Chicago Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta entered Monday at Fenway Park winless in five starts against the Boston Red Sox, with a 5.90 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. This certainly might have led a concerned Arrieta fantasy owner to bench him, citing history, which obviously didn’t turn out to be the right call when he came within four outs of a no-hitter. Still, those who endured Arrieta when he was a promising prospect with the Baltimore Orioles don’t recognize this new version, and for good reason: He’s better, and it looks pretty legit. The last fellow to take no-hit bids into the seventh inning of consecutive outings was Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Dave Stieb back in 1988.
Arrieta allowed a Stephen Drew single with two outs in the eighth inning, and he was done after 120 excellent pitches, striking out 10 with only one walk. He accrued strikeouts with various weapons, the fastball that hit 94 mph even in the final inning, the cutter, the curveball and the changeup. We’ve discussed in recent weeks in this space and on the Fantasy Focus podcast how Arrieta’s been throwing his new, refined cutter -- it looks and acts like a slider, frankly -- nearly a quarter of the time, and hitters are doing nothing with it. Arrieta took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his last outing, and then even further Monday. Arrieta owns a 1.81 ERA after 11 starts.
The final June numbers for Arrieta are tough to believe, with a 1.14 ERA in five starts, 0.79 WHIP and 38 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings. Things can’t continue to this degree, but we all said that about Atlanta Braves right-hander Kris Medlen a few summers ago and, of course, they did. Arrieta is a pitcher with a new pitch and a new approach, but his 1.95 FIP and 2.48 xFIP tell us he’s very much for real. His walk rate is also way down from last year, when he introduced the cutter into his arsenal, but not this much. Arrieta didn’t throw the cutter during his Orioles days -- the organization banned it -- but the Cubs have no such concerns. For now, everyone’s winning, except the hitters flailing away.
Ultimately, fantasy owners want to know if they can rely on this fellow, and the answer isn’t so simple.