It’s sad that Jake Arrieta’s tenure with the Cubs had to end the way it did, with an unconditional release following one of the worst starts of his career.
You know, there was a time even earlier this year when it looked like the return of Jake to the Cubs looked like a really good thing. Over his first five starts he posted a 2.57 ERA, 1.179 WHIP and had 26 strikeouts in 28 innings. Maybe he wasn’t going to be the invincible Arrieta of 2015 and early 2016, but those numbers would have played among the better pitchers in the National League this year if he had been able to sustain them.
And then April 30 in Cincinnati, Jake got pounded for seven runs and left the game in the fourth inning:
Arrieta says he doesn't think it'll be an issue his next time out. https://t.co/m6rkPWeEb0— Russell Dorsey (@Russ_Dorsey1) May 1, 2021
“Next time out” followed a two-week IL stint and he had two good starts and two bad ones in May, enough to think that maybe he’d turn it around. June, though, ugh: six starts, 8.31 ERA, and then in early July:
Arrieta’s right hamstring has been bothering him since late May, according to Ross, who said they didn’t consider not starting him last night. #Cubs— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) July 7, 2021
It didn’t get any better after that, and everything ended after Wednesday night’s disaster:
But after a 10-0 loss to the Brewers, Arrieta was out of answers for why this reunion didn’t work: “I got nothing for you, man.”
Arrieta then met with president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and manager David Ross, whose office is across the hall from that Zoom room within the underground clubhouse. They broke the news that Arrieta would be placed on unconditional waivers, a roster move that would be announced Thursday morning.
“Obviously, he was struggling,” Hoyer said. “We had been patient and tried to get through it and hopefully he’d come out the other side and pitch better. But we weren’t there and thought it was the right thing to do for him if he can catch on somewhere. Maybe a change of scenery would help him. For us, it just seemed like the right time.”
My purpose here isn’t to lament 2021, which might have worked out but didn’t. Instead, let’s celebrate the Jake Arrieta we knew during the Cubs’ World Series run.
When he was acquired from the Orioles July 2, 2013 with Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger, a lot of Cubs fans said, “Who?” And you know, that was justifiable, because in five 2013 starts with Baltimore Arrieta had posted a 7.23 ERA with a high walk rate. Lots of teams see relatively young guys (Arrieta was then 27) like that and say, “We can fix that,” and they’re generally wrong.
The Cubs, however, fixed Jake.
(Just an aside: If the Cubs had acquired only Strop in that deal it would have been a huge win. Getting Arrieta as well made it one of the best trades in franchise history. Strop and Arrieta combined for 25 bWAR as Cubs; Feldman and Clevenger combined for 1.2 bWAR with Baltimore.)
Arrieta spent some time at Triple-A Iowa after the trade and in his very first start for the Cubs, August 16, 2013 vs. the Cardinals, he flashed that promise: seven shutout innings, two hits, seven strikeouts. Overall for the Cubs in ‘13: nine starts, 3.66 ERA, 1.123 WHIP, a good beginning.
Jake started 2014 out with a minor shoulder issue, finally beginning his season in early May, and in his first 10 outings posted a 2.05 ERA with just 13 walks and 64 strikeouts in 57 innings, with just two home runs allowed.
Then he gave us a hint of things to come. June 30, 2014 against the Red Sox in Fenway, Arrieta retired the first 23 Boston hitters he faced before Stephen Drew broke up his perfect game bid with a two-out single in the eighth. Both Red Sox and Cubs fans gave him an ovation (and check out the pitch count!):
Jim Deshaies was prescient in that clip: “He’s becoming must-see TV. Don’t miss a Jake Arrieta start, folks!”
Later that year, Arrieta took another no-hit bid deep into a game, this one against the Reds at Wrigley Field September 16. The only baserunner through seven was Billy Hamilton, who walked leading off the fourth but was thrown out stealing, so Jake had faced the minimum through 22 hitters, one out in the eighth. Brandon Phillips then broke it up with a double. I wrote about this game last summer in one of my pandemic series; the entire game is on video in that link. Arrieta wound up with a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts. His Game Score that night was 97. Only his own no-hitter in 2015 against the Dodgers (98) and Kerry Wood’s 20-K game in 1998 (105) had higher Game Scores in Cubs history.
His 2015 season started out good but not great. Through 13 starts he had a 3.40 ERA and 1.159 WHIP, and then one of the greatest stretches of pitching not only in Cubs history, but MLB history, began.
Arrieta threw a four-hit shutout at Minnesota June 21, and including that through the end of 2015: 20 starts, 147 innings, 0.86 ERA, 0.701 WHIP, 147 strikeouts, just two home runs allowed... you know I’m not a fan of pitchers hitting, but Jake hit as many HR as he allowed over that span.
The climax was, of course, his no-hitter against the Dodgers August 30 in Los Angeles [VIDEO].
Arrieta wound up the season 22-6, with four complete games and three shutouts, a 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 8.3 bWAR and a Cy Young Award.
When the postseason began, Jake heard some flack on social media from Pirates fans and responded:
He backed that claim up with a five-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts in the Wild Card Game, and after two Pirates were hit by Arrieta pitches, Jake got hit himself, causing this kerfuffle:
Jake got revenge by stealing second base uncontested:
Jake began the 2016 season just the way 2015 had ended, and in his fifth start of the season he threw another no-hitter — his second in a span of 11 regular-season starts! — against the Reds in Cincinnati. Here are five minutes of highlights from that one:
In a 35-start span from June 21, 2015 through June 22, 2016, just over one calendar year, Arrieta posted a 1.22 ERA and 0.807 WHIP, with 254 strikeouts and 62 walks in 243 innings. He allowed just five home runs in that span, threw five complete games and four shutouts, including the two no-hitters. He allowed two or fewer runs in 31 of those 35 starts. It is one of the most dominant stretches by any major-league pitcher in the last half-century. We will likely never see anything like it again.
Jake wasn’t quite as good the rest of 2016, but he did give Cubs fans a thrill in Game 3 of the division series against the Giants. In the second inning, he smashed a three-run homer off Madison Bumgarner:
The Cubs lost that game in 13 innings, but that is an indelible memory for me (I was at that game), and probably for you, too.
He wasn’t quite as sharp most of 2017, finishing the year with a 3.53 ERA and 1.218 WHIP, but pitched well in the postseason, including 6⅔ strong innings in NLCS Game 4 against the Dodgers, which helped stave off elimination. Knowing Jake was likely leaving as a free agent at the end of the 2017 season, Wrigley fans gave him a rousing ovation when he was taken out of that game [VIDEO].
Of course, we now know that was his final Cubs game prior to his 2021 return. He spent three mediocre years with the Phillies marred by injuries and then returned to the Cubs, who were hoping he’d be healthy and productive. He was, for a month, and then... not.
I suppose I need to address the proverbial elephant in the room:
“I’d love you to take your mask off,” Jake Arrieta told a reporter on a video conference after a 10-0 loss while giving an answer about hoping to mentor young pitchers. https://t.co/8m4arcKBdK— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) August 12, 2021
I make no judgment on this other than to say that doesn’t seem like an appropriate thing to say. In Patrick Mooney’s article, Jed Hoyer noted that had nothing to do with Arrieta’s release:
Hoyer signaled that Arrieta’s COVID-19-related remark during Wednesday’s video conference did not factor into the organization’s decision to release him. Otherwise, Hoyer declined to comment on Arrieta looking at the screen and telling a reporter up in the press box: “I’d love you to take your mask off. I don’t think anybody’s around you.” Arrieta began to answer the reporter’s question, delivered that aside and continued with a response about trying to help the new players in this youth movement.
Let’s move on and just say that’s a disappointing way for Arrieta’s Cubs tenure, and probably his MLB career, to end. (And please: No political commentary on this, any such comments will be removed without notice.)
That’s especially so because this article is intended as a celebration of some of the best pitching we’ve ever seen as Cubs fans. Jake Arrieta was a big part of what brought the Cubs back first to respectability, then to World Series winners. For that, I salute him and wish him well.