After a lights-out start to his Chicago Cubs career, pitcher Jake Arrieta has come back down to Earth. Arrieta dropped his last two decisions, including a 6-2 affair on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Flat out got outpitched (Monday) by one of the best in the game,” Arrieta said of Zack Greinke.
There’s no disputing Greinke was great, but Arrieta handed the Dodgers the game by walking five in five innings. Three of those free passes came around to score.
“I walked guys on four pitches,” he told reporters. “That’s a little uncharacteristic.”
How he walked them is of little concern, while that he did is not uncharacteristic of Arrieta. That’s his Achilles' heel. He loses control and then loses games. He’s walked nine over his last nine innings, resulting in two losses. He walked five in his previous 13 innings, giving up just one run over that time frame. For the season, between Baltimore and Chicago, he’s walked 31 in 45 innings pitched and his career on-base percentage against is .344. That's too high.
“It was weird tonight because I was throwing a lot of strikes,” Arrieta said.
In some ways that statement isn’t wrong. Arrieta threw 111 pitches, 73 for strikes. That’s a strike percentage of 65.7 percent -- well above his 60.8 percent season average, according to ESPN Stats & Information. For comparison, Greinke nearly threw a complete-game shutout and his strike percentage was almost identical (66.3). The league average is 63.5 percent.
So Arrieta is throwing strikes a lot of the time but apparently loses focus and starts to walk batters. He said as much after the game.
“Just not doing a good enough job with certain guys attacking,” he said. “I have to stay focused, have better concentration there.”
It sounds like his problems are mental and not physical. Sometimes he gets his control back -- or never loses it in the first place -- and keeps it for the rest of the game, but other times it continues to plague him. At 27 years old it’s time for Arrieta to figure that out.
There will be openings in the Cubs rotation come 2014 and while the organization wants to increase its walk totals, the goal is to do that at the plate and not on the mound.