In Jake Arrieta’s first start of the 2014 season for the Chicago Cubs, he showed off an arsenal of pitches that would suggest he has a future as a front-line starting pitcher. However, the results have never matched the stuff for Arrieta which is why the Baltimore Orioles eventually sent him to the Cubs along with Pedro Strop last summer in exchange for Scott Feldman.
Despite a fastball that reaches 95 with ease, a big breaking curveball and a hard slider, Arrieta has never posted an ERA or FIP below 4.05 in any of his four seasons in the Majors. That stat would surprise some who have only seen Arrieta pitch for the Cubs, though, as he made nine starts in the second half of the season last year and put up a 3.66 ERA.
However, Arrieta’s success for the Cubs in 2013 looks to be more of a mirage than a sign of things to come. In his 51.2 innings for the Cubs, Arrieta struck out 37 batters while issuing an alarming 24 walks. A strikeout to walk rate of 1.54 is not going to cut it as a starting pitcher, and herein lies the reason that Arrieta has never fully tapped into his potential.
For his career, in 415 innings pitched he has a K/BB ratio of 1.74, far below an acceptable rate for MLB pitchers. At the bare minimum, Arrieta needs to be striking out two batters for every one walk issued, but even that rate will likely result in a demotion to the bullpen.
For whatever reason, Arrieta simply doesn’t trust his stuff and nibbles around the zone rather than attacking hitters. This was evident even in his successful 2014 debut when he issued a walk to Matt Holliday in the first inning. After beautifully painting the outside corner for a called strike earlier in the at-bat, Arrieta tried to be too fine on the 3-2 pitch and missed badly outside, rather than simply attacking the zone with 95 mile per hour heat and daring Holliday to come and get it.
There is no doubt that Arrieta has the repertoire of a front-line starting pitcher and should at the bare minimum be a solid mid-rotation starter, but his success begins and ends with his command of the strike zone. If pitching coach Chris Bosio can get through to Arrieta and convince him to trust his stuff and attack hitters, then the Cubs may have found themselves a diamond in the rough. However, if Arrieta continues to passively approach each at-bat, he may never have consistent success in the Major Leagues.