt from Arrieta’s 2017 Player Profile. ”The slider simply didn’t fool batters like it once did... Face it, folks. Arrieta simply wasn’t the pitcher we saw in 2014 and 2015 last season. Pretty much every measure speaks to that. What makes that even scarier than the surface is the fact that his production, which was down for him in 2016, was even worse in the second half... I would just ask you to be reasonable with your expectations since “ace-dom” isn’t a lock with the Cubs’ righty. The trends are virtually all moving in the wrong direction with Arrieta, and with that level of concern banking on him as a sure-fire top-10 starting pitcher is a risky position to hold.”
That last sentence might seem obvious now, but it wasn’t 12 months ago when he was being drafted as the 8th starting pitcher off the board. Yep, 12 months ago you all thought he was an SP1 – even as I warned that wasn’t the case.
So, what’s going on with Arrieta? Let’s start out with his new home park and how it might affect his performance.
It’s not like pitching at Wrigley is a blessing, the wind can blow out causing all kinds of issues, but his new park in Philadelphia might be even more of a challenge for the righty. Take a look at his work at Wrigley in his career – it’s been stellar.
Wrigley: 30-14, 2.31 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 3.15 K/BB, 0.50 HR/9 over 378.1 innings
We can dismiss the ERA and WHIP right off the top as he’s simply not going to be able to match that level of performance with the Phillies. I prefer to focus on the homer aspect. What follows are the Park Factors for homers the past three seasons.
Things tilted to Wrigley in 2015, but the last two seasons Wrigley hasn’t even been in the top-half of parks in terms of the homers allowed whereas Citizens Bank Park has been one of the best homer parks in all of baseball. With the growing fly ball rate that Arrieta displayed last season, that has to be a concern for a guy who has seen his homer to fly ball ratio also grow in recent seasons. Here is that data.
Let’s go year by year.
In 2014 his HR/FB rate was absurd (league average 9.5 percent).
In 2014 his HR/9 rate was absurd (0.86 league average).
In 2015 his HR/FB rate was amazing (league average 11.4 percent).
In 2015 his HR/9 was amazing (1.02 league average).
In 2016 his HR/FB rate was impressive (league average 12.8 percent).
In 2016 his HR/9 was impressive (1.17 league average).
In 2017 his homer rate was league was below league average (13.7 percent).
In 2017 his HR/9 was league average (1.27 league average).
Obviously, his new park, and those trends, don’t bode well for Arrieta in the homer department in 2018. A key will likely be his ability to cause batters to beat the ball into the ground. Last season his 45.1 percent ground ball rate, still solid of course, was four points below his career level and his first time under 49.2 percent in four seasons. He also posted a 34.4 percent fly ball rate, just about the league average, but that was three points above his career rate not to mention a 6-year low. When a guy has a three-year GB/FB ratio of 2.04 (2014-16) and then sees that number drop to 1.31, you should be concerned.
Let’s talk velocity.
Arrieta posted a 95.1 mph heater in 2013, a career best. Since then, here are the numbers: 95.1, 94.6, 94.9, 94.3 and 92.6. Yes, he lost about two mph last season, and that’s an obvious level of concern for a hurler who is now 32 years old (more on the innings issue can be seen below). Like, a legit concern. When we move over to his slider, the drop is also witnessed. His 90.8 mph slider in 2015 was flat out wicked. In 2017 he was nearly two mph down at 88.2 mph.
I spoke about the slider above, and here’s the meat of it. Arrieta throws across his body a bit – he steps toward third base – and that allows him to create deception and a better angle on his slider. The across the body motion also opens him up to bouts of wildness as it’s harder to get everything in alignment than if he came over the top. We’ve seen that directly affected in his slider’s Pitch Value. Hare is his rankings with the pitch amongst pitchers who threw 162-innings: 2nd (2015), 37th (2016) and 41st (2017). The pitch has gone from elite to being just another slider. He seems to know it too as he threw the pitch a career-high 29.3 percent in 2015, dipping to 17.9 percent in 2016 and less than half his peak of ‘15 at just 14.0 percent in 2017.
The lack of slider effectiveness really wasn’t seen in his K/9 rate as the mark has been 8.67 and 8.71 the last two seasons, but the swinging strike rate tells a different story (remember as well that in 2014-15 he was over a batter per inning). Here are his swinging strike marks the last three years (11.1, 10.5 and .8.8 percent). That 8.7 percent mark is scary low for a guy who is supposed to be a power pitcher given that the league average was 10.5 percent last season. Note, that if you look at his effort the last two seasons that Arrieta has been just under the league average here. This signals that at return to the K-per-innings stuff seems unlikely.
As for the walk rate the mark in 2014-15 was 2.08. The last two seasons the mark is 3.22. Given the lost velocity, and the loss of the feel for his slider, he sure profiles more as that 3.22 guy heading into 2018. This fact is also reflected in his 58.0 percent first-pitch strike rate last season, his lowest mark since 2012.
Only once in his eight years in the big leagues has Arrieta thrown 200-innings. That peak was reached in 2015 when he tossed 229 regular season innings and followed that up with another 19.2 playoff innings. He admitted in 2016 that he was a bit more tired than normal and his regular season innings were pulled back to 197.1 before throwing an additional 22.1 innings in the post-season. In 2017 the innings might have started to catch up to him as he missed more than a month with a hamstring issue that limited him to 168.1 innings during the regular season before he threw another 10.2 innings in the post-season. Truth? He hasn’t looked like the superstar ace you’re thinking of since 2015, and each of the past two seasons has seen him take a step backwards.
AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION DATA
As of this writing, here is the ADP data for Arrieta.
Arrieta is a solid SP3 who still has SP2 upside in a mixed league. That said, the above numerated concerns – it would be wise to avoid reaching on the righty in any format. Let him come to you, use last season as the upper end of expectations, and you should be fine with rostering Arrieta. Just don’t go expecting him to turn back the clock at all.
10-Team Mixed: Probably depends where in the country you have your draft. Ideally, he’s an SP4.
12-Team Mixed: He’s a borderline SP3 in this format, but one that deserves a solid SP4 to give him some coverage.
15-Team Mixed: You better believe that the grounders will return, the slider will return, or the velocity will return if you’re taking him as an SP2 here. He’s still that SP3.
NL-Only League: Even if he’s not a K-per-inning arm, there still should be strong totals in that category. The key is the innings pitched. At 170 ho-hum, but at 195 there would be more of a reason to target the guy. Truth is, the smart play would be to roster him looking at 170.