Our six-year death crawl through the dry, parched desert of baseball futility is going to come to an end in 2018. The rebuild, which has been long, and brutal, and painful, is over.
That’s what the three-year, $75 million deal for free agent starting pitcher Jake Arrieta means for the Phillies. The days of trading for or signing one-year stop-gap fillers like Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton (before he was good), and Chad Billingsley (among others) is over.
The Phils have made one of the biggest splashes of the winter (yes, it’s still winter), and in doing so, signaled for certain that they believe their window for contention is right now.
The Arrieta contract is a team-friendly deal, as most have been across baseball this off-season. It is also one that allows them to extend the partnership if they so choose. Arrieta has an opt-out after the 2019 season, but if the Phillies like what they get from him in his first two years, they can extend the contract an additional two seasons, pushing it to a five-year deal worth as much as $135 million. It’s unlikely it’ll go that long, or for that much cash, but it shows a commitment by the team to keep the right-hander if things go really well.
Jake Arrieta comes to the Phillies as a flawed pitcher, but one with the ability to dominate an opposing lineup. In 30 starts last year he went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA and a 4.16 FIP, with a strikeout rate of 23.1% and a walk rate of 7.8%. That K-rate is down from 2015 (27.1%), and he gave up a lot more homers last year, 23, in 168.1 innings. He’s also seen his fastball velocity drop 2 mph since his peak of three years ago.
In 2017, it was a tale of two halves for the 32-year-old right-hander. In 101.1 innings prior to the All-Star break, Arrieta posted an ERA of 4.35 and gave up a slash line of .247/.320/.422, a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .318, a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 4.18 and an expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) of 3.99. His second half was much better, albeit in a smaller sample size. He pitched 67.0 innings and had a 2.28 ERA, allowing a slash line of .213/.280/.394 with a .288 wOBA allowed, a FIP of 4.11 and an xFIP of 4.30.
It’s fair to note much of that was due to a drop in BABIP (.300 to .246) and an increase in his strand rate (67.0 to 83.6%), and there are concerns about that velo drop and the fact he throws across his body in order to pitch. But it can’t be denied that Arrieta got better as the season went on last year, and he’s been one of the best arms in the National League for the last four seasons. From 2014-17, only Clayton Kershaw (1.99) has a lower ERA than Arrieta (2.67). Look at this filth he throws when he’s on.
This Jake Arrieta tribute is absolutely filthy. Good luck to him in Philadelphia ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/H8J1fSi7M2— Baseball King™ (@BasebaIlKing) March 11, 2018
The bottom line is that Arrieta is a 2-4 win pitcher, much better than what the Phillies would have gotten from the No. 5 spot in their starting rotation. The addition leaves a likely three-man battle for that spot between the talented but inconsistent Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin. Replacing one of those guys with Arrieta in the rotation is a big, big deal.
The Phillies now have someone to slot in behind Aaron Nola at the top of the rotation. Despite a drop in innings over the last three years (from 229 in ‘15 to 168.1 last year), he’s still a reliable arm who will help take the pressure off a Phils’ bullpen that was run ragged last year.
Arrieta likely won’t challenge for the Cy Young Award, and an All-Star season may be asking a bit much, too. But he’s certainly capable of it and, more than that, the signing of Arrieta is symbolic.
The Phillies have put the baseball world on notice. They are done rebuilding. The team certainly has a lot of growing to do, and young players have to stake their claims to being a part of the Phils’ long-term future. But GM Matt Klentak would not have signed Arrieta to a deal like this if the front office didn’t believe they were capable of winning now. They wouldn’t have pulled this off if they didn’t think the NL wild card wasn’t a real possibility.
Now, the team has to now go out and perform. Fans should expect this to be a winning ballclub in 2018, and adding Arrieta at the start of the season gives the team a better chance of getting off to a fast start, meaning they could be more likely to add another piece at the trade deadline if they’re in contention.
The Phillies are not punting any more seasons. They’re playing them all to win. This $169 million they spent on players this off-season (second only to the Cubs $216 million) is proof of that.
My friends, the rebuild is officially over. The dollars tell you so.
On Episode 181 of Hittin’ Season host John Stolnis is joined by Liz Roscher and Justin Klugh to talk about the signing and what it means for 2018 and beyond.
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