At sunrise on a fourteenth of June there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in orange-colors, at the water-side in the city of Baltimore. Jake Arrieta was back!
Or maybe it was that during his faux-banishment to the bullpen he had mastered some kind of zen koan, and something clicked. Or, wait, maybe his sudden un-banishment had left his head literally (figuratively) spinning so fast that he couldn't focus on his problems, and all that was left was his filthy stuff. Or, no, that's all stupid...he was facing the Pirates, who right now look literally (literally) like a team out of the deadball era. Shutting them down is a fine accomplishment, but hardly indicative. Or, huh, how about the fact that......
Seems like lately everyone's been trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with Jake Arrieta. Arrieta has had several great games this season, including last night's gem against Pittsburgh, but he also has a lot of clunkers on his resume. He couldn't get out of the fourth inning against Tampa Bay, then went out five days later and threw seven innings of dominant ball against the Washington Nationals. He struck out the side in one inning in Toronto, and then a few innings later got beat around. The inconsistency, from start to start and inning to inning, has us prowling for the reason behind it all.
A lot of the talk around the Orioles media has centered on the mental side of things. Arrieta, they say, is a tremendously confident guy, but he over-thinks things out on the mound, and since he's been struggling that confidence has melted. Before his demotion to the bullpen he reportedly looked pretty down on himself in the clubhouse, and spent the night on the phone with his dad, looking for guidance.
I have never met Jake Arrieta. I'd certainly like to, he seems like a good guy and an interesting person. His confidence level is absolutely an important part of his pitching, and I have no position whatsoever to say anything about it. If the reporters say he's down on himself, I have to believe that his confidence is shaken, and that that is a real issue.
But color me skeptical anytime we completely jump over the statistical side of the equation in order to get right to the meaty confidence issues (it feels like we aren't that far removed from similar types of stories about Brad Bergesen as he came down from the unsustainable high of his rookie season). The stats here actually tell an interesting story, too, if you let them.
Last night, Arrieta's success can be broken down into a fairly simple pattern: he struck out a lot of batters (30% of those he faced), kept them from walking to first (only 3.33% batters reached on a walk), and he kept the ball in the yard (0 homers allowed). That's the stuff of dominating starts, in a nutshell.
On the year, Arrieta has K'ed 21.3% of batters faced, walked 6.8%, and allowed home runs to 3.1%. Those numbers aren't quite as strong as what he did to the Pirates, but they are still very good numbers. Those numbers should put Arrieta in the top rankings of starting pitchers, but of course the problem lies in the unaccounted for 68.8% of batters. Those guys are hitting .325/.325/.409 against him, and that's the difference between an ace and a guy looking for his lost confidence.
For what it's worth, the non-strike out, non-walk batters last night hit .368/.368/.474 against Arrieta. If you believe that those numbers have something to do with Arrieta's abilities or his mental toughness or what-have-you, I'm not interested in arguing that point. I'm merely pointing out that last night was not a step forward, it was just more of the same stuff.
That's not a put-down. Arrieta's a good pitcher with great stuff and bad command. Struggles are going to happen, especially on balls in play, where the pitcher is a relatively small factor in the outcome, but the bottom line is he's a good pitcher. Getting him back into the rotation to keep fighting those struggles is the big win here for the Orioles - other than soundly beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, of course.