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.

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Need an SP, Look to Andrew Triggs

andrew triggsIt is almost crunch time for fantasy baseball leagues around the world. Many playoffs have started or will start soon and roto leagues are preparing for the home stretch. Now more than every you have to scour the waiver wire to find that diamond in the rough to keep your team in contention. If you are one of those unfortunate teams that recently lost a starting pitcher you’re probably looking at the available options thinking there has to be something better than these guys. Good news, there is.

One of the statistics that I pay close attention to in evaluating a starting pitcher is his FIP. For those of you who may not know FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching. Basically it is a measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness that doesn’t penalize or promote a pitcher based on the defense behind him. When evaluating a pitcher, I look at his FIP in relation to his ERA. If the FIP is significantly lower than his ERA, 1.0 or more, and his FIP is at a level that would be a better than usable ERA then you may have found an under-performer. Currently there are 68 starting pitchers who have a FIP that is at least 1.0 lower than their ERA. Many of these pitchers are still worthless as their FIP is in the 4.0+ range and well above league average or they are already owned in too many leagues to be available to add. There is one however that has a sub-4.0 FIP and is only owned in 4% of leagues. That pitcher is Oakland righty Andrew Triggs.

Triggs is 27 years old and made his MLB debut in April of this year, so if you never heard of him your probably not alone. If you just look at his basic stat line you likely won’t be impressed, 4.38 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and a 0-1 record for 2016. However, if you dig deeper there are some promising signs that could make him an intriguing add in deeper mixed leagues.

As a minor leaguer Triggs had a career 2.09 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 over five seasons. He has a low walk rate at 2.1 walks per nine, including his MLB innings, and a 0.2 HR/9. Currently in the majors he sports a 3.31 FIP which tells me he has been pitching well, but the Oakland defense has let him down on occasion. That assumption is backed up by his 8.4 K/9, 0.7 HR/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in his 49.1 innings with the big league club.
Being that the bulk of his time with the A’s this season have been in a relief role the stat line doesn’t tell the whole story. As a starter Triggs has only five earned runs in 19.2 innings. Most recently he pitched six, three hit, shutout innings against Cleveland. Over his past 12 games, which includes all five of his starts and a total of 31.1 innings he has a 2.30 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 28 strikeouts to 8 walks. Even better in his last three appearances, all since he became a regular part of the rotation, he has a 2.30 ERA, 0.70 WHIP and 12 Ks to 1 BB.

Is Triggs and ace? No. He is, however, a great late season add to help you maintain your lead or gain ground on your competition if you are in need of a starting pitcher because you lost John Lackey, Steven Matz or Stephen Strasburg.

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.