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Deep Dive: Jake Arrieta answers the call in World Series Game 6

3 months agoLance Brozdowski

The legend of Jake Arrieta sprang to life during 2015. After a few tumultuous seasons with the Orioles, Arrieta’s embrace of pilates and his slider-cutter earned him one of the best statistical seasons of the 2000s and a Cy Young Award. He posted a 1.77 ERA in nearly 230 innings with a 0.86 WHIP, the 23rd lowest of all time among qualified pitchers. Such dominance with minimal history of success leaves most projection systems skeptical for subsequent seasons.

In 2016, Arrieta did his best to prove projections wrong, winning 18 games and posting an ERA better than league average despite a notable lapse in control. He made three postseason starts during the Cubs’ run for the ring before Game 6 of the World Series, logging 5 or more innings in each start and striking out four times as many batters as he walked.

With a combination of Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester expected to toe the rubber if the Cubs could push the series to a Game 7, all eyes turned to Arrieta. With some help from his defense, he didn’t disappoint. 

Arrieta carved through the first 3 innings. He mixed in four of his five pitches from the start of the game — four-seam, sinker, cutter, curveball. The righty struck out five of the first 10 batters he faced, just one over the minimum as the Cubs took a commanding 7-0 lead against the Indians’ Josh Tomlin. Then the 4th inning arrived. 

Jason Kipnis doubled to lead off the frame, smashing the Indians’ hardest hit ball of the game and the first of Kipnis’ two hits harder than 104 mph (the average exit velocity of an extra base hit in 2016 was 99.7 mph). Arrieta bounced back by striking out Francisco Lindor with a devastating curveball, but one batter later, he left a sinker up in the zone to Mike Napoli who drove home the Indians’ first run on a single to left-center. When Arrieta fell behind to Jose Ramirez, Jason Heyward bailed him out with a diving catch in right field. 

Heyward’s prowess in right field is well documented. His Fangraphs “DEF” metric — one measure of a player’s defensive value relative to league average — improved in each of his first four seasons with the Braves. He won his third consecutive Gold Glove after the end of the 2016 season and added a fourth one year later. In Game 5, Heyward made another impressive catch in foul territory. His defensive fingerprints were all over the 2016 postseason. 

Arrieta hit Lonnie Chisenhall after Heyward’s catch and walked Coco Crisp on four pitches before challenging Tyler Naquin with a sinker low and away to get out of the inning. Joe Maddon pulled Arrieta in the 6th inning at 102 pitches after issuing his third walk. Although the Cubs’ 5-run lead at the time seemed insurmountable, Maddon still used Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman for a combined 37 pitches. Both relievers were used the next night in Game 7. 

NOTES

  • The lowest ERA since 2000 for a qualified pitcher belongs to Zack Greinke, who posted a 1.67 mark in 2015. 
  • Despite Arrieta’s nearly pristine ERA, he still doesn’t crack the top on the Cubs all-time single season leaderboard for lowest ERA. Mordecai Brown’s 1.06 ERA in 1906 is the lowest, with Bruce Sutter’s 1.34 in 1977 the only performance past the year 1910 on the list. 
  • Arrieta’s 2015 WHIP is third all time for a single season performance by a qualified Cubs pitcher. Mordecai Brown is once again first on this list with a 0.84 in his 1908 season.

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