Jake Arrieta is great. Let’s get that out of the way before I throw a few numbers at you and you throw a few punches at me.
In his last eight outings, the Cubs’ ace has lasted just five innings four times. Before that, he had gone 24 consecutive regular-season starts in which he went at least six innings.
He was pulled after five innings and 108 pitches Sunday, and ended up losing for the first time in … let me check the records … forever. Everyone has been quick to point out that he was dominant in the 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks, and it’s true. He struck out 12, and his off-speed pitches were particularly nasty. But it’s also true that he gave up three runs, and even though one of the Cubs’ broadcasters said Arizona hitters “happened’’ to get nine hits off Arrieta, they got nine hits.
So the question is, what does it mean, if anything? First off, we can’t simply chalk it up to manager Joe Maddon’s quest to keep Arrieta’s innings down this season. In two of those five-inning starts, Arrieta struggled by his standards. In a 9-8 victory over the Cardinals on May 25, he gave up four runs after his teammates had staked him to a big lead. In a 4-3 victory over the Nationals on May 8, he gave up two runs and walked four as the Cubs tried, successfully, to pitch around Bryce Harper.
This isn’t like last year’s playoffs, when a clearly tired Arrieta ran out of gas, but the trend does bear watching. His pitch count in the five-inning games was 92, 100, 93 and 108. Having 100 pitches or more after five innings isn’t a positive, no matter who the pitcher is. It’s fair to say that his control so far hasn’t been what it was last year, when he had one of the best seasons in major-league history.
The bottom line, as the Cubs and their fans will surely point out, is that Arrieta is 9-1 with a 1.80 earned-run average so far this season. He’s amazing. It’s just a different kind of amazing than we’re used to seeing.