Continuing his unbelievable 2015 run with a complete game, 11-strikeout shutout of the Pirates in a do or die wild card game, Jake Arrieta solidified himself as an MLB household name last night, much the same way Madison Bumgarner did in 2014. But if you cheer for the O’s or Cubs, you know that Jake Arrieta didn’t just explode onto the scene like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper.
In 2013, fresh off the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 15 years, the Baltimore Orioles opened the season hoping to obtain another playoff berth. But just one year removed from being the Opening Day Starter, Jake Arrieta found himself as the odd man out in a rotation built around the 2012 emergences of Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel. On a short leash as the O’s hoped to repeat their 2012 magic, Arrieta was demoted after just five starts as he faltered to a 7.23 ERA. For the third year in a row, Arrieta’s ERA appeared to be on the rise, and the franchise felt the need for a trade to get a more consistent starting pitcher to make another playoff run.
No one doubted Arrieta’s potential; the Orioles knew he had lights out stuff. But he couldn’t control his pitches, managing a walk rate per nine innings of less than 4.3 in just one season (2012 where it sat at 2.7). In 2013 his control worsened, ballooning to 6.5 walks per nine, and the club decided to move on. In fact, Arrieta was considered such a project piece that a franchise like the Cubs (focused on loading up on talent and prospects) needed another player to make it worth their while. After a fantastic 2012 in the bullpen for the O’s, Pedro Strop blew a few games in fantastic fashion, and the Cubs decided to take a flyer on the two projects in return for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger, players the Orioles felt could help make a playoff push at that time.
The 2013 Orioles went on to win 85 games and fall short of the playoffs. Arrieta pitched well in nine starts for 66 win Chicago, pitching to a 4-2 record with a 3.66 ERA, lowering his season ERA between Baltimore and Chicago to 4.78. In 2014, while the Orioles won their first division in 17 years, Arrieta quietly put everything together on a bad Cubs team. He posted a 10-5 record with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts, matching his career high of 10 wins and reaching career bests in innings pitched (156.2), strike outs (167), walks per nine (2.4), and strike outs per nine (9.6). The rest, as they say, is history.
So how should Orioles fans feel, especially on the heels of a disappointing 2015 season in which the starting rotation was a disaster?
As an Oriole fan, I think there are several things to consider here. First and foremost, Jake Arrieta has always been well-respected. The media consistently praises him. His dedication to both specific workout regimes and nutrition have led to an incredible physique. He’s a family man, a great teammate, and has always talked positively of his time and teammates in Baltimore.
But most importantly as Orioles fans, it is important to recognize the baseball implications. For 15 years this franchise tried rebuilding unsuccessfully before 2012’s one-run and extra inning magic led to an unpredictable playoff run. A core of talent seemed to develop, and Arrieta had worked himself out of that mix. The Orioles front office focused on winning, and Arrieta’s stock had fallen well behind the likes of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in terms of players to dedicate time and energy towards. Arrieta had his chance in Baltimore, but frustrations had climaxed, and at the time, it was evident that Arrieta’s only chance for success appeared to be elsewhere.
So for Orioles fans, if you want to be frustrated (and as an O’s fan myself, trust me, I get it), point inward. One story you won’t hear much about is that the Orioles told Arrieta to avoid using his cutter when coming back from surgery, one of his better pitches right now. They did the same thing to Bundy. They completely mismanaged Kevin Gausman in 2015, taking him from the unsung hero of the Delmon Young comeback over the Tigers, to an inconsistent pitcher who bounced unnecessarily between the majors and minors with limited success. So perhaps the issue had less to do with Arrieta, and more with the Orioles inability to groom pitchers.
But most of all, be happy the Orioles took an all-in mentality in 2013. It nearly paid off in 2014. Yes the Orioles were swept by Kansas City, but had a few bloop hits fallen in and diving catches escaped the red hot Royals, the O’s could have reached the World Series. Hopefully the franchise continues that mentality heading into this offseason, and perhaps a .500 season is what they needed to really re-evaluate what is needed for long-term success.
So be happy for Arrieta. He is enjoying an unbelievable season, one he likely won’t repeat even if he continues to be fantastic for years to come. And maybe he’ll exact some revenge for the Oriole faithful by eliminating the Royals.