Watching Bronson Arroyo pitch is like watching an artist paint. A lot of things he throws onto the canvas may seem hard to explain at first. But in the end he produces a pretty picture.
Arroyo, 35, is one of the starters who carried the Cincinnati Reds to the National League Central Division title and into the playoffs. He is 12-9 with a 3.70 earned run average, but has pitched better than that in 2012, especially over the last couple of months. Not a game goes by that I see Arroyo pitch that doesn’t fascinate me.
He is 6-foot-4 and weighs 195 pounds, which means he is built somewhat like a flagpole. When he delivers his right-hand tosses, he displays one of the most unusual motions in the majors, kicking his right leg out straight, almost as if at the end of his pitch to the plate the leg is going boing. But the reason why I love watching Arroyo pitch is because within the context of the same batter his pitch speed might vary from 67 mph to 87 mph. That’s crazy.
To put that in perspective, R.A. Dickey, the 20-game winner for the New York Mets who is the only knuckleball pitcher in the majors throws harder than Arroyo does most of the time. Dickey’s knuckler might travel to the plate at a rate of 75 mph. In the age of the super fastballer, where almost everyone seems to throw 95 and Arroyo’s own teammate Aroldis Chapman has been clocked at 106 mph, Arroyo should be timed with a sundial, not a radar gun.
Bronson, dude, this means you throw slower than the last knuckleball pitcher left in the game.
“I know,” said Arroyo, who proceded to relay an anecdote that he said was one of the best compliments he ever received. Albert Pujols, when he was still with the St. Louis Cardinals, faced Arroyo regularly and one day when he was on first base chatting with Reds fielder Joey Votto he said. “Bronson doesn’t have good enough stuff to pitch in the big leagues, man, but I have no idea what this guy is going to throw me.”
Arroyo, who grew up in Florida and played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox before the Reds, has a lifetime record of 124-114 in 13 years in the big leagues. He has never been a gigantic winner, but has good control, is an innings eater, and has won 14 games or more four times for the Reds with a high of 17 in 2010, the last time they won the division crown.
“I’ve always had a feel for the game,” Arroyo said. “It’s kind of like shooting a free throw. Guys who shoot free throws well, the John Stocktons of the world, will always be able to shoot good free throws and I’ve always had a feel for the game since I was a young kid. I could throw a spinning breaking ball over the plate whenever, so throwing strikes has never been a problem.”
Arroyo, who threw a perfect game in AAA with Pawtucket when he was in the Red Sox organization, plays the guitar, is one of the friendliest guys in any locker room, and doesn’t act if there is anything in the world that bothers him. He exudes a certain calmness and he has most likely benefited greatly by being self-analytical. When scouts encounter a pitcher like Arroyo in high school or college, they do not write glowing reviews and they do not encourage their clubs to draft them. Being able to out-think hitters is an intangible.
“You find multiple ways to maximize your ability in the strike zone,” Arroyo said, “without being able to throw the ball by guys very often.”
Arroyo isn’t going to dazzle hitters with his speed, but he has proven he can fool them with location and slow-motion stuff.
Cincinnati has reached this point in the season because of its superior pitching. The staff ERA is 3.39 while the team batting average is .253. They are going to need Arroyo, and the same kind of pitching in October that they displayed in August, to make a march through the playoffs.