Jake Arietta has quickly developed into a star during his time with the Chicago Cubs. Currently, Arrieta is considered one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers. The numbers speak for themselves, 9-0 with a 1.56 ERA so far this year. Does this mean big money? A player the Cubs must sign? A face of the franchise? I think not. And let me tell you why.
Who is Jake Arrieta?
Jake Arietta has not always been a household name. In fact, last season was the first time Arrieta was mentioned in conversations across the baseball universe.
Arrieta hails from Plano, Texas. He was drafted out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds in the 31st round. He opted to go to Weatherford Junior College and after his freshman year and he was again drafted, this time, in the 26th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. He decided to stay in college, transferring to TCU where he played his sophomore and junior year. After his junior season he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, this time, in the 5th round.
As you can see, Arrieta didn’t come out of nowhere. He has always been a plus pitching prospect since high school. He got his name called in 3 different drafts. There is something to be said to that. The scouting departments of the 3 teams that drafted him must have seen something in him that was worth taking a chance on.
Beginning of his Career
Arietta got the call up to the bigs in 2010. He played the 2010, 2011, 2012, and half of the 2013 season on the Baltimore Orioles. Here is the breakdown of his numbers with the Orioles:
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to draw a conclusion from these statistics. Arrieta was not good. Well below average. Shouldn’t have even been in the majors. How ever you want to put it, the end result stays the same.
It is important to note that there were signs of Arrieta’s potential as a dominant pitcher. His K/9 was very high for how bad of a pitcher he was with the Orioles. 8.6 in 2012 and 8.7 in 2013 (in a small sample size) is well above average for a starting pitcher. Although, he struggled with his control. His BB/9 was worrisome and likely led to a lot of his troubles in his early years.
Another positive note from Arrieta’s Baltimore years, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was consistently better than his ERA in Baltimore. This proves that his ERA was somewhat inflated due to a below average defense. FIP measures a pitcher’s ability to prevent HR, BB, HBP, and generate K’s (basically adjusts for team’s pitchers who have very good defenses or poor defenses).
Now here’s the bad news, Arrieta’s RA9 was consistently off the average each year in Baltimore, proving his below average status as an MLB pitcher. To clarify, RA9 is ERA but with unearned runs, the RA9 average is what an average pitcher’s RA9 would do against the same opponents, with the same defense in the same ball park. More bad news, Arrieta’s RAA (runs above average), which is how many runs the player is better than an average player while adjusting for multiple factors including quality of opposition, is in the negatives every year. The average player in this statistic has a RAA of 0.
Further, Arrieta’s WAA (Wins above average player at the position) was on the negative side every year he was with Baltimore. And his waaWL% which is defined as the win/loss % of an otherwise average team when the pitcher takes the mound was consistently below .500. This verifies that Arrieta provided little value to the Orioles in terms of generating wins for the team.
If the basic statistics didn’t already jump out at you as being well below average the advanced statistics should provide further evidence of Arrieta’s below average status.
Arrieta was traded midway through the 2013 season to the Cubs. Then, miraculously, something changed in his game. Here are his numbers with the Cubbies:
Night and Day. You would think that the numbers I’m showing here are from a completely different pitcher. A Cy Young caliber pitcher. And that is exactly what Jake Arrieta is at this point in his career.
Just from a quick glance you can see the vast improvement Arrieta has had once he joined the Cubs. I want to note that I see the majority of his improvement stemming from his control. With Baltimore, he struggled to consistently find the zone as shown by his BB/9 sitting in the 4 range. By moving it down to the 2 range (cutting his walks per 9 innings in half) he may have found the key to his success. With a fastball in the mid 90s, slider in the high 80s/low 90s, and a two seam/changeup in the high 80s all you have to do is consistently find the zone, and you are going to be a good pitcher in the MLB.
Arrieta hasn’t been just good the last couple of years though. He’s been spectacular. He has added exponential amounts of value to the Cubs in terms of getting wins. A WAA (Wins Above Average) that was once in the negatives is now soaring into the tops in baseball for starting pitchers. A wAA W-L% getting up into the .700 territory (remember the .700 would be the winning percentage of an average team with Arrieta on the hill). RAA (Runs Above Average) that was once at -20 (in 2012) but last year was in the upper echelon at 56. And to top it all off, a RA9 that is now approximately 2 runs better than the average pitcher in the MLB. Elite Status indeed for Jake Arrieta.
What the Cubs Should Do
After giving the run down of Jake Arrieta’s road to dominance analytically you are probably saying to yourself, “how can this guy think that the Cubs should let Arrieta go?”. I know, it sounds crazy, but there are three key reasons why the Cubs should not pay up for their ace.
8 years $184 million. Financials that make me cringe when put next to the name Jason Heyward.
Advanced statistics have favored Jason Heyward his entire career because he can do everything on the diamond. However, you could make an argument that Heyward’s best year was his rookie year. His OBP, OPS, SLG, WAR and BA were all either the best or 2nd best he has ever had in a single season in his career. That was 6 years ago! Heyward has actually not improved much statically since his rookie year yet he will be raking in around $24 million a year for 8 years! I don’t know how this makes sense when the Cubs already had Schwarber, Soler, and Fowler (singed after Heyward) patrolling the outfield at Wrigley.
Not to mention, Lester is in year 2 of a 6 year/$155 million contract. Ben Zobrist (who will likely provide more value than Heyward for far less money and commitment) has a 4 year/$56 million contract just signed this offseason. A 7-year contract with Anthony Rizzo, a 9 year contract with Jorge Soler. What does this mean? The Cubs are betting a lot of money that these players produce big numbers for 4-5 plus years.
And there is no doubt that Arrieta and Scott Boras are going to want around 7 years. I’ve never been a proponent of long term deals (7 years and up) on more than 2 players. Too much can go wrong in those 7+ years and they usually don’t pay off as well as once thought. Not to mention, the Cubs are going to have to figure out what they want to do with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell in the near future as they will likely want long term deals as well. Both of them are much younger than Arrieta and are more deserving of long term deals because their prime is likely ahead of them.
The Cubs need to look ahead and see what they have created here. A team filled with big, long term contracts. A lot of risk involved here. The Cubs have already dug themselves a huge hole in committing to players long term. They need to hedge out here and realize that the 30 year-old Arrieta is the player they need to let go to keep them from falling into a money pit.
Secondly, the market for free agent pitchers does not favor the Chicago Cubs in contract talks. If you read my post on the Stephen Strasburg contract you know that I believe that the starting pitching market is inflated. Not only that, the front offices are at the mercy of the players and their agents, in terms of how long and big the deal is. This will be the case when the Cubs sit down with Scott Boras to talk about Jake Arrieta’s contract.
Right off the bat, Scott Boras is going to show Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office the contracts of the best pitchers in the game. Clayton Kershaw: 7 years/$215 million, Max Scherzer: 7 years/$210 million, David Price: 7 years/$217 million, Zack Greinke: 6 years/$206.5 million. Boras is going to make the argument that Arrieta has been more dominant than all of these pitchers recently (maybe not Kershaw). And he also beat out both Kershaw and Greinke for the Cy Young Award last year. Comparatively, how can Arrieta get less money than these guys? Moreover, look at the terms of these deals (6-7 years). Arrieta is going to look for a deal that mimics these top pitchers. I think he’s going to be asking for 7 years/$210 million.
On top of that, Boras is going to look at the pitchers within the Cubs organization. He will point out that Jon Lester will be making $25 million/year and John Lackey will be making $16 million/year at the age of 37. There is no doubt Arrieta is the best pitcher out of the three, and the Cubs know that. So the Cubs aren’t going to be able to pay Arrieta any less than $25 million/year.
What is amazing about all of this is how Boras further boosted Arrieta’s potential for a huge deal by coming to terms with another one of his clients, Stephen Strasburg. Read my post on Stephen Strasburg’s contract https://savagesportsblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/evaluating-stephen-strasburgs-contract/. Boras rarely does contact extensions but he had a plan when he agreed to a 7 year $175 million extension for Strasburg. I believe he made this extension recently to further prove Arrieta’s worth. Arrieta has been far more productive than Strasburg over the last few years. Boras, knowing that, made this deal as a ploy to get more money for Arrieta. In effect, Boras has guaranteed Arrieta well over $175 million because you can’t compare what Arrieta and Strasburg have accomplished in the last couple of years.
In conclusion, the Cubs have no leverage in these contract talks. Comparing the deals in the inflated pitching market to what Arrieta should get, makes me believe that Arrieta is going to get at least $200 million (with 6 or 7 years). Reverting back to point number one, should the Cubs really be taking on another long term deal? This one being more lucrative than all the others? I think the risk is greater than the reward.
3.Cubs Pitching Depth
Lastly, I want to mention that the Cubs may not need Arrieta. If they forgo singing Arrieta and spend the excess money that would have been spent on Arrieta wisely, they may be in a better situation after all.
The Cubs have the #1 pitching staff in the MLB, currently. Jon Lester would be a #1 pitcher on a fair amount teams. John Lackey, who actually has the worst ERA out of the starting pitchers this season at 3.16, is a seasoned vet who is still producing at the age of 37. Jason Hammel has revitalized his career in Chicago and is currently 6-1 with a 2.09 ERA. And the 26-year-old Kyle Hendricks has a lot of potential in only his 3rd year in the majors. Put it all together, and you have a really deep starting rotation in Chicago.
I think the Cubs would still have a top 10 pitching staff without Arrieta. Why not let Arrieta walk and use the money you didn’t spend on him to go after a serviceable Brett Anderson or Endinson Volquez in the offseason? Why not let Arrieta walk and use the money you didn’t spend on him to resign Hammel in 2018? Why not let Arrieta walk and use the money you didn’t spend on him to entice Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, or Jamie Garcia to come to Chicago in 2018? There are a lot routes the Cubs can go with this as these players will require a lot less less money than Arrieta.
As mentioned before, the Cubs also are going to want to resign Addison Russell and Kris Bryant. It’s going to be a lot more difficult to do that if they take on the Arrieta contract.
I also want to point out that 4 of the Cubs top 11 prospects are pitchers. And Keith Law currently ranked the Cubs farm system as the 4th best in the MLB. They are going to have players coming up through the pipelines in the next couple of years and it would be a shame if they couldn’t hold onto them if they are handcuffed by all these long term deals.
What I’m trying to say is that the future is very bright for the Cubs, even without Arrieta. It would be nice to have him, but do they really need him, for that long, for all that money? I think the Cubs need to look at the big picture and their franchise as a whole and realize that Arrieta may not be part of the plan going forward.
Simply put, the Cubs have too many long term deals currently (more to come in the future), they will have no leverage in contract talks with Arrieta, and don’t necessarily need him. These three factors put together make the case for why the Cubs should let Arrieta walk.
After all, what is stopping the 30-year-old from going back to his old ways in Baltimore? If you look into his career he’s had more bad years than good ones. How will he fare as he ages and loses velocity on his pitches? What if he loses control of his pitches again? All of these are questions the Cubs front office and Theo Epstein should be asking.
I firmly believe that there is too much risk involved with Arrieta on a long term deal. Especially, given the Cubs situation. They have a top 5 farm system, already have pitching depth, and are very young. I don’t think this is the time for them to commit to a 30-year-old pitcher with only 3 years of good pitching on his resume. It’s just not worth it. I’ll be interested to see how Theo Epstein and the Cubs handle this situation.
There has been a lot hiring/firing of coaches in the basketball world recently. I’m going to be giving grades to each front office on how they handled the coaching search and predict the future successes or failures of these franchises.
*All statistics were taken from http://www.baseball-reference.com*