About that Darvish obsession: Breathe — and give ex-Cub Arrieta proper goodbye
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You have to be careful when discussing baseball by the numbers nowadays. Make one false move — such as praising a starting pitcher for his win-loss record — and they’ll line up to decry you as a know-nothing, a rube, a relic.
There of course are better, truer ways to measure a pitcher’s performance, as a parade of Theo Epstein wannabes let me know Saturday after I tweeted a simple fact: Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish each lost 24 games over his last three seasons (including 2014 for Darvish, who missed 2015), but Arrieta won twice as many as Darvish in that time — 54 to 27.
It alone doesn’t mean Arrieta was the better pitcher in that time (though he was). It certainly doesn’t mean Arrieta would have been better going forward for the Cubs, who now have in Darvish a 31-year-old with a dizzying array of pitches and arguably as much pure talent as anyone in the game.
Arrieta was good last season, when he posted a 2.28 ERA after the All-Star break and made 20 road starts, the most by a Cub in 37 years. (He also led the team with 14 wins, but I probably shouldn’t mention that.) Yet he wasn’t as good as he had been in 2016, which itself wasn’t close to the level of all-time-greatness he’d reached in 2015. Arrieta’s velocity, control and ability to pitch deep into games became real concerns.
And so, onward — maybe even upward — we go with Darvish, Cubs fans’ new obsession. Before he toes the rubber for the first time with the team days from now in Mesa, Arizona, the rest of baseball’s top remaining free agents likely will fall like dominos to new teams. Arrieta already is but a memory.
But can we all just take a breath and stop for a second? Let’s at least begin to say a proper goodbye to the player who had more to do with the best three-year period in Cubs history than anyone. Your great-great-uncle Amos can come at me if he wants to argue on behalf of early-1900s Cubs, but even he knows no player did more heavy lifting than Arrieta starting in 2015.
Arrieta won more games over the last three seasons than any pitcher in baseball. His 2.71 ERA ranks second, and his .203 opponent average is third-lowest. His 22 wins and 1.77 ERA in 2015 — when he carried the Cubs to the playoffs a year ahead of schedule — earned him a Cy Young. His record 0.75 ERA after the All-Star break that year made him a Bunyanesque legend.
Arrieta is tied with Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown for the franchise lead in postseason victories with five. Three times, he won playoff games when a loss would have ended the Cubs’ season. In accomplishing all that, Arrieta changed the nature of what it meant to be a Cub. He represented winning. Around here, especially, that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
And he went out on a hell of a note. In Game 4 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field, with the Cubs facing elimination against the Dodgers, Arrieta dug deep for a 111-pitch gem as the Cubs won their only game of the series.
“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said afterward. “It’s a thank you.”
When he took the mound throughout the summer of 2015, chest out, beard raging, defeat didn’t even seem possible. When he beat the Indians twice in the 2016 World Series, he reminded everyone of where he stood. He led in that way, and the Cubs followed.
It’s a goodbye to Arrieta. And a thank you.
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.