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Jake Arrieta: The Journey to Baseball Excellence

Beisbolsinaloa via flickr.com

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta is considered one of the top starting pitchers in the MLB right now. Coming off a magical 2015 campaign in which he racked up 22 wins and sported a 1.77 earned run average, as well as adding a Cy Young award win, Arrieta has continued where he left off last years regular season. Arrieta has made 5 starts in the 2016 season, winning all 5 and only giving up 4 runs in those starts. Oh, and he also threw his second no hitter in his last 11 stars against the Cincinnati Reds. But before we get to that, lets take a step back to before the Cubs ace was one of the top pitchers in the league.

Drafted in the 5th round of the 2007 entry draft by the Baltimore Orioles, he was known to have great pitches, but he struggled with command, which many scouts believed would keep him as a mid-to-bottom of the rotation pitcher instead of a top of the rotation arm. Many felt he was best suited as a reliever, as his pitches improved as he progressed through the Orioles farm system, but his command didn’t improve in his years in the team’s minor leagues.

After being called up in 2010, Arrieta struggled to find success, never having an ERA (earned run average) under 4 in his 4 seasons with the Orioles. He left Baltimore with the worst career ERA in the teams history. Arrieta’s struggles were so sever that he even contemplated retirement after being sent down to the teams triple A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides. After only making 5 starts with the Orioles in the 2013 season, Arrieta was traded to the Cubs.

The Cubs saw Arrieta as the perfect change of scenery guy. They saw his talent, his worth ethic, and his lack of an injury history. The Cubs engaged in talks with the Orioles, who were looking to add a veteran arm to aid them in their race to the postseason. The Cubs, who were out of the playoff hunt already in June, had a starting pitcher in Scott Feldman who was set to be a free agent after the season ended. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer wanted Arrieta in a deal that involved Feldman, and it didn’t take much to convince Orioles GM Dan Duquette to add him to the deal. Hoyer felt he needed more, asking for hard throwing relief pitcher Pedro Strop, who despite a great playoff showing the year prior, was struggling, making him another good change of scenery player. The Cubs and Orioles were able to work out a deal on July 20th, with the Cubs sending Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles in exchange for Arrieta and Strop.

Once Arrieta joined the Cubs, he was a completely different pitcher, starting 9 games to end the 2013 season. He went 4-2 in those starts with a 3.66 ERA. Going into the 2014 season, Arrieta built off his success from the second half of the season with the Cubs, winning 10 games and keeping his ERA under 3, sporting a 2.53 through 156 innings pitched. He went into 2015 as the teams number 2 starter, behind newly signed lefty Jon Lester. Arrieta matched his season high in wins by the all star break, going 10-5 with a 2.66 ERA through the first half, before going to another level after the all star game. From July 19th to the end of the regular season, Arrieta went 11-1, with his only loss coming on July 25th, when former Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels, now with the Texas Rangers, no hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He lowered his ERA form 2.66 to 1.77, finishing the second half with a .75 ERA, the lowest of any pitcher during the second half of the season in Major League history. Arrieta continued his dominating performance into the National League Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing a complete game, 5 hit shutout to push the Cubs into the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Arrieta struggled in his only start of the series, giving up 4 runs in 5.2 innings, but the Cubs would still win his start, and the series against the Cardinals, sending them to the NLCS against the New York Mets. Arrieta would struggle once again, giving up 4 runs in 5 innings, a game the Cubs would lose.They would also lose the series, ending his magical season on a rough note.

Entering the 2016 season, Arrieta was considered one of the top pitchers in the league, but there were many questions surrounding the reigning NL CY Young winner. Arrieta put those questions to rest very early, throwing a 7 shutout innings giving up only two hits on Opening Day. He followed that up with another 7 inning start, but gave up 3 runs in the start. Arrieta would look more like himself in his following start, throwing 8 shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies, earning his 3rd win of the season. That brings us to his 4th start of the season against the Reds. Despite never looking as locked in or as dominant as previous starts, Arrieta did not allow a hit to the Reds, giving him his second no hitter of his career. Arrieta walked 4 batters, the most walks he has surrendered in 23 starts, when he walked 6 batters in a loss to the Cleveland Indians on June 16th, 2015. Arrieta would follow the no hit performance with another victory, his 5th on the season, against the Milwaukee Brewers. Arrieta gave up 1 run on three hits through only 5 innings, ending his 24 game quality start streak, despite receiving the win. He will look to tie Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale with 6 wins on Tuesday night when he takes on the Pirates.

A turnaround like Arrieta’s will always come with skepticism, however, and there are some in the sports world, inlcuding some of the leagues top players according to Arrieta, who question whether he has found success the right way. ESPN’s Stephan A Smith told viewers of one of ESPN’s morning shows, “First Take”, that Arrieta should not be laughing at the people who are suspicious of his recent success, saying we have seen many players deny the use of PEDs who were then caught for doing them. Arrieta responded to the comments, saying he worked hard to get where he is, and nobody was going to take that away from him. While he has made his stance on players using steroids very clear, his turnaround will always raise questions from critics like Smith, Arrieta doesn’t let it bother him, “It is somewhat flattering, especially when some of those comments are coming from some of the best players in the game.”