In the winter of 2012-2013, the Chicago Cubs signed Scott Feldman to a one-year contract, with every intention of flipping him at the trade deadline, just as the case has been this year with trade candidate Jason Hammel. While Hammel has outpitched Feldman and could bring them a better return on paper, the return for Feldman from the Baltimore Orioles has likely exceeded even the front office’s expectations.
The Cubs were able to acquire Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop in the deal that sent Feldman to Baltimore. The latter piece there, in Strop, has proven to be a very nice addition to the bullpen. Flashing electric stuff, Strop has been dominant when he’s on his game. Where the real long term success could be within this trade is with Arrieta. Formerly a top prospect in the O’s organization, Arrieta was scuffling at the time of the deal, with the Cubs banking on a change of scenery to get him back on track. That has certainly been the case to date.
Arrieta pitched to a 3.56 ERA after being relegated to Triple-A Iowa immediately after the trade, and he made his debut with the Cubs on July 30th, ending the season with a 3.66 ERA as a member of the Cubs. He struggled a bit in August, particularly with the walks, but was able to finish the season strong en route to establishing himself as a rotation piece coming into the 2014 season. His season started late due to injury, but the recent results have been outstanding.
On the season to this point, Arrieta has posted a 1.98 ERA as a starter, which is proving no fluke with his 2.32 FIP. He’s striking out almost 10 hitters per nine, his highest total at the Major League level (small sample size) and his 2.70 walks per nine are the lowest of his career. Those numbers are, no doubt, thanks to his 53 percent groundball rate, which is also the highest rate of his career, and plays extremely well at a home park like Wrigley.
So just to what should we attribute this recent success? Well, his command for one. Arrieta struggled to keep the walks down in his brief time with the Cubs in 2013, but that has not been an issue this year. Couple that with his decreased four seam usage, in addition to an increased cutter usage, as well as the dominance of his slider. Throw in the curveball and change that he also employs and his command allows him to effectively mix those pitches up. Which has led to that increased groundball rate, but also more strikeouts.
Jake Arrieta is 28 years old, but he doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his arm, which bodes well for the future. Now that his struggles appear to be behind him, he can focus on establishing himself within this Cubs rotation. We’ve heard his name pop up in trade rumors, but the Cubs appear to be listening on anyone not named Travis Wood. Make no mistake about it, though, they’d have to be blown away in any trade for the righty now that he’s beginning to establish himself as a large piece of this pitching staff moving forward.