Jake Arrieta proves a 20-win season still means something special

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Winning 20 games has lost some of its luster in this metrics-driven world. Other statistics tell a better story about a pitcher’s value, we’re told. Pitching for a dominant team lessens the accomplishment, we’re told.

But Jake Arrieta can have his celebratory cake in the face and eat it too. He is both a 20-game winner, after a brilliant three-hitter against the Brewers on Tuesday night, and the subject of a stats geek’s nighttime stirrings. Many of his advanced analytics are off the charts.

Don’t let the numbers crowd take away from Arrieta’s achievement, though. Getting to 20 victories is hard. Getting there as a Cub has been like climbing Mt. Everest without an oxygen tank. Arrieta is only the sixth Cub in the past 50 years to win 20 games or more. Fergie Jenkins did it six seasons in a row, from 1967-72. Bill Hands (1969), Rick Reuschel (1977), Greg Maddux (1992) and Jon Lieber (2001) are the others.

None of those pitchers got to the playoffs in their big seasons. Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1 with the Cubs in 1984 after being traded from Cleveland, where he had started the season 4-5.

(We’re a people ever in the present, so we tend to go a tad overboard whenever someone reaches a milestone. Let’s not lose sight of what Jenkins did. Six 20-win seasons in a row? That, friends, is ridiculous.)

Getting to 20 victories means something. It means you found ways to pitch well even when you weren’t feeling your best. It means you had some luck on your side. And, yes, it usually means your teammates gave you lots of help. In Arrieta’s case, it means he has four pitches, including a curveball and a slider that break so suddenly, it’s hard to understand how his arm doesn’t fall off.

It means the Cubs will have a great pitcher in peak form when he takes the mound in the play-in game against the Pirates. After that, it’s uncharted waters. Arrieta has never pitched in a playoff game.

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