Jake Arrieta’s problem areas thus far in the 2013 season are immediately noticeable whether you are watching him pitch or looking at his statistics after the fact. He is walking far too many batters (16.4% BB rate which is exactly twice the MLB average), he is not going deep into games (15 IP over 3 starts), and he is still allowing a few too many runs (9 over those 15 innings pitched). His command is not where he needs to be and that is really the root cause for his walk, innings, and runs allowed struggles this season.
Those struggles are enough to have some fans calling for Arrieta to be demoted and his spot in the rotation given to someone else – anyone else – who might be able to perform at a higher level.
Not so fast.
While Arrieta is not pitching to the level he is capable of, it would be rather hasty to make any move with him right now. There are plenty of positive signs to gleam from Jake’s first three starts of the 2013 season.
His strikeout percentage sits at 20.9%, which is just a tick below the 22% rate Arrieta posted during the 2012 season. Remember that Jake’s walk and strikeout numbers were very good in 2012. So good, in fact, that they didn’t quite match up with his bloated 6.20 ERA and therefore led some to believe he might have been the victim of at least some bad luck. It is a positive sign that Jake is still getting strikeouts in large quantities. A 20.9% strikeout rate puts him solidly above the Major League average.
In this still young season, Arrieta has also demonstrated the ability to keep the ball in the ball park (1.5% HR rate) and prevent hits (7.8 H/9 which is well below his 9.2 H/9 career average). Those are both possible indicators that Jake is getting more than his fair share of weak contact which I believe is readily evident when watching him pitch this season. The amount of balls are the main factor in driving his pitch count up but he is also inducing many foul balls which is not necessarily a bad thing. A swing-and-miss is the best result of an individual pitch as it demonstrates that a batter offered at the pitch but still was unable to make contact. A foul ball would be one step up from that – an indication that the batter offered at the pitch but was unable to connect enough to put the ball into play.
2013 thus far has really been the same as it ever was for Jake. Lack of command is keeping him from being a consistent and quality Major League pitcher but all the other tools are there.
Arrieta currently has a 5.40 ERA. He is averaging five innings per start. Those numbers have him dangerously close to being an average 5th starter. If Arrieta were to ride those same numbers all season, he probably does not make it through the year in Baltimore. However, if Jake is able to cut down the free passes and get through six innings on a more regular basis then his numbers would likely reflect those of a solid – if unspectacular – 5th starter. We all hope for more from the 27 year-old right-hander, but he would certainly be a valuable member of the back-end of the rotation with just a few small steps forward.
In other words, if this is the Jake Arrieta the Orioles get all season than he probably will not last all summer in Baltimore. However, if what we have seen from Arrieta through the first three games is representative of his floor performance (or at least close to it), then there is a good chance he solidifies himself as a solid member of the rotation even if the ceiling is not all that much higher.
The Orioles do not need Jake Arrieta to be a world beater – they just need him to be a quality Major League starter. It is a benchmark he is not all that far from, even if his 2013 performance has been frustrating to watch at times.