MLB Free Agency: Does Jake Arrieta make sense for the Phillies?

by Max Sander

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that 2015 Cy Young Award Winner Jake Arrieta has signed a lucrative 3 year, $75 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. At the ripe age of 31, many critics believe that Arrieta has plateaued after his 2015 campaign. All you have to do is take a quick glance at last year’s stats and you will see a decline in wins (22 to 14), as well as a rise in ERA (1.77 to 3.53) and WHIP (0.865 to 1.218). This sharp rise in whip could be attributed to his 2016 league-leading totals in wild pitches and the 5th most hit batsmen. However, even with all these obvious declines, Arrieta still was a top ten pitcher in both ERA and Adjusted ERA, highlighting just how effective he still can be. Although he may not be the outright best pitcher in the league, the Phillies have themselves a clear powerful ace and veteran leader to anchor their rotation.

What This Does For the Phillies

Looking back at the Phillies season preview, their pitching staff showcased talent in the likes of Aaron Nola and hopeful bounce back candidate Jerad Eickhoff. However, only Nola and rookie Ben Lively had an ERA- below 100, and Lively’s dreadful 5.58 xFIP shows he is due to regress. Adding Arrieta into the mix, the Phillies immediately gain positive traction for the coming season (and likely the 2 seasons after as well). Arrieta’s instant impact is demonstrated by a significant improvement in overall team ERA.  When substituting Arrieta’s projected 3.67 ERA into the rotation in place of the 5th pitcher, the team ERA jumps from what was projected, which in 2017 would’ve been 21st in the Majors, to a greatly improved 4.32 figure that would’ve ranked 13th in 2017; An 8-spot leap is nothing to sneeze at and bolsters the pitching staff significantly. The one-two punch of Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola is a formidable duo immediately.

More importantly, Arrieta provides veteran wisdom that will develop the Phils young staff for the future. Considering that both of the team’s veteran free agent signees, Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, signed 3-year deals leaving them with the club through the 2020 season. Both of these vets should still be fairly productive for the next 2 seasons, and the young talent corps that the franchise has been developing will be in their prime years in 2019 and 2020. Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, and J.P. Crawford among many others will be in their mid-to-late twenties with some having contracts near expiration. Not only will these guys have something to prove entering contract years, but as stated previously, they’ll be in their respective primes. The combination of the talent peaking at the right time and having both Santana and Arrieta for contract expiring years in 2020, leads me to believe this is the year they are targeting for a deep playoff run, but don’t be shocked if the Phils arrive a year ahead of schedule. With 2020 in mind, the continued development of talent along with maintaining the performances of Arrieta and Santana is of the utmost importance for a strong future for the club. The obvious downside risk revolves around these aging vets staying healthy and performing fairly close to current levels.

What This Does For Arrieta

The 31-year-old former Cy Young Arrieta has something to prove to his critics. Many, like Nick Pollack of Pitcherlist, will point at his mechanics as a likely source of performance breakdown. Pollack said, “Throwing heavily across body creates a much smaller margin for error when timing your release point, preventing those needing precise locations from consistent performance. We’ve seen Arrieta locked in and feeling his mechanics through full seasons and then some, but 2016 and 2017 showcased a pitcher struggling to get his feel back. The pitch to take the biggest hit was his slider, returning a -8.2 pVal just two years removed from a 24.2 mark. Arrieta has reduced its usage dramatically to make up for his slider’s woes, though it’s possible his slider was just the first domino to fall.” And he concluded that “Arrieta’s mechanics set him up for success and failure. He may regain his feel and climb back up the ladder, but there’s farther to fall still.” Pollack and others have continued to note that due to his mechanics, Arrieta may soon plummet from the apex of the pitching world he once held. A chance like the one the Phillies have given him to anchor a young rotation provides Jake Arrieta will the opportunity to regain confidence in his pitches without the immediate pressure to win. The Phils do not expect to win the pennant or even the division anytime soon. Being competitive by 2019 would be an upside surprise.

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