With the date for pitchers and catchers to report only a little over a month away, there are still many question marks as to where many key free agents will land for the 2018 season. This year’s Hot Stove action experienced a bit of a cool down as markets slowly formed, and teams showed a hesitance to shell out long term commitments to aging players.
In particular, the market for Starting Pitching has yet to really form at all, as top free-agents still remain without a club. Top names still on the market include Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and of course the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta.
Towards the end of the 2017 season, optimism about the Cubs eventually bringing Arrieta back on a new deal seemed to dwindle given the former Cy Young Award winner’s ability to in all likelihood demand big money in a rather thin pitching market. The door seemed to be shut entirely when the Cubs signed former Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwood to a three-year year deal worth $38 million dollars, and looked like a lock to sign former Tampa Bay Rays’ pitcher Alex Cobb.
However, here we sit in the second week of the new year, and the Cubs are still looking to round out their five-man rotation. The hottest rumors in recent weeks have been the Cubs being in on Yu Darvish, as well as battling the Cardinals for the top spot in the Arrieta sweepstakes. Rumors on Cobb signing with the Cubs have cooled significantly, but one would have to think there is still traction here given the right-hander’s familiarity with Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey.
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) January 4, 2018
Ignoring length and value of contract, Arrieta and Darvish are clearly the most desirable starting pitchers available on the market. The question for Cubs fans remains is Arrieta, the former Cy Young Award winner and World Series champion, the best option to round out a rotation looking to contend for a World Series, or is Darvish’s electric stuff the thing that gets the Cubs over the hump in 2018?
Tale of the Tape: Arrieta vs Darvish
Jake Arrieta: 30 GS, 168.1 IP, 8.7 SO/9, 2.9 BB/9, .279 BABIP, 3.53 ERA/4.16 FIP, 1.22 WHIP
Yu Darvish: 31 GS, 186.2 IP, 10.1 SO/9, 2.8 BB/9, .283 BABIP, 3.86 ERA/3.83 FIP, 1.16 WHIP
Looking purely at statistics from last season, both right-handers put up fairly similar numbers across the board with Darvish having the edge in strikeouts and innings pitched. Arrieta does look to have an edge in ERA, but when looking at FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) it is apparent that the Cubs’ defensive play-makers played a big role in positively effecting Arrieta’s numbers.
To really get a better feel for how both of these pitchers might fare over the next several seasons, it is helpful to look at trends in their performances year over year. By taking these trends in to account, it is clear that both players are not necessarily tracking in the right direction, but one pitcher’s downward trend is a bit more noticeable.
Jake Arrieta: By the Numbers
Jake Arrieta’s career has been, in a word, enigmatic. From the struggles in Baltimore to the prestige in Chicago, Arrieta’s pure ability to mystify hitters with a deceptive delivery and stuff that moves all over the place, has never been called into question. What got Arrieta into trouble in Baltimore was that he was unable to locate his pitches. His wildness in the American League East allowed opposing hitters to draw walks, get into good hitting counts, and dictate what pitches they would see. Upon arrival to Chicago, Arrieta harnessed his command through slight optimizations to his mechanics, and the rest was history.
Come 2017, Arrieta had arguably his worst year of his illustrious Cub career. First and foremost, Arrieta was hit-able, he posted his highest Batting Average Against (.234) since putting on a Cubs uniform. Secondly, and probably of more concern, Arrieta’s average fastball velocity fell to 92 MPH, down about two-three MPH from his Cy Young season. The drop may not seem like much, but for a guy who relies on velocity and movement rather than pinpoint control, it is significant. Arrieta has been a model of durability during his career, but making a deep run in three straight post-seasons may have finally caught up with him.
Arrieta also struggled to get deep into ball games. He failed to get through innings cleanly, and would get into deep counts regularly. His WHIP (Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched) was also at its highest (1.22) since becoming a Cub, and his inability to put hitters away in short order caused for an average of less than 6 innings per start, another low for his Cub career.
Yu Darvish: By the Numbers
Yu Darvish is another talented right-hander who has always exhibited some of the most electric stuff in the league year in and year out, but the lasting images from this past season must be his disastrous post-season, culminating in a meltdown during Game 7 of the World Series. However, Cubs fans should not forget that Darvish, when right, is still one of the most dominating pitchers in the game, averaging over 10 strikeouts per 9 innings every year of his MLB career.
Trends for Darvish are a bit tougher to analyze due to the fact that he only has three full MLB seasons under his belt after experiencing an elbow injury which shortened his 2014, completely wiped out his 2015, and cut his 2016 in half. However, Darvish’s first full year back from Tommy John surgery was encouraging.
He eclipsed the 200-strikeout mark for the third time in his career, and did so by lowering the rate at which he walked hitters, as compared to his career numbers. His ability to blow away hitters remained intact, as his average fast ball velocity reached a shade under 95, which was the highest of his three full MLB seasons.
Neither Jake Arrieta nor Yu Darvish are a slam dunk candidate to dominate hitters in 2018, but if either pitcher performs up to their career averages, they will be a valuable piece to a rotation looking to make a playoff run in 2018. By following statistical trends, Darvish looks to be the better option moving forward, but is there not something to be said for keeping a guy who helped turn Cubs culture into a culture of winning? Someone who has shown that when 100 percent can be one of the most dominant and most clutch pitchers in Major League Baseball.
For a Cubs team that is designed and expected to make the playoffs for the foreseeable future, I’m willing to bet on Jake Arrieta in 2018. As we come closer to the start of Spring Training, Theo & Co. are going to have tough decisions to make, and this Cubs fan hopes that those decisions end with #49 being back on the Wrigley Field mound come April in Chicago.