As last year’s off-season played out, it became clear that the free agent market was working itself out in a way that would enable the Phillies to sign of the starting pitchers on the market.
The two starters perceived to be at the top of the heap were Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, with Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Tyler Chatwood and others a tier or two below.
The Cubs signed Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal, the most expensive free agent contract given to a starting pitcher over the winter. Arrieta’s three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies was the 2nd-highest, but far below Darvish’s deal and way less than was anticipated when free agency began.
Cobb signed late with the Orioles to a four-year, $57 million deal. Chatwood was inked by the Cubs for three years and $38 million. Mike Minor got three years and $28 million, Jason Vargas, Andrew Cashner and Jhoulys Chacin all got two year deals and Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia signed one-year deals.
So far, it’s perhaps the understatement of the season to say the Phillies got the best of bunch (listed in order of total compensation paid).
Arrieta vs. the Free Agent Field
|Jaime Garcia||Blue Jays||9||45.2||5.52||5.37||21.1||10.3||1.51|
Last off-season’s free agent arms are showing why big league GMs waited so long to sign most of them. That’s a gigantic sack of blurgh.
There are only two pitchers who haven’t been a flat-out disaster so far this season, Jhoulys Chacin, who has had a very nice season for the Padres, and Miles Mikolas of the Cardinals, who was signed out of Japan to a two-year, $15.5 million deal and is having an outstanding 2018 campaign.
It worried some after Arrieta signed with the Phils that Chicago decided not to re-sign their own pitcher and instead signed Darvish for twice the number of years and an extra $50 million. But that decision by the Cubs appears to be the Phillies’ gain.
Darvish, currently on the DL for the second time this season, has been terrible for Chicago, with a 4.95 ERA, 4.81 FIP and a WHIP of 1.43, all career-highs. Chicago likely had concerns about Arrieta’s drop in velocity from 93.7 mph in 2016 to 92.1 mph last year, but it’s up to 92.7 mph this season, and he reached 94 mph on a number of pitches in his seven shutout innings against the Dodgers last night.
It’s true his strikeout rate of 17.2% is down from last year’s 23.1%, but he’s also inducing ground balls at a 56.7% rate, 2nd-best in MLB, is allowing a hard-hit contact rate of 25.4%, 5th-best, and his 2.16 ERA is 6th-lowest in all of baseball.
Last year with the Cubs, Arrieta induced 10 double plays in 707 plate appearances. He's generated 11 double plays in 233 plate appearances with the Phillies this season.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) May 30, 2018
That's tied for the most DPs in MLB & Arrieta's done it in one less start than SD's Richards & SEA's Leake.
Arrieta is also proving to be a big-game pitcher, winning the final game of the Atlanta series against a dominating Braves lineup last week, and he’s been a much-needed mentor to a young rotation that, in the month of May, has the best ERA in baseball (2.23). His 0.90 ERA this month was the best by a Phils starter since Cliff Lee seven years ago.
The Phillies did not target Arrieta at the start of the off-season, but with so many starters languishing on the free agent vine over the winter, it was clear a buying opportunity had arisen for the Phils. General manager Matt Klentak decided not to take advantage of the wisdom provided by yours truly to sign Lance Lynn or Tyler Chatwood (20.3% walk rate, Tyler???), and instead decided it would be Arrieta, at their price, or nothing at all.
Yes, Jake Arrieta fell into their laps, but sometimes it pays to be both lucky and wise.