How Is Jake Arrieta's Fantasy Baseball Value Impacted by Joining the Phillies?
The Jake Arrieta free-agent saga is finally over. The 32-year-old right-hander has finally found a home, landing with the Philadelphia Phillies on a three-year, $75 million deal that could reach five years and $135 million if certain options are picked up by the team.
Arrieta moves from fronting a rotation for a perennial World Series contender to a team that has an intriguing mix of young and talented players that is presumably on the way up. However, the Phils do not currently have the pedigree the Cubs do. Our projections see Chicago as a 93-win team in 2018, while the Phillies were projected to win 77 games prior to this acquisition. Still, this move could make the Phillies a wild card contender in the National League, putting him at the top of a rotation with one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, Aaron Nola.
So what does the move from Chicago to Philadelphia mean for Arrieta's fantasy baseball value? Should you bump him down your starting pitching list, or does this have no real effect?
Arrieta will be go from pitching the majority of his games at Wrigley Field to Citizens Bank Park, both of which are hitter-friendly venues.
According to ESPN's Park Factors for 2017, Wrigley Field ranked as the fifth-best run-scoring environment in baseball, while CBP wasn't far behind at ninth-best. As far as homers go, no park was more generous than the one in Philadelphia last season, while Wrigley ranked tied for 15th.
This could pose a problem for Arrieta, who was more susceptible to giving up the big fly in 2017. He allowed a career-high 23 homers last year and has seen that number increase every season since 2015 (10 to 16 to 23). His home runs allowed per nine innings (HR/9) has gone up every season since 2014, most recently settling in at a career-high mark of 1.23.
Though it's been an extremely small sample size, Arrieta has fared well at Citizens Bank Park. He's made two career starts there, but was outstanding in each, with 1 run and 8 hits allowed in 15 innings, good for an ERA of 0.60 with 16 strikeouts and 3 walks.
Arrieta's numbers figure to take a bit of a hit with his new defense behind him.
The Cubs have had one of the best groups of fielders over the last few seasons. During their run to the World Series in 2016, they had the best gloves in all of baseball. They slipped a bit last season, but still finished sixth in terms of FanGraphs' overall defensive score. They were eighth in defensive runs saved (DRS) and fourth in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a measure of how much ground they were able to cover.
As for the Phils, their defense was not very good. To be fair, though, the 2018 team will look somewhat different from the squad that was there for much of last season. In 2017, the Phillies' overall defense was 19th in overall FanGraphs' defensive score, their DRS was 3rd-worst and their UZR was 21st.
However, they got better defensively at first base this winter with the addition of Carlos Santana, and their defense up the middle is strong, with rookie J.P. Crawford and Cesar Hernandez making a solid double play combo, along with Gold Glove finalist Odubel Herrera in center field. The corner outfield situation is a question mark, with Rhys Hoskins a below-average defender in left field, while the jury is still out on Nick Williams in right. On days Aaron Altherr plays, right field defense will be strong.
Pitch framing has been a major point of emphasis for the Phillies this spring, with coaches raving about presumed starter Jorge Alfaro's improvement behind the plate. The Phils are working with their receivers to do a better job at earning their pitchers some extra strikes, something Cameron Rupp, Alfaro, and Andrew Knapp were dreadful at last season.
Rupp ranked as the seventh-worst pitch framer in baseball, but it's likely Alfaro is going to be the man getting the majority of starts moving forward. He was only slightly better than Knapp and Rupp, but played in just 29 big league games, which is not enough of a sample size to say anything for certain.
Whatever happens with Philadelphia's catchers, Arrieta did not get a lot of help last season in this area with his old team. Willson Contreras ranked as the eighth-worst pitch framer in baseball, so it's likely that no matter what Alfaro does, Phillies catchers can't do any worse.
It's clear to anyone who has watched Arrieta over the last few seasons that he's not the pitcher he was during that Cy Young-winning performance in 2015. His velocity has dropped, as his four-seam fastball averaged 92.6 mph last year (down from 94.9 miles per hour in 2015). In 2015, he piled on 19.2 postseason innings on top of the 229 he threw in the regular season (248.2 total), and in 2016, Arrieta threw a combined 219.2 innings (regular and postseason), so it's easy to see why that velo took a big hit.
The tread on the tires may be wearing down.
His slider has also gotten worse. In 2015, that pitch saved 23.5 runs above average, according to FanGraphs, but last year, it was 9.7 runs below average. If he can rediscover that pitch in 2018, he can be dominant. Without it, hitters will wait for him to come across the plate with his fastball and continue the home run barrage.
We project 177 innings (an increase over last year's 168.1) for Arrieta in 2018, along with a 3.52 ERA, 170 strikeouts and 14 wins. He is our 16th-most valuable pitcher in fantasy, and given his current Average Draft Position in which he's the 35th pitcher off the board (25th starter), going at 101.67 overall (the 8th round in 12-team leagues), fantasy owners should not feel shy about taking him right around there.
He probably would have had a bit more success pitching in front of a more established team like the Cubs, but the Phillies are a group that should challenge for a wild card in 2018, allowing Arrieta to rack up some wins behind an exciting young offense.