Jake on Jake

Really feel like the Dodgers didn’t beat us today, I beat us. It’s unacceptable.
I’m so close to being so good and everybody knows it. And that’s what’s frustrating.

Both of the above quotes come from Jake Arrieta following the Baltimore Orioles 7-4 loss versus the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday afternoon.  In that game, Arrieta breezed through the first two innings on 23 pitches.  He retired all six batters he faced with two outs coming via strikeout, two one weak groundballs to second, one on an infield pop out, and one out on a fly ball to the outfield.  The O’s offense stakes Jake three runs in the first.  Arrieta ran into trouble in the 3rd.  He fell out of synch on his way to walking three batters and allowing one run.  He limited the damage, however, and was impressive in a bounce back fourth inning.

Unfortunately, Arrieta fell out of sorts again in the fifth as he walked two batters, hit another, and allowed a single that narrowed the O’s lead to 4-3.  T.J. McFarland would get out of the inning in relief of Arrieta – who threw 91 pitches in only 4+ innings – but not before two more runs (both charged to the starter) had scored.

It was – unfortunately – a familiar scene for Jake Arrieta.  He had looked utterly dominant early on.  He struck batters out throughout the entire outing (six in all).  Yet he completely fell apart at times, lost command of the strike zone, and exited yet another game prematurely.

As you can see above, Jake was incredibly candid post game for his continued Jeckyll and Hyde performances.  The twenty-seven year old right-hander took full responsibility for the loss.  It was a mature reaction to take such affirmative responsibility for his struggles and the loss it led to for his teammates.

It is not the first quotation that many people are raising their eyebrows at.  It is the second one – where Jake talks about how close he is to being a very good starting pitcher – that has ruffled some feathers.  Not my feathers mind you – I see little to disparage in Jake’s choice of words.

I have seen reactions to the second quote where people dispute that Jake is really “so to being so good”.  In stating that then, some feel Jack is just showing himself to be arrogant and/or out of touch with reality.  I am not so sure.

The main argument is that guys that walk as many batters as Jake is this season (a whopping 18.4% of all batters) are not “close” to be really good.  Command issues are not necessarily a small or quick fix.  The problem is that Jake’s command is there for a few innings per start before failing him.  He can have it one inning, lose it the next, and get it back the inning after that (see innings two, three, and four on Sunday).  Jake’s 18.4% walk rate is well above his career average of 10.2% and way above the career best 7.1% mark he posted during the 2012 season.  This isn’t a guy that cannot throw the ball over the plate or locate within the strike zone.  This is a guy who can do that and for some hard-to-see reason(s), struggles to do so consistently.

Arrieta’s stuff was phenomenal for three innings on Sunday.  He was not only getting good results, the pitching was really, really good.  There is a difference between a pitcher who is getting good results with average stuff and a pitcher who is getting good results with good stuff.  Jake fell in the latter group yesterday in three of the 4+ innings he pitched.  He falls into that category – at least momentarily – in most every game he pitches.

Baseball is a results-oriented game so we tend to focus extra attention on the results.  Arrieta’s results have not been good which makes it easy to scoff at and dismiss the notion that that he is really close to be a very good pitcher.  We shouldn’t though.  The stuff is there.  The command is there in spurts now and has been there for longer stretches in the recent past (ie. last season).  It is wrong to say that Arrieta “cannot throw strikes” and thus is nowhere close to being a very good pitcher.  It is far too much of an oversimplification of the issues.

It almost feels like someone want Arrieta to come out and say:  “I am a terrible pitcher that cannot throw strikes.”  It is not going to happen nor should it because it is not true.  Baseball fans don’t like players to show any positive signs or signs of optimism after they struggled.  We get disappointed when the team losses and in some perverse way, seeing the players mope around makes everyone feel better.  When Jake talks about how close he is to being a great pitcher after another frustrating start, nobody wants to hear it.  I understand it, but I don’t agree with.

At the end of the day, I don’t have any problem with Jake saying what he said.  He is closer than a lot of people are giving him credit for and I don’t blame him for pointing out his potential during what has to be an extremely frustrating time for him professionally.