Editorials

Could Jake Arrieta be the Veteran Arm the Mariners are Looking For?

The Seattle Mariners have let it be known that they are looking to add a veteran starting pitcher this winter. And while the addition of Chris Flexen provides some upside, they still need to add some stability, without forking over major prospect capital or a long-term contract. 

There are no shortage of options for the Mariners to consider. There is a literal smorgasbord of options to fit any individual taste. You just have to find the right player at the right price. Could that player be Jake Arrieta?

Let’s begin right here: the days of Cy Young contender level Arrieta have come and gone. But despite a bad 2020 season coming off a pretty meh 2019, there are some solid signs that point to a potential bargain to be had.

First and foremost, Arrieta’s velocity has stayed nearly identical for the past few seasons. While he’s not a flamethrower, his fastball still sits comfortably in the 91-93 MPH range. But his fastball, or more specifically his sinker, has been the issue the past two seasons. To put it simply: that pitch got torched in 2020, as opponents hit .402 and slugged .634. Still, Arrieta relied on it heavily and his overall numbers suffered.

But Arrieta’s issues may be as simple as changing his pitch mix. You see, Arrieta still has an excellent slider and changeup. Opponents hit just .178 and slugged .267 against the slider, and .256 and .359 against the changeup. Arrieta can still spin the baseball and he throws enough strikes to be effective.

The off-speed stuff is still good with near elite break. In 2020, Arrieta’s changeup registered eight inches of drop, 28% above league average, and 2.9 inches of run, 21% above league average. His curveball average 4.8 inches of run, or 64% above average. He rarely uses the curveball, throwing it just 7.3% of the time in 2020, almost 50% less than he threw it in 2019. The pitch was quite good both years, so if there isn’t a medical reason he’s not throwing it, he should consider going back to it more in 2021.

Arrieta’s stuff compared favorably to Zach Eflin and 2019 Aaron Nola. Stuff isn’t the primary issue for his struggles in 2020. He’s missing fewer bats and giving up more hard contact, but hasn’t changed his pitch allocation or plan of attack. This should sound familiar to Mariners fans, who spent three years hoping Felix Hernandez would magically decide to change his approach. If Arrieta is open to a change and the Mariners believe they can help the 34-year-old starter, there might be a good match here.

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