New Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta is still a good starting pitcher, no matter how one defines the word "good." He is just not likely to be a great one, and that is just fine for realistic fantasy managers who have perspective. After all, Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award in 2015 and was basically awesome. Fantasy managers won championships thanks to him and his Chicago Cubs won a playoff series. Last season, Arrieta, perhaps the version we are likely to see moving forward, posted a 3.53 ERA -- double his 2015 mark -- and 37 hurlers delivered more quality starts. The Cubs did not seem interested in a reunion.
The current ADP -- sure to rise in the coming days -- for Arrieta is just outside the top 100 overall and 26th among starting pitchers, and while it is fair to wonder whether the 32-year-old will continue his downward trend, perhaps that is unreasonable too. We would all be fine with another 3.53 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and nearly a strikeout per inning. The 11th round of a roto draft -- and a bit later for a points version -- makes sense. That is the rub; Arrieta in the 11th round is a good spot -- just good -- but no longer special.
For those wondering about the trends, well, they are myriad. Arrieta averaged 94.6 mph on his fastball when he was arguably the best player in all of fantasy. In 2016, that fastball slipped to an average of 93.7 mph. Last season it was at 92.1. That is a very big deal. Let us not blindly presume he is heading the way of fallen Seattle Mariners king Felix Hernandez, but being purely objective, when a pitcher sees such a stark decrease in velocity that quickly, it tends to be worth worrying about for either statistical or health purposes.
Unfortunately, there is more. Arrieta permitted 26 home runs over 64 starts in 2015-16. Last season, Arrieta permitted 23 blasts in 168 1/3 innings, as his hard-contact rate spiked, left-handed hitters had far less trouble with his stuff and/or deception, and his ground ball rate continued its predictive descent along with it. Arrieta's FIP was 4.16, which is below average and likely more reflective of how he pitched, rather than his ERA. Now, we can all live with an ERA even in that somewhat bloated range, in theory, if it comes with a decent WHIP and strikeouts and wins and ... this just is not as sure a thing anymore.
All that noted, the Phillies clearly needed Arrieta, because after young right-hander Aaron Nola, the rotation was, shall we say, problematic and remains more question mark than strength. An Arrieta repeat of 2017 would work just fine for his new organization and for reasonable fantasy managers who do not blindly move him way up their rankings. In truth, I did judge Arrieta better a month ago as a borderline top-20 starter, presuming the free agent would find a team -- likely a contender -- and be ready for Opening Day, and it is reasonable to return him to that general region.
However, this season starts in less than three weeks. Arrieta might not be ready for the start of it, and the Phillies, certainly trending toward contention at some point, are not the Cubs, neither in overall scope nor with likely the offensive run support or defensive chops. It is also at least worth noting Arrieta moves to a hitter-friendly home ballpark unlike more neutral Wrigley Field, where he was considerably better each of his past two campaigns.
The bottom line on Arrieta is he remains a good pitcher and, hey, at least he signed a contract, so those who have already invested in him or plan to can at least accrue some statistics. There was becoming at least a modest concern that he might not. Arrieta is obviously not too old to supply several productive seasons like 2017, but he will need to somewhat stem the tide of the clear and present skills erosion. He still finished up as fantasy's No. 24 starting pitcher on the Player Rater, one decent outing from top-20 status. Arrieta is still a good pitcher. Just try to avoid making the mistake of calling him a potentially great one.