Fantasy Baseball: Is Jake Arrieta an Elite Starter Once Again?
In 2015, no one in baseball pitched better than Jake Arrieta.
Whether it be in real life or in fantasy, Arrieta was elite. That year, he went 22-6 for the Chicago Cubs with an insane 1.77 ERA and 2.35 FIP across 229 innings pitched. That was the same year he struck out 27.1% of batters faced while walking just 5.5% with a 0.86 WHIP and a .184 batting average against. In the second half alone, Arrieta allowed only nine earned runs and posted an ERA of 0.75, one of the greatest sustained runs in pitching history.
On Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies right-hander turned back the clock and looked like his younger self. Over 7 innings, Arrieta struck out 10, allowed 1 hit and walked 2. And the only hit he allowed was an infield single.
It was, in short, vintage Jake Arrieta. But as we dig deeper, is there reason to be more skeptical or hopeful about Thursday's dominant outing?
Throwing It Back
To find the last time Arrieta had thrown 7 or more innings with 1 or fewer hits and 10 or more strikeouts we have to go all the way back to August 31, 2015, when he no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But how do we know that this wasn't the same old Arrieta we've seen over the last few years? Clint Hurdle's reaction says it all.
Jake Arrieta had no-hit stuff tonight. How good was he? â€œThat's the best movement and action I've seen on his fastball since 2015," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. https://t.co/B5n8jri1e5
â€” Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) April 20, 2018
The fastball was, in fact, nasty.
.@JArrieta34 is the first @Phillies hurler to strike out 10+ and allow one hit or fewer in a game since Cole Hamelsâ€™ no-hitter in July 2015.
The opposing pitcher in that game â€¦ Jake Arrieta. pic.twitter.com/UqG7PtkB3E
â€” MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) April 20, 2018
But let's not leave out Arrieta's curveball, which looked like the dominant pitch it was three years ago.
Jake Arrieta, Wicked 79mph Curveball (grip/release/spin). ðŸ¤¢
Looks like Jake got in his time machine and traveled back to 2015. Watch out. pic.twitter.com/clpqlUlnL1
â€” Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 20, 2018
In his first two outings this season, Arrieta pitched well but struggled to pile up the strikeouts. In his four-inning debut against the Miami Marlins, he struck out five, following that up with just a single whiff in 6 2/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Against the Marlins and Rays, he had swinging-strike rates of 6.8% and 4.6%, respectively. But against the Pirates, that whiff percentage jumped to 12.4%.
Jake Arrieta generated 14 swings and misses against the Pirates on Thursday after recording only nine in his... https://t.co/AIT83YYYJS
â€” Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) April 20, 2018
Obviously, strikeouts are king in fantasy, and 10 in 7 innings -- with 14 swings-and-misses -- is a sign that Arrieta may once again be giving fantasy owners the Ks that made him an elite option not long ago.
It's important to remember that Arrieta didn't sign with the Phillies until two weeks into spring training, and he didn't make his first start with the team until April 8. In his first outing, he was on a strict pitch count, so he's really only had two starts in which he was fully stretched out.
It's clear that he was much more comfortable in outing number three. His average fastball velocity of 92.7 mile-per-hour (mph) was marginally better than his 91.9 and 91.5 mph heater against Tampa and Miami, and was 1.5 mph higher than his average velocity last season (91.2).
Returning to Form?
Three years older and with more mileage on his arm, the 32-year-old Arrieta will probably never get back to his 2015 levels, but it's clear that he can -- at least at times -- channel the Cy Young winner he once was. And that should encourage his fantasy owners in 2018. Even if you're still not sold on him, and you are interested in selling high, now is the time to do it.
However, the smart move is probably to wait it out and see just what you have in this version of Arrieta. If he has more outings like this one, he's going to be a surprise as an elite fantasy pitcher who went as the 36th overall pitcher in the middle of the 8th round in 12-team drafts.
That's the kind of steal that wins fantasy championships.