What’s Wrong with Jake Arrieta?

Last night in Chicago Jake Arrieta had one of his worst games of the season going 6.1 innings and giving up 6 earned runs on 5 hits and 3 walks. It was, to most, somewhat of a surprise as he was coming off one of his best starts on August 23rd where he pitched 8 scoreless innings of 2 hit ball at San Diego. If you look at his overall line for the year you probably would not be too concerned as he has a 2.84 ERA, 1.048 WHIP with 16 wins on the season. I would argue though that there should be some concern.

It would be unfair to just say Arrieta is struggling because his season hasn’t been what it was in 2015, since that was an amazing season for him and he was the Cy Young winner in the National League. My concerns are more rooted in numbers that not everyone likely pays attention to.

Over Arrieta’s best two seasons of his career, so far, 2014 and 2015 he had a 2.08 ERA and a 0.915 WHP. He obviously isn’t living up to that, but ok we can’t expect that necessarily. In that same span of time he had a 2.31 FIP, 0.4 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 9.4 K/9, this is where my concern falls. In 2016 his FIP is 1.16 higher at 3.47, his HR/9 has nearly doubled to 0.7, BB/9 is up to 3.5 and he is not striking batter out at the same clip with an 8.6 K/9. His struggles are very prominent in his last 11 starts where he has a 4.20 ERA, 34 walks and only 60 strikeouts in 75 innings. To make matters worse he has a record of 6-6 in those games.

So what is wrong with Jake Arrieta? According to BrooksBaseball.net it wouldn’t appear that he is injured as his velocity is right in line with his 2015 numbers. His pitch mix does appear to have changed. As you can see from the chart below he has begun to rely more heavily on his hard stuff versus his breaking pitches, throwing his fastballs 14% more of the time then he did in 2014 and 2015. As the 2016 season has progressed that has become an even bigger trend as he has thrown hard pitches 73.21% of the time in the month of August.

Arrieta 2014 thru 2016 pitch selection

My theory, however, is more than that. Last season Arrieta threw a career high 229.0 innings, 55.7 more innings than his previous high of 173.3 set in 2010. Since 2010 he has thrown 119.3 in 2011, 170.7 in 2012, 154.7 in 2013 and 176 innings in 2014. It is not that a jump to 229 innings is a death sentence for a pitcher, but that is a fairly large workload and many of those innings were in higher pressure situations than ever before. It is very likely with Arrieta already at 168.0 innings in 2016 that he is just wearing down from last year’s innings and because of that his stuff just isn’t as crisp.

Though we don’t know for sure what is wrong with Arrieta, what we do know is the Cubs have to find a way to get him back to his high end form soon as they are likely in the playoffs for 2016 and have a good shot of making it to the World Series if they can get him right.

What Were the Astros Thinking?

download-3In 2015 the Astros took the world by storm with their playoff run surprising nearly everyone. They had a team full of young, exciting, talent like George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Their pitching staff had the AL Cy Young award winner in Dallas Keuchel. Not to mention Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh. No they didn’t make it to the World Series, but they did put on a show.

Turn to 2016 and it is not hard to see that so far this season has been a disappointment. Those stud pitchers have been ordinary. Their offense has been hit or miss. They just can’t seem to bring back the excitement of last season.

At the trade deadline the Houston Astros were relatively quiet. With all the young talent they have in their minor league system you would have thought they would have made a big splash and gone after a difference maker, but they didn’t. Was it a mistake? Yes. Houston’s offense is going to be there as they have big bats throughout their lineup and more on the way with the inevitable call-up of Yulieski Gurriel. What they lack is a lock down starting pitcher. A slump buster. They guy that goes out there and says today we end our losing streak.

Chris Sale was reportedly available if the price was right and Houston was one of a few teams that could have offered the right price. A package that included multiple Triple-A studs could have been put together and not even made a dent in the future of the Astros. Instead Houston is without an ace pitcher and a log jam of talent that has them bringing prospects up only to split time and platoon.

I am no MLB general manager and never have been, other than in my own mind, but I have to think that the Astros made a big mistake at the deadline and were either prospect greedy or overconfident in the pitching staff they had.

Inflating ERA Expectations

Throughout the 2016 season there have been many analysts, including myself, that have been screaming from the rooftops that there is no good pitching available in fantasy baseball. We came in to this season with our lists of “aces” and had an idea as to what we thought our team ERA would be based on the pitchers we drafted. Each week we look at the available pitchers out there and among all the stats one we analyze more often than others is the ERA. We see pitchers with a high three ERA and say he stinks I would never want to add him, but he is the best pitcher available.

Our problem is not that these high three ERA pitchers stink, it’s that our perception of what a good ERA is might be skewed. To verify this I took a look at the league average ERA for the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons. Then I compared those numbers to the league average ERA for 2016. I was surprised at what I found.

Starting in 2012 and ending in 2014 the league wide average ERA decreased from 4.01 to 3.74. During those years we were getting use to pitchers with better and better ERAs. Then in 2015 the trend began to reverse, going from 3.74 in 2014 to 3.95 in 2015.

But why didn’t we complain about pitching being worse last year then? Probably because the increase was fairly small. Now we look at the increase from 2015 to 2016, where ERAs jumped from an average of 3.95 to 4.18 so far in 2016. That’s not a significant difference when you look at it compared to the jump from 2014 to 2015, but it is a major shift if we look at from 2014 to 2016. League average ERA is at its highest point that it has been in five years.

Pitching in general is lousy compared to 2014 ERA numbers and therefore when we look at one individual pitcher on the waiver wire who has a high three ERA we say no thanks, but when you realize that is well below what the league average ERA is that pitcher becomes a whole lot more usable in fantasy baseball. Key point to remember her is that there are still players out there like Danny Duffy, Clayton Kershaw or Jake Arrieta who will blow you away with their ERA, but that guy on waivers with a 3.60 ERA is actually a pretty good add relative to the league.

Even more important in regards to this conversation is that when you draft your team next year remember to keep these new norms in mind when setting expectations.

 

Gurriel to Make His MLB Debut

download-5_origWith Yulieski Gourriel  (Gurreil) finally making his MLB debut for the Astros we thought we would repost what we wrote about him earlier this year.

Original posting from earlier this year. 

Over the weekend Cuban superstar Yulieski Gourriel  (Gurriel) signed with the Houston Astros. This 32 year old infielder has had Twitter buzzing for a few weeks now as he worked out for multiple major league teams. We ask the question, who is Yulieski Gourriel?

Yulieski Gurriel is from Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. Gurriel, which sometimes is spelled Gurriel for some reason, is 6’0, 196 lbs, bats and throws right and can play second or third base. He has played professionally since he was 17 or since 2001. Over that time he has played in 925 games, 5,491 plate appearances, 974 runs, 1585 hits, 250 home runs, 1,018 RBIs, 121 stolen bases, 611 walks and a career slash line of .335/.417/.580. For reference purposes we can compare his slash line to Chicago White Sox player Jose Abreu while in Cuba, .341/.456/.622.

Now that Gurriel is signed he will likely report to either Triple-A or Double-A for Houston and spend around a month before we see him in the big leagues. With Altuve already cemented in as the every day second baseman for the Astros it is anticipated that Gurriel will play third base when he arrives in the big leagues. Expectations will be high as he is the biggest Cuban born star to come to the majors in years, but temper your enthusiasm as it’s important to recognize that he is 32 years old and has had a layoff from facing competitive pitching. With that being said, he is a great late season speculative add in just about any fantasy league and could payoff big time if he lives up to the hype