With the kind of season reigning N.L. Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta had in 2015, it was evident he was going to get paid. According to the Associated Press on Friday, Arrieta and the Cubs avoided arbitration with a one-year, $10.7 million contract. The Cubs have not yet confirmed it. One month from Saturday, the right-hander turns 30.
The trade to the Cubs from the Orioles in July 2013 breathed new life into Arrieta’s career. Gone are the days of high ERA totals, combined with many home runs served up and never maximizing his potential in Baltimore. The Chicago version of Arrieta has matured into the major league-leader in wins, complete games, and shutouts. He has slashed his WHIP and FIP tremendously compared to where those numbers were before. The man whom offenses would pick apart when he pitched his home games at Camden Yards? He’s gone.
Still, even with all of his recent accomplishments, he needs to get to work this season. What if the team has seen the best of their Cy Young recipient? No, he does not have to be better than, or even as good as, he was in 2015. That is unrealistic. The man caught lightning in a bottle during the second half and bested Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw for the top pitching honor. However, Arrieta is still not as well established as those two. While his performance was a major reason the Cubs made it to the playoffs, once they got there, he had some starts which left a lot to be desired.
There’s no doubt he put the team on his back in the Wild Card game against the Pirates. The righty pitched a complete game shutout with eleven strikeouts and no walks. However, that was the last the Cubbies would see of him in his really dominant form. Chicago did beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, but that was in spite of Arrieta, not because of him. He got the win in a Game Three slug fest, in which he allowed four runs, all earned, in 5.2 innings. The Cubs would win the game 8-6 and clinched the series the very next night.
A lot of stuff can go wrong when a team is swept in the NLCS. For Arrieta and company, there wasn’t much they could muster up against the Mets. In all four games, New York grabbed the lead in the first inning. Not once, at any point in the series, were the Cubs ever ahead. Arrieta’s numbers in Game Two against the Mets were nearly identical to his start against St. Louis: four earned runs, five innings, two walks, and a home run. His magic touch vanished once the stakes got higher.
So, who is the real Jake Arrieta? Was last season just an incredible run and now it’s back to reality? Remember, he had a terrific 2014 also. Should we just chalk it up to a couple of bad starts in October? It’s hard to tell, since he had no prior playoff experience before 2015. Regular season and postseason stats do not necessarily correlate.
For the Cubs, the expectations are exponentially raised and they’re in prime position for another playoff berth in 2016, though anything can transpire over the course of a long season. Should they make it again, it is likely Arrieta will play a role in that. While one pitcher does not make a club (not everyone can be Madison Bumgarner circa 2014), if the Cubs are to win their first pennant since 1945, he must bring it when it matters most. It is unfair to expect him to duplicate or exceed last year, but he must show he is worth the money, and helping his team to the promised land would go a long way.