Fact-Checking Jake Arrieta

Potential rooting interests notwithstanding, last night’s World Series Game Two was pretty brutal, as far as World Series games go. It was a cold, wet, dreary night in Cleveland. One team’s win expectancy was greater than 90% by the fifth inning. It lasted more than four hours. The Indians made six pitching changes. The Cubs made more mound visits than pitches. Trevor Bauer started for Cleveland, and of his 87 pitches, just 53 were strikes. Jake Arrieta started for Chicago, and of his 98 pitches, just 55 were strikes.

Tough game to watch, all around. So, rather than dissect the game, let’s dissect Jake Arrieta’s postgame press conference. These things aren’t always very revealing, but in the spirit of the current political season, maybe some fact-checking can reveal some truths.

* * *

Q. You started off a little rocky and then you got it back. How did you turn it around?
JAKE ARRIETA: “Well, I think really controlling my effort is when I was able to get locked in. I kind of had my foot on the gas a little too much at the start, trying to do more than I needed to.”

The first pitch Arrieta threw was his hardest of the night! As easy as it can be to write off something like “I had to get locked in” as a ballplayer cliche, these are human beings who are prone to unintentional rushes of adrenaline, and this is, after all, the freaking World Series. Arrieta hit 95 on the first pitch of the night to Carlos Santana, and then never hit 95 again. He was all over the place in the first, throwing just 43% strikes, his lowest strike rate of any inning, and walking Francisco Lindor on four consecutive pitches with two outs. The adrenaline effect is real. It looks like it was real for Arrieta last night, and it may help explain part of his early-game troubles to command his pitches.

speed-php

Q. You started off a little rocky and then you got it back. How did you turn it around?
JAKE ARRIETA (cont.): “Then I really got back to just executing good pitches towards the bottom of the strike zone. With the cutter going one way and the sinker going the other way, trying to be as aggressive as I could, and allow those guys to put the ball in play and let the defense work.”

In the first inning, 57% of Arrieta’s pitches were in the lower half of the zone or beyond. After that, it was 56%. The first-inning issue wasn’t necessarily leaving the ball up, but there’s a different between “pitches toward the bottom of the strike zone” and “good pitches toward the bottom of the strike zone.”

Lower-half pitches in the first:

jake-arrieta

After the first:

jake-arrieta1

It’s tough to compare one inning to 4.2, but I think I’ll allow it. That really bad slider off the plate in the first didn’t come back. Those three middle-middle pitches didn’t come back. It seems like there’s a higher percentage of pitches catching the bottom edge of the zone.

Q. You started off a little rocky and then you got it back. How did you turn it around?
JAKE ARRIETA (cont.): “Then in the sixth, I think that maintaining a consistent feel and on a night like this with the weather the way it was can be tough. So I tried to keep the body warm and ready to go the best I could.”

Nope.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-2-05-49-am

It was rainy, windy, and in the low-40s by a lake in Ohio. Wearing short sleeves is not how one tries to keep the body warm, you absolute madman.

Q. You mentioned the conditions, how did they affect your choices? And how would you compare tonight to that Game 2 you started in Citi Field last year?
JAKE ARRIETA: “Pretty similar, I would say. I think the temperature was probably close to what it was at Citi Field.”

Last night’s first-pitch temperature: 43 degrees, cloudy.

Last year’s first-pitch temperature: 45 degrees, partly cloudy.

Q. You mentioned the conditions, how did they affect your choices? And how would you compare tonight to that Game 2 you started in Citi Field last year?
JAKE ARRIETA (cont.): “I think keeping my hand as warm as I could in between innings to not lose feel in the fingertips, because for, not even just a starting pitcher, but for a pitcher, you want to have that consistent feel off your fingertips, especially on your breaking ball, to maintain consistency with how you execute those pitches.”

Arrieta may not have made the best life choice for keeping the body warm, but as far as keeping the hand warm, it seems like he did a fine job, because last night’s success had plenty to do with his breaking pitches. As our own Jeff Sullivan detailed back in late-August, a big part of Arrieta’s midseason skid had to do with his struggles against left-handed batters. This, coming on the heels of his excellent slider disappearing. Against lefties in 2015, Arrieta was able to paint the outer edge of the zone, back-dooring his breaking pitches in at the last second. During much of 2016, rather than starting his breaking pitches outside the zone and back-dooring them to the edge, he was too often starting them on the edge and moving them to the middle of the plate.

Last night, Arrieta threw 36 breaking balls to lefties out of 71 pitches — 51%, almost double his season rate. And here’s the location of those pitches to lefties:

chart2

Arrieta absolutely lived on the outer half of the plate, and you see all the purple in the bottom-left quadrant of the zone, indicating well executed back-door sliders, and enough light blue in the area, too, indicating those big, looping curves that catch the zone at the last second.

He was wild, but he managed to keep the walk total down, and he was wild out of the zone, rather than being wild with hittable mistake pitches. When Arrieta was able to find the zone, it was with pitches that stuck to the game plan, and with his movement, pitches that stick to the game plan are tough to square up.

And the press conference? Good. More insightful than most. Mostly truthful and supported by the evidence. I give it an 8/10. But, my God man, put on some sleeves.

We hoped you liked reading Fact-Checking Jake Arrieta by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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dtpollitt
Member
Member
dtpollitt

I was actually more surprised to see Jorge Soler NOT in full fleece than I was to see Jake in short sleeves.

wiumike
Member
wiumike

I made the same comment expecting him to be in full ninja mode.

bunslow
Member
bunslow

Báez definitely was

rbemont
Member
rbemont

That was stunning to me. Last year he was full blue ninja … except his chain was on the outside of his layers. No way was he going to have that metal chain touching his skin.