by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It’s been a wild ride for Jake Arrieta, going from touted prospect to disappointment to ultimately emerging in 2015 as one of the elite starting pitchers in the league. The question we have to ask ourselves is just how believable was last season’s success:
236 Strikeouts (9.28 K/9)
48 Walks (1.89 BB/9)
56.2% Groundball Rate
We’re going to throw the wins out the window immediately, because we all know how “fluky” the category is. At the same time, with his BABIP and 80.0% strand rate, it would be easy to declare him a regression waiting to happen. Granted, replicating these impressive ratios would appear unlikely but that doesn’t mean he’s due for a dramatic falloff.
One of the biggest developments was the increased usage of his sinker, which certainly can help justify the improved groundball rate (sinker usage // groundball rate):
- 2014 – 27.55% // 49.2%
- 2015 – 42.87% // 56.2%
If you want to pinpoint it even more, Arrieta generated a 63.6% groundball rate in the second half as he started throwing his sinker that much more:
- August – 48.48%
- September – 51.49%
If he maintains this type of utilization of the pitch, the groundball rate is going to be believable.
His strikeouts also aren’t going anywhere, with an 11.1% SwStr% and 35.0% O-Swing%. It’s also not just one pitch that he utilizes to generate the swings and misses, with his changeup (15.33%), slider (16.82%) and curveball (17.09%) all generating Whiff% north of 15%. That’s a scary combination, as he can finish opponents off with any pitch.
His control has been the biggest improvement, but with a split of 1.85 and 1.93 in ’15 and a 2.18 BB/9 in the second half of ’14, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t for real.
Suddenly you have a strikeout per inning pitcher with tremendous control and the potential for an elite groundball rate… Sure he may not match his second half 0.75 ERA but it’s going to be hard to argue against him as a Top 5 option.
At the end of the day you put it all together and get the following projection:
220.0 IP, 17 W, 2.58 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 233 K (9.53 K/9), 52 BB (2.13 BB/9)
The numbers come courtesy of a .284 BABIP and 78.3% strand rate. Overall it’s a “regression” off his 2015 campaign, but the numbers he posted are nearly impossible to repeat. He carries an elite skill set and is going to be a Top 5 option among starting pitchers. Outside of Clayton Kershaw, is there anyone you can say with certainty he’s not better than?
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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Make sure to check out our other early 2016 rankings: