phillies jake arrieta, philadelphia, mlb, sports illustrated

Given how late Arrieta signed, it wasn’t a surprise to see him start slowly. He allowed six runs, four earned in 10 2/3 innings across his first two outings of the year, which came against the Marlins and Rays, not exactly offensive powerhouses.

What was more alarming was the fact that he had just six strikeouts in those two games. When he fanned 10 Pirates in his third start of the year, he appeared to be back to normal. It turned out to be a mirage.

That 10-strikeout start, once the norm for Arrieta, is the outlier this season. He has just 19 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings since then, a stretch covering six starts. Seven of those strikeouts came in his win over the Braves on Wednesday.

Arrieta’s strikeout rate is down to 17%, barely more than half of what it was when he won the Cy Young in 2015. He has two or fewer strikeouts in five of his nine outings this season. He had four during his entire Cubs tenure, none of which came between June 4, 2014, and September 20, 2017. Once one of the league’s premier strikeout artists, Arrieta is ranked 81st among 92 qualified pitchers this year in strikeout rate, sandwiched between Trevor Williams and Aaron Sanchez. Not only is he no longer missing bats, but his walk rate is still prohibitive, checking in at 8.3% thus far this season. What happened?

To answer that, we have to go back to Arrieta’s dominant 2015 campaign. That year, he put together one of the greatest half-seasons in MLB history, totaling a 0.75 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 113 strikeouts in 107 1/3 innings after the All-Star break. With two different fastballs that sat 94-95 mph, a confounding slider/cutter combo, and a filthy curveball, Arrieta became expert at getting hitters to chase pitches out of the zone. He had a 33% o-swing rate, the frequency with which hitters swing at pitches out of the strike zone, which ranked 23rd in the majors. What’s more, they made contact on just 59.5% of those swings, also 23rd in the league. Combine that with the nastiness of Arrieta’s stuff, and you get plenty of whiffs and weak contact, exactly what carried him to the Cy Young that year:

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