The Strange Case of Dr. Jakyll and Mr. Wylde

Posted Saturday April 27, 2013 at 9:07:52 pm in Real Sports

Pardon the corny name, but it is a microcosm of the career of Jake Arrieta. And it is very much reminiscent of the kinds of pitchers that plagued the Baltimore Orioles in the past.

Before jumping into the madness that is Jake Arrieta, I want to put a name in the mind of everyone here: Daniel Cabrera.

Remember him? He was with the Orioles from 2004-2008 and compiled the following statistics:

  • 48-59 W-L record
  • 5.05 ERA
  • 841 1/3 IP
  • 825 H with an 8.8 H/9 rate
  • 651 SO with a 7.0 SO/9 rate
  • 478 BB with a 5.1 BB/9 rate
  • 1.36 SO/BB ratio
  • 1.549 WHIP

Just looking at those statistics, you'd immediately see the walks. And it was the single defining problem of Daniel Cabrera, a pitcher that flashed 100 mph (100.8 according to PITCHf/x data). A pitcher that averaged 95 mph on the gun in 2007. In case you are curious, his change up topped out at 87 that year (averaging 84). That is a pretty amazing split: average 95 mph on your fastball and 84 mph on your changeup.

Most pitchers would drool over those numbers. As a matter of fact, the one prospect in the Orioles organization that matches those kinds of fastball/changeup velocity splits is none other than Kevin Gausman.

I want to rattle off a particular game that I always remember of Daniel Cabrera. It happened on April 12, 2006 against the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Daniel Cabrera's pitching line was the following:

5.0 IP, 9 BB, 10 SO, 3 H, 1 ER.

In that game Cabrera threw 117 pitches. Only 57 of them for strikes. That's only 49% of his pitches for strikes. But 10 strikeouts in 5 IP? That's dominant. 9 BB? That's wild. Daniel Cabrera's own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Just to throw another ridiculous pitching factoid out there: A.J. Burnett threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres on May 12, 2001.

His line read like this:

9 IP, 9 BB, 7 SO, 0 H, 0 ER

So, you can be effectively wild at times. Just not all the time.

The above data and information reads a lot like Jake Arrieta. He can be dominant. He can be wild. Sometimes in the same game. And that's what happened in his start against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 21st, 2013.

Jake ended up with the following pitching line:

4 IP, 5 BB, 6 SO, 2 H, 5 ER, 1 HBP

He threw 91 pitches. Only 50 for strikes (55%). That percentage was actually rather high, because in the 5th inning (in which he didn't record a single out), his control was all over the place. This is what happened before he was removed for TJ McFarland:

  • Walk on 4 pitches
  • Hit by pitch on a 2-1 count
  • Walk on 4 pitches
  • Single on an 0-2 count that scored 2

That game really sums up Jake Arrieta's career. And it's not like he's incapable of having lights out/shut down games. Last year in New York against the Yankees, he put in possibly one of the best performances of his career on May 2nd, 2012:

8 IP, 0 BB, 9 SO, 5 H, 0 ER. 111 pitches. 76 for strikes (68%)

That line really shows what Jake Arrieta is capable of. But what makes Jake Arrieta so maddening other than his complete lack of consistency?

His growth pattern as a pitcher. If I showed you the following numbers, you'd say that he got worse every single year he was in the majors:

  • 2010: 4.66 ERA, 89 ERA+
  • 2011: 5.05 ERA, 83 ERA+
  • 2012: 6.20 ERA, 68 ERA+
  • 2013: 6.63 ERA, 64 ERA+ (4 game sample size)

Those are truly disturbing numbers from a pitcher's age 24-27 years. But ERA can be a very misleading number. What if I showed you the following growth pattern?

  • 2010: 1.535 WHIP
  • 2011: 1.458 WHIP
  • 2012: 1.369 WHIP
  • 2013: 1.632 WHIP (4 game sample size)

You'd see a pitcher who dropped his WHIP from .166 from 2010-2012. That's a very solid maturation. And what if I showed you the following?

  • 2010: 4.7 SO/9
  • 2011: 7.0 SO/9
  • 2012: 8.6 SO/9
  • 2013: 9.5 SO/9 (4 game sample size)

A pitcher whose WHIP went down every year (except in a 4 game small sample size in 2013). Whose SO rate increased 183% from 2010-2012. So, ERA terrible, WHIP and SO growth....great.

How about another cog: BB rate?

  • 2010: 4.3 BB/9
  • 2011: 4.4 BB/9
  • 2012: 2.7 BB/9
  • 2013: 7.6 BB/9 (4 game sample size)

I don't know about you, but this is a very, very, very good line by itself:

1.369 WHIP, 8.6 SO/9, 2.7 BB/9 in 2012

His SO/9 rate was 3.11. Nearly 300% better than his rookie year. Nearly 200% better than his 2011 year. 

So, if your walk rate got better, strike out rate got better, WHIP got better...why hasn't his ERA?

It's frustrating (probably more so for Jake himself), but I think we need to dig a bit deeper to find out what exactly is happening to Jake.

Let's compare and contrast his rookie campaign (2010) versus his last full season (2012):

  • 2010: 4.66 ERA, 89 ERA+, 1.535 WHIP, 4.3 BB/9, 4.7 SO/9, 1.08 SO/BB
  • 2012: 6.20 ERA, 68 ERA+, 1.369 WIP, 2.7 BB/9, 8.6 SO/9, 3.11 SO/BB

Those numbers don't make sense. It'd be like seeing a vehicle with prestige, low miles, an insane amount of horsepower and torque. In another words, a ton of promise. But why doesn't it translate to the road?

Well, if you're familiar with vehicles, Jake Arrieta would be like that same car with the wrong tires or bad gearing. Or even both at times.

I want to look further into his 2012 season. It's the one season where it really looked like he turned it around before completely falling apart.

A lot of people (including myself) say that Jake Arrieta suffers when he has to pitch from the stretch (runners on) versus the wind-up (no runners on). As a matter of fact, Rick Adair had him pitch from the wind-up when runners were on during that Dodgers game after having a conference with him. So, looking at his Baseball Reference splits for 2012 we can see the following:

  • No runners on: 255/300/399 - 699 OPS (280 plate appearances)
  • Men on: 296/366/484 - 850 OPS (216 plate appearances)
  • Runners in scoring position: 319/390/543 - 933 OPS (137 plate appearances)

Those numbers are very alarming. Just by having runners on, the OPS goes up nearly 150 points. If they're in scoring position? About 230 points higher.

But what about with runners at particular bases?

  • On 1st (none on 2nd/3rd): 257/325/386 - 710 OPS (79 plate appearances)
  • On 2nd (none on 1st/3rd): 176/300/529 - 829 OPS (40 plate appearances) 
  • On 3rd (none on 1st/2nd): 400/500/400 - 900 OPS (14 plate appearances) 

Those are pretty interesting numbers. Small sample size and all.

How about a stat that could be particularly emotional for pitchers? I.e. "Clutch Stats".

2 outs, RISP: 341/420/727 - 1147 OPS (50 plate appearances)

Woah, we're on to something here with all of the above.

I think it paints a pretty obvious picture. With runners on, Jake is overthinking about the runners rather than focusing on the batter. It could be a combination of worrying about pitching from the stretch and just executing. 

What's particularly interesting is that in 2011, this problem wasn't nearly the same issue as 2012 (and 2013).

  • No runners on: 259/339/433 - 772 OPS (295 plate appearances)
  • Men on: 245/347/469 - 815 OPS (228 plate appearances)
  • Runners in scoring position: 214/309/385 - 693 OPS (138 plate appearances)
  • On 1st (none on 2nd/3rd): 293/404/600 - 1004 OPS (90 plate appearances)
  • On 2nd (none on 1st/3rd): 275/370/400 - 770 OPS (48 plate appearances)
  • On 3rd (none on 1st/2nd): 125/176/125 - 301 OPS (17 plate appearances)
  • 2 outs, RISP: 157/271/294 - 565 OPS (59 plate appearances)

Those are drastically different than 2012/2013. What happened? How can a pitcher go from improving nearly every peripheral (BB rate, SO rate, WHIP) from 2010-2012, but have drastically different ERA numbers in 2012?

How about we look at his batted ball statistics from FanGraphs? Batted ball statistics break down things like line drive, ground ball, and fly ball percentages for a pitcher.

In 2011, his line drive percentage (LD%) was 15.5%. I use LD% as a metric, because line drives are the most problematic for pitchers. According to FanGraphs, the difference between line drives, ground balls, and fly balls when it comes to the number of runs/out is the following:

  • Line drives: 1.26 runs/out
  • Fly balls: 0.13 runs/out
  • Ground balls: 0.05 runs/out

It's fairly obvious that line drives have a tendency to do the most damage. But they're nearly 10 times more likely to produce a run than a fly ball and nearly 25 times more likely to produce a run than a ground ball.

So, let's stick with line drive percentage for now. As said earlier, Jake's LD% was 15.5% in 2011. For comparison sakes, league average statistics are here.

In 2011, league average LD% was 19.6%. You'll see that over the last 4 years, the average LD% was ~19%. So Jake was much better than that.

But in 2012, that number took a dramatic turn for the worse: 23.8%. FanGraphs doesn't have league average stats for 2012 yet, but if the league average trend for LD% (~19%) continues, that's not only an 8% increase from his previous year....but nearly 5% more than league average. 

Better walk rate, better strike out rate, better WHIP, however a dramatic uptick in line drive percentage and poor numbers with runners on base. 

What does this say? Quite simply Jake is in his own head (mechanical? emotional? either way, it points to the stretch as the issue...). With runners on he falls apart. If batters are hitting a higher percentage of line drives off him for the year, and the offensive numbers against him are huge with runners on base...it's a recipe for disaster.

Now, it's only 4 games in 2013 for Jake, but his line drive percentage was 30.6%. Nearly double his 2011 numbers. Nearly 12% over league average. And nearly 7% more than 2012.

Jake is probably the most maddening of Orioles pitchers based off of pure stuff. We see glimpses of it: sometimes lasting multiple sites. Often times lasting a couple innings.  

And now he's in AAA. And deservingly so. Not because of lack of effort, nor lack of focus....and I don't think lack of ability. There is an emotional disconnect right now, and Jake is searching for answers.

It's important to note that Jake last spent time in the minors back when he was sent down after his July 5, 2012 stint against the Angels. Unfortunately I was there at that game. His line:

3 2/3 IP, 3 BB, 3 SO, 5 H, 6 ER. 84 pitches. 51 for strikes (61%).

During that game, Jake was dominant the first couple innings. Then completely unraveled in the 4th inning. Sound familiar?

He was in the minors (AAA) for 10 games and eventually came back up in September. In case you're curious, he didn't dominate in AAA during those 10 games. His numbers:

56 IP, 28 BB, 54 SO, 46 H, 25 ER. 4.02 ERA.

His command was all over the place at that point. And when he came back up in September to the big club as a reliever?

13 1/3 IP, 4 BB, 20 SO, 10 H, 10 ER. 6.75 ERA.

That line is really Jake Arrieta in a nutshell. He can be dominating:

  • 20 SO in 13 1/3 IP for a SO/9 rate of 13.5
  • Only allowed 10 hits (H/9 of 6.75).
  • Not many walks (2.7 BB/9).

But an absurb ERA of 6.75. 

What is it? I wish I could tell you. But I have a feeling that Jake Arrieta was sent down after only 4 starts because the Orioles are fed up (as is Jake). Prior to being sent down in July 2012, his last stint in the minors (AAA) was back in 2010. Right before he came up to the majors.

His numbers that year were gaudy:

73 IP, 34 BB, 64 SO, 48 H, 15 ER. 1.85 ERA.

That's a WHIP of 1.123. A H/9 of 5.9. A SO/9 of 7.9. And a BB/9 of 4.2. Jake has never been a control pitcher. He's a power pitcher. But he is much better than what he's showing in the majors. But let's not pretend that he'll go to the minors and dominate. He didn't do it last year. 

Hopefully some combination of Rick Peterson, a sports therapist, and some hard work in the minors by Jake can get him straight and throwing strikes again. Because when he's on, he's phenomenal. But when he's off, he is one of the most frustrating Orioles pitchers of all time.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view