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In appreciation of Jake Arrieta

The Cubs and Jake were good for each other.

League Championship Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs - Game Four
Jake Arrieta walks off the mound in Game 4 of the NLCS
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Jake Arrieta revisited his role as the stopper. He’s been exceptional in the postseason and on Wednesday night he ensured that the Cubs would not be swept in the NLCS.

The thing I think we miss about Jake sometimes, however, is his greatness for the Chicago Cubs, and I’m not talking about the stint in 2015 where he was the best pitcher in the history of the game (I’m sure most of the people reading this know I’m not being hyperbolic there, but if you don’t, read this). No, see, Jake was great even if you revert some of his 2015 numbers to the mean. Even if you eliminate the six month period where no one could hit against him. Even if you vacated his Cy Young Award.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should ignore any of those things, but over the last three years I frequently got frustrated talking about Jake with Cubs fans. People seemed to think if he wasn’t an ace or the next Bob Gibson then he wasn’t fulfilling his role. Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since it’s probable that his last start as a Cub is behind us, it’s worth taking a look back and realizing that Jake Arrieta and the Cubs were really good for each other.

I’m not sure the Cubs thought they had a Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrieta. I’m not even sure they thought they had an top of the rotation starter. I think they thought they had a number three starter and maybe a number two if everything went okay. Jake hadn’t exactly dazzled in Baltimore. In fact, he’d classically underperformed expectations.

Large portions of that are on the Orioles. They tried to change his motion, and in fairness to the Orioles, the cross-body delivery Jake uses isn’t exactly orthodox, but it turns out trying to change Jake to fit your mold wasn’t great either. By the time Jake left the Orioles, these were his numbers:

Orioles Jake Arrieta

4.66 4.76 4.66 4.31
5.05 5.34 7.01 4.45
6.20 4.05 8.56 2.75
ERA, FIP, K/9 & BB/9 2010-2012 Fangraphs

And I’m really not sure whose radar he was on other than Theo’s because it seems crazy in retrospect that the Cubs got Jake and Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger.

But that’s what happened.

Jake was sent to the minor leagues to work out whatever had gone wrong in Baltimore and Cubs fans will be forgiven for being a little annoyed that the Cubs gave up Scott Feldman for a guy who didn’t look as good as Scott Feldman.

It’s easy to forget that Jake’s early starts with the Cubs in 2014 were excellent, because they weren’t part of his 2015 run, but look at these results.

Jake Arrieta’s first two 2014 months
Baseball Reference

I think all of us would be happy if whoever the Cubs target next came even close to those numbers.

Jake was reinvigorated by a coaching staff that was ready to embrace his cross-body motion and a team that was going to let Jake be Jake, and as we (probably) bid him farewell, I think it’s worth appreciating that even his “regression” to being good as opposed to great, has still been pretty awesome.

Cubs Jake Arrieta

2.53 2.26 9.59 2.36
1.77 2.35 9.28 1.89
3.10 3.52 8.67 3.47
3.53 4.16 8.71 2.94
ERA, FIP, K/9 & BB/9 2014-2017 Fangraphs

And then, there is postseason Jake.

Arrieta’s postseason record
Baseball Reference

I tried to think of a lot of ways to parse those numbers, and yes, it’s clear that there are some things to be concerned about with 2017 Arrieta (the walks jump way off the page) but ultimately two things stand out to me way more than any other stat.

Even with the control issues, Jake came to play in the postseason, and he came up big. Three times in the last three years Jake has started a win or go home game for the Cubs. He won. He won all of them. He won some of them beautifully, like the 2015 Wild Card Game, others, like Game 4 against the Dodgers this week were not nearly so pretty. But when the Cubs needed a win, Jake delivered. Kyle Hendricks may be steadier and more consistent, Jon Lester has more postseason experience, but Jake is the stopper.

The Cubs have won 19 postseason games in the last three years. Jake Arrieta was the starter in six of those games. To put this slightly differently, in the run that the Cubs have been on since 2015, almost a third of the postseason victories have been Arrieta starts. The Cubs were more likely to win a Jake start than a start by any other pitcher during that time period.

Jake Arrieta left Game 4 at Wrigley on Wednesday night with another postseason victory to a thunderous ovation. It was a fraction of the gratitude the city of Chicago feels towards Jake Arrieta. In the end, the Cubs helped resurrect Jake Arrieta’s career and his cut fastball helped them win a championship.