A lot has been made about Jake Arrieta’s success with the Cubs, prompting baseball-clueless guys like Stephen A. Smith to allude to the possible use of performance enhancing drugs. Somewhere along the way, Smith decided that his knowledge of basketball somehow qualified him to speak feverishly on other sports in which he has very limited knowledge in, and ESPN loves putting him on your televisions because his antics draw ratings. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who once brilliantly pontificated on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters panel, that an NFL team should’ve attempted a FG on third down, that way if they missed they could try again on 4th down, so unless it’s about basketball, most educated viewers have learned not to take anything he says very seriously. I should give him a break though. I mean, after all, it was mighty noble of him to phrase it in a way that basically translated to “I’m not saying he might’ve used performance enhancing drugs, but I think he might’ve used performance enhancing drugs.” Slippery much, Stephen? This phrasing allowed him to implant PED use doubts in people’s minds, but also granted him the ability to claim he never said Jake used if his comments garnered any backlash. Putting Stephen A. Smith’s reckless ratings-driven comments aside, I decided to give a closer look into Jake’s transformation from thrower to pitcher.
Arrieta was basically just a fastball/sinker pitcher in Baltimore. It’s almost all he threw. Because of their movement, sinkers (and knucklers) rely heavily on weather conditions. It’s one of the primary reasons why sinkerballers and knuckleballers are so inconsistent. Some days they just can’t get it to drop as sharply. Additionally, Arrieta throws his sinker in the mid 90’s, so it’s very close to the speed of his fastball. Jake used that sinker/fastball combination in Baltimore over 60% of the time, so hitters were rarely off balance because the majority of the pitches they saw were coming at them close to the same speeds. Combine that with Camden Yards being a HR hitting stadium, and you’ve got a guy who threw primarily 2 pitches… a hard and straight fastball, and a similarly hard sinker that sometimes wouldn’t sink sharply in a HR hitting division and stadium. The result was 48 jacks allowed in just over 350 innings, and a rather unsightly ERA. If you’re not keeping guys guessing and off balance because you’re basically relying on two pitches with similar velocity, suddenly both pitches become very hittable for major league hitters.
Fast forward to Chicago, where he backed off that mostly 2-pitch formula and gradually started heavily mixing in a slider, a changeup, a curve, and adding cut to his fastball, and suddenly you’ve got an entirely different guy on the mound. Now you’ve got a guy who can throw 5 good pitches, and uses them all regularly. Nasty slider, nasty cutter, nasty changeup, nasty sinker, nasty curve… all with good rotation, and only the change and the curve aren’t thrown in the 90’s, so the other 3 pitches look eerily similar coming out of his hand. As a result, hitters have a hard time gauging which pitch is coming at them. Hitters no longer have a 50/50 shot at dead red or the sinker anymore and aren’t able to gear their timing into one very small window of speeds. With a low 80’s curve, high 80’s changeup, 90 MPH slider, mid 90’s sinker, and an upper 90’s cut fastball… he’s now keeping guys guessing and off balance at all times. That small window of speeds has now become a canyon of speeds. Additionally, he’s been doing Pilates religiously for quite some time now, and that has his flexibility and balance on point, which results in incredible consistency in his mechanics. He rarely has a mistake pitch. When he does, he already has hitter’s so off balance he gets away with most of them rather than turning to watch them fly over the fences in Camden. Let us also not forget the obvious switch from the DH-laden American League to the pitcher-friendly National League.
I realize the Entirely Self-Promoting Network loves the attention Stephen A. Smith’s controversial statements bring them, but unless he can back up his verbal vomit with some sort of pertinent facts, or even just sound reasoning, he should really just stick to basketball.