Is Jake Arrieta Being Drafted Too High in Fantasy Baseball?

Arrieta is being drafted as the third pitcher overall, but can he live up to the price?

So Jake Arrieta pitched a lot last year.

He was brilliant. He was amazing. He was the best pitcher in the National League last year, and for good reason.

He led the National League in wins (22), games started (33), complete games (4), shutouts (3), hits per nine innings given up (5.9) and home runs allowed per nine (0.4). And in any other non-Zack Greinke year, his 1.77 ERA would have been the best in the NL as well.

What Arrieta did was incredible. I mean, feast your eyes on the numbers and how he has turned into one of the elite pitchers in baseball the last two years.

2010 6 6 100.1 4.7 4.3 4.66 4.76 1.535 0.9
2011 10 8 119.1 7.0 4.4 5.05 5.34 1.458 0.0
2012 3 9 114.2 8.6 2.7 6.2 4.05 1.369 1.6
2013 5 4 75.1 7.2 4.9 4.78 4.84 1.327 0.1
2014 10 5 156.2 9.6 2.4 2.53 2.26 0.989 5.0
2015 22 6 229.0 9.3 1.9 1.77 2.35 0.865 7.3

Dadgum, those are eye-popping.

Last August, I wrote a bit about Arrieta and what he has done since joining the Cubs that has made him so effective, specifically, abandoning a slider in exchange for a cut fastball that has made him so much more effective against left-handed hitters.

It is understandable that expectations are high for Arrieta. Until Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cardinals last October, he had run up a scoreless streak of 34 innings. He also hadn't allowed multiple runs in a game since July 30th going into that game.

In current season-long fantasy drafts, Arrieta's consensus ADP is 17th overall according to FantasyPros. He is the third pitcher going overall, after Clayton Kershaw and Greinke. But before you jump on Arrieta early in the draft, there is one big concern I have with believing he will be able to replicate his success in 2016.

Last year, he threw 229 regular season innings. He then added another 19 2/3 innings on top of that for a total of 248 2/3 innings. His previous high before last year was 156 2/3 innings in 2014. 

That's 92 additional innings, most of them high-stress, and it's possible all those high-stress innings could have a lingering effect into this season.

It already seemed to affect him in the playoffs last year. After spinning an impressive shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game, he struggled a big against the Cardinals in the NLDS and the Mets in the NLCS.

Series Opp IP H ER HR BB SO
NLDS STL 5.2 5 4 1 2 9
NLCS NYM 5.0 4 4 1 2 8

Of course, it's not like he got blitzed in either of those games. He piled up nine strikeouts against just two walks against St. Louis and eight Ks against two walks against New York. But given how dominant he had been coming into the NLDS, it was a surprise to see him struggle a bit.

Now, I'm not basing a lower 2016 on two postseason games at the end of a long season. But the increased workload overall could take a toll. 

The Chicago Tribune noted that, in recognition of his career-high in innings last season, Arrieta did not throw a pitch at the beginning of last offseason in order to give his arm a chance to heal. Instead, he practiced "dry deliveries," working on his windup and mechanics without throwing an actual baseball.

He says when he did pick up a baseball again in January that it felt like he "never stopped throwing." And if that's the case, then perhaps there will be no let-down.

But the fact that all those extra pitches caused him to alter his offseason routine could be a sign he might not get off to a quick start this season. Steamer is projecting 208 innings, a 2.93 ERA, 9.46 K/9 and 2.44 BB/9 this season, good for an fWAR of 5.2.

And while those numbers are down from 2015, I still think they could be a bit optimistic. It would not surprise me to see an ERA over 3.00 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio that reversed a bit over last year.

That being said, Arrieta will still be one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball in 2016, even if he isn't the monster he was last year.