Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be another piece about the various nuances of Jake Arrieta’s stats and what they signal. Rather, I’d like to briefly examine another issue I’ve probably belabored, one that is intertwined with the numbers like the quantum space between sub-atomic particles. Invisible and intangible, but no less real. I’m writing, of course, about the psychological specter of his contract year.
To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be writing about this at all had CI’s Brendan Miller not sent me a picture during pre-game warmups from Dodger stadium. The snap featured CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney chatting up super-agent Scott Boras, who was wearing a particularly convincing human costume (just kidding, Scott, I know you’re an avid reader and a big fan) Friday night. Boras reps Arrieta, not to mention Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, among others, so I was hoping for a little insight following the game.
“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras told Mooney (all quotes that follow are from piece linked above), “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.
“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”
Let’s dispense with the obvious that this is all stuff an agent is going to have to say. I mean, of course Boras isn’t going to come out and admit that his client isn’t as good as he once one. As Arrieta fights through the lack of consistency that has plagued him over the past year, though, this will have to become his calling card. Just like the unseen spaces in and around atoms, teams are going to have to take it on faith that he can still go back to that well of greatness in the future. But will someone be willing to pony up big money for a guy who might only show up in big games?
Or perhaps a better question is whether Arrieta can find a groove and become an ace-level pitcher in the regular season, knowing that the rest of the league is watching every start and measuring that against their available cap space.
“Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in – and that is being on a club where you can win more.”
I’m not sure what club Arrieta will be able to join that gives him a chance to win more than he’ll have in Chicago, at least not one that can also pay him. But all the signs — including Arrieta’s rhetoric over the last couple seasons — point to the Cubs not bringing him back unless the bottom really falls out of the market. Which is why Boras is going to keep leaning on the pressure-performance angle.
“When the postseason hits, it’s Jake’s greatest measurement,” Boras said. “I don’t know, I heard winning a World Series in Chicago was difficult.”
It was evident from Friday’s start that Arrieta still has the stuff to lead a staff. His curveball was a frisbee that would have baffled even the best Ultimate players, rolling toward the plate before being ripped downward as if by a string. That’s not the issue though. There are only so many times we can justify another start as being “really good, except for those two homers.”
Arrieta’s situation is kind of like what we’re seeing with Kyle Schwarber, where the peripheral stats tell a different story from what we see on the field. At a certain point, you have to go with what the box score results are telling you. I don’t think we’re all the way there yet with the former Cy Young winner, but it’s sure getting close.