NL Wild Card Preview: Jake Arrieta

Tomorrow night the Cubs play the biggest game of their season and the most anticipated one in the last seven years. Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA, 236K) ¬†will take the ball in his first postseason game after notching career highs and lows across the board. Arrieta is on a year and a half skyrocket of an ascension that has many thinking he’ll be the NL Cy Young Award winner after this postseason. The Chicago Cubs won 97 games on the season and as astonishing as that may be to some people, they could’ve easily won a hundred and still not captured the NL Central. Of course everyone in the city and across the Cubs fan base know that Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strope were acquired from the Baltimore Orioles for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger in the beginning of July two years ago. The Cubs also got international signing money for which they used on their now number one and number thirteen prospects Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez respectively (Take a bow Theo, you took your predecessor from Boston Dan Duquette to the woodshed on that one).

Jake Arrieta was born on March 6th, 1986 in Farmington, MO but grew up in Plano, TX where he attended Plano East Senior High School. Upon graduation from high school in 2004 he was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 31st Round of that years amateur draft. Much like yesterdays focus Gerrit Cole, Arrieta decided to spurn the Reds and go to a junior college before again being drafted by another NL Central team the Brewers the following year in the 28th Round. Arrieta would transfer to play for TCU where he would shine in his sophomore year posting 14 wins to go along with a 2.35 ERA. Arrieta would be named the Mountain West’s Pitcher of the Year and was named second team All-American.

Arrieta would twice compete for USA Baseball, both times resembled more of what we’re seeing now as compared to how the first four years of his professional career panned out. In 2006 Arrieta pitched for the national team posting a 4-0 mark with a .27 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 35 innings over six appearances. Team USA would go on to win the tournament and Arrieta was a major contributor to the teams successes. In 2008 Arrieta pitched for the Olympic team that disappointed mightily, however he did win his first game against China going six innings.

Eventually Arrieta was selected in the fifth round out of TCU by the Baltimore Orioles following his junior year. Arrieta was given a $1.1 million signing bonus and slowly moved through the ranks of the Orioles farm system, eventually making his major league debut three years after he was drafted. Arrieta’s time in Baltimore had it’s troubles as he was 20-25 with a 5.44 ERA. Arrieta had no complete games and 277 strikeouts in 358IP. Sabermetrically speaking Arrieta was an extremely average to below average pitcher while in Baltmore for three and a half seasons. In Chicago Jake Arrieta has been unbelievable and even that word is an understatement. If ever there was a turnaround in sports that could compare it would probably be someone like a Josh Hamilton in Texas or perhaps even Carson Palmer in Arizona switching away from Baseball.

Jake Arrieta’s numbers in his two and a half years in Chicago are amazing, Arrieta’s a combined 36-13 with a 2.26 ERA and 440 strikeouts in 437 1/3IP. He’s got five complete games, four of which are shutouts. Arrieta’s given up nearly 100 less earned runs in 80 more innings, while giving up half as many home runs and 46 less walks. Arrieta’s better than a strikeout per inning guy now and his WHIP is .94 compared to 1.5 in Baltimore. If you want to delve deeper into the Bill James handbook, Arrieta has a WAR of 14.3 which means that Arrieta is worth nearly 15 more wins than if we replaced in the rotation. The wins above replacement Arrieta has with the Cubs would rank him fifth in baseball in that same time span amongst all pitchers. Arrieta’s value has him with likes of Corey Kluber who won the AL Cy Young Award last year, also he’s in the same class as guys like Sale, Felix Hernandez, Kershaw, Price and Greinke. Every guy except for Chris Sale has a Cy Young on their mantle, Arrieta’s the next one.

So in lieu of all this information, how do the Pittsburgh Pirates manage to not get no-hit, or shutout in the NL Wild Card tomorrow night. A couple of Sunday’s ago Arrieta again made Clint Hurdle’s club look foolish with seven strong innings of one hit baseball at Wrigley. Tomorrow night the scene shifts back to Pittsburgh where Arrieta has been even better away from home going 13-1 with more innings pitched, more shutouts, more strikeouts, and less earned runs. Not to mention a better ERA at 1.60 and only two more walks in 19 more innings. In the second half of this season Jake Arrieta has a .75 ERA and has given up as many home runs as he has hit in two.

The magical number for the Cubs tomorrow night is three. In Arrieta starts where the Cubs have scored three runs or more he is a perfect 17-0 with a 1.40 ERA. In games where Chicago has failed to score three runs he’s 5-6 with a 2.37 ERA. Guys that have swung at the first pitch have a slightly higher than .200 average against Arrieta. When he falls behind in the count, particularly 1-0 to 2-0 the numbers severely diminish in Arrieta’s favor as opposing hitters pst better than .300 averages with a slugging of .880 and .917 respectively. 1-1 counts and 2-1 counts again seem to be problematic for Arrieta as he sees the OBA go up above .300 collectively. Looking closer at where Arrieta has had his most trouble its been in the first and fourth innings when the heart of the order is due up for the opposing team, but even then the numbers aren’t eye popping.

Clint Hurdle tomorrow night is going to need Gerrit Cole to keep his team in the game, the first inning is going to be huge for Gerrit Cole as his numbers in the early stages of games aren’t great either. Hurdle will be telling his players to be patient and try and slap the ball to right field. Arrieta has had a propensity in the past to keep the ball on the outer half of the plate when dealing with righties. Against lefties Arrieta’s main weapon has been that phenomenal two seamer that runs away from left handed hitters. Players like Polanco, Alvarez and Neil Walker will be looking to for things off the outside part of the plate. The majority of the lineup is going to be right handed heavy for Hurdle. Aramis Ramirez could play third over Josh Harrison and the tandem of Marte and McCutchen are going to need to do damage with RISP if that comes to fruition at all. The Pirates don’t run very much which is why they’ve hit into the most double plays in the National League this year. The Pirates play phenomenal defense at all positions while the Cubs do not. Arrieta needs to go eight innings in order for the Cubs to win, if Arrieta is not in the game in the seventh inning with a lead the Cubs are not going to St. Louis fact.

First pitch is at 7:08 CDT on TBS!