LOS ANGELES — Jake Arrieta’s 2017 dip in velocity has stretched 10 starts into the season and caused everyone from stats bloggers to manager Joe Maddon to link it to his 4.92 ERA and spike in home runs allowed.
If it persists, could it affect the 2015 Cy Young Award winner’s free-agent value next fall?
Not so fast, said Scott Boras, -Arrieta’s agent.
Clearly an advocate for a strong Arrieta market, Boras might have laid out part of the case he’ll make to teams in the fall when he downplayed the velocity question Saturday and offered comparisons to recent market leaders.
Arrieta, whose two fastballs averaged 95 mph during his Cy Young season, has pitched at 92-93 most of this season — with two games, including Friday night’s 4-0 loss at Dodger Stadium, in which he threw at least one pitch at 95.
“My point is they all drop in velocity,” said Boras, who added the widespread breakdowns and scrutiny over Arrieta’s velocity -reminded him of similar scrutiny of another client, Max Scherzer, -during his walk year in 2014.
It’s not the first time Boras has drawn comparisons between the Cubs right-hander and Scherzer, who got a then-record, seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals after that season.
“All the elite pitchers drop in velocity because when they come in the league they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, and then they’re down,” he said. “But the key thing is what are they all doing? They’re all between the ranges of probably close to 92 and 93.5.”
He pointed out that Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke have fastballs that average less than 93, similar to David Price last season and Scherzer in that walk year.
“Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did,” Boras said. “And the reality of it is that Jake has this history. He’s got a great history that goes on like Kershaw does, like Price, like Greinke does. These guys have not done this one year. [Arrieta] did it in ’14, ’15, ’16. Now he’s doing it in ’17.
“Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.”
The 10 home runs in 10 starts — including the first of the year Friday for Adrian Gonzalez — and an ERA pushing 5.00 doesn’t put him in that class so far this year.
Even after Scherzer in 2014 gave up seven, five, four, four and 10 earned runs in five of six starts through mid-June — a comparison point Boras emphasized — Scherzer was 8-3 with a 3.84 ERA.
Clearly, Arrieta (5-4) is making adjustments this year, as he admits, including increasing use of an effective curveball. And he said he expects to fine tune and pitch closer to expectations.
Boras said his point is more about his durability and track record over a three- and four-year window being a better indicator of whether he is an elite pitcher.
And, presumably, whether he’ll get paid like it.
“A pitcher doesn’t have to be like Jake Arrieta in ’15. That’s my point,” Boras said. “Scherzer had a Cy Young year, too [in 2013]. He didn’t pitch like that in the following year. He pitched at 92 and did well.”
By extension, he might also be saying what already has been the widely held assumption: that the price tag figures to remain, until further notice, high enough (in years as much as dollars) to keep the Cubs looking at other options.
“I’m just talking about what the elite do,” Boras said. “We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment, or a 10-start moment, when he has three years of history? Don’t do it; that’s not fair.
“All these guys are still doing well; all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. And what does Jake do better than anyone? He wins big games.”
Kershaw and Price, in particular, have had well-documented struggles in the postseason.
“Let’s let this year expand,” -Boras said. “Let’s not let velocity in any way be a tag.”
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