CLEARWATER, Fla. – As good as Jake Arrieta will look in red pinstripes, there’s no hiding the fact that he comes with some red flags.
His average fastball velocity dropped from 94.9 mph in his Cy Young season of 2015 to 92.6 mph last season, according to PITCHf/x data.
This has been interpreted in some quarters as the pitcher entering a decline, an idea supported by the Chicago Cubs‘ curious lack of aggressiveness in attempting to re-sign him. The Cubs instead signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal.
Arrieta was asked about both topics upon joining the Phillies on Tuesday.
“I think there was a number of reasons that things didn’t go in a different direction,” he said of the Cubs, the team he helped win the 2016 World Series. “But that wasn’t necessarily the direction that maybe I wanted to go in.”
Arrieta said he would cherish his memories with the Cubs and he welcomed the “opportunity to bring a lot to the table” for his new club.
“My focus is now on the Phillies and I’m committed to winning as a Phillie and using the experiences that I’ve gained to each and every player in this organization’s advantage,” he said.
Arrieta notched a 1.77 ERA in 2015. It swelled to 3.53 last year. That was largely the product of a poor first half. His ERA before the all-star break was 4.35 as opposed to 2.28 after it. He was the old Arrieta in August, going 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA in six starts on his way to NL pitcher of the month honors.
Arrieta, 32, did not deny the velocity drop. But he made it clear that there’s more to pitching than a big fastball.
“You get to a point in your career where you understand that pitching isn’t necessarily all about velocity,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times you’ll see guys who have high velocity that can’t have success at this level. There is a tremendous amount of learning that has to be incorporated into a starting pitcher’s repertoire rather than just going out there and trying to blow guys away with just sheer stuff and velocity.
“That’s an experience I had last year and to be able to learn from my first-half inconsistencies and turn it around in the second half. High velocity or not, I know exactly what I’m doing on the mound and I know how to utilize my stuff. Does that mean the velocity won’t be up this year? No. Sometimes you have a dip one year and a spike the next.
“That’s not necessarily a tremendous concern for me. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to maybe utilize another variable in your game. If that velocity does go back to 95-96 then the league is in a lot of trouble. But I don’t think that tells the entire story. Velocity is sexy in this game, but there are a lot of great pitchers that can pitch without it.”
General manager Matt Klentak said the Phillies spent considerable time studying Arrieta’s drop in velocity. He said the club was “comfortable” with its findings and “thrilled” with the pitcher’s signing.