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Inside Jake Arrieta’s June Swoon

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The Phillies veteran right-hander suffered from a lot of bad luck, but also got hit hard. So, what’s the story?

New York Yankees v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

The narrative surrounding Jake Arrieta’s disastrous month of June will begin with his comments critical of defensive shifting and Scott Kingery’s defensive abilities, and it will end with him giving up six runs, three earned, on nine hits, five strikeouts and a walk in five innings against the Yankees on Tuesday. He allowed two dingers to the Bronx Bombers in the Phils’ dispiriting 6-0 loss at Yankee Stad... er... I mean, Citizens Bank Park.

It was not a good month.

His pitching line last night would have been much better were it not for a botched double play ball by Cesar Hernandez that would have ended the 3rd inning with the Phillies trailing 1-0. Instead, the Yankees scored three times, essentially putting the game away with Luis Severino on the hill for New York.

Look, the defense has not been Arrieta’s friend, which is bad news for a guy whose success is dependent on pitching to contact and hoping your fielders do their job. His 14 unearned runs allowed are three more than any other pitcher in baseball, and certainly not something the former Chicago Cub is used to.

Arrieta had a very successful first two months with the Phillies, putting up a 3.49 ERA in April and a brilliant 0.90 ERA in five May starts. He gave up two home runs over the first two months of the season.

But in June, even with the bad defense, his ERA jumped to 6.66, with the gopher ball the main reason why — seven homers allowed, including two to the Yankees last night. His strikeout and walk numbers were comparable to the first two months of the season, and his “hard hit rate,” as calculated by Fangraphs, was 32.4%, slightly less than last month’s 33.3%.

So, what gives? Mainly, inconsistency with location.

The first chart is a heat map of Arrieta’s pitch locations for all his offerings over the first two months of the season.

Fangraphs

In April and May, Arrieta lived up in the zone a little more than one would like, but he largely stayed away from left-handers and was in tight on right-handers. He also kept the ball down a lot better, although it’s possible he was lucky to have only given up two dingers in April and May. However, June’s heat map (not including last night’s game against the Yankees) showed a clear reason why he started giving up bombs — a loss of command.

Fangraphs

Whereas Arrieta was spreading his pitches up and down in the zone more in the first two months of the year, he lived in the middle of the plate this month, giving lefties and righties more to hit.

Now, let’s also take a look at the location of the pitches that were hit for homers this month. As you’ll see, they have one thing in common. They’re all up in the zone.

Here’s last night’s leadoff homer to Aaron Hicks, a 2-0 fastball right down the middle.

This was a hanging curveball to Didi Gregorius.

In his previous game against the Cardinals, he pitched much better, giving up just three runs in six innings, but those three runs came courtesy of two homers by Yadier Molina.

While those pitches were on the edges of the zone, they weren’t high velocity offerings and were both belt-high.

And then there were two horrible outings against the Brewers. Here’s a homer served up to Christian Yelich in Milwaukee.

When it’s 88 mph, it doesn’t take much to catch up to a pitch just above the belt. The next picture wasn’t a homer, but Lorenzo Cain roped a big double off a breaking ball that got way too much of the plate.

At home against the Brewers, Jesus Aguilar hit this high velocity fastball right down the middle out to right.

And here’s a blast he gave up to Andrew McCutchen in the Giants series in San Francisco that, once again, was up in the zone.

Arrieta is a ground ball pitcher, and while that may be a dangerous way to live given the sorry state of the Phillies infield defense, it’s clear he also didn’t have great command in many of his starts this month. That lack of command, along with a swinging strike rate of 6.3% that is 2nd-lowest among 87 qualified MLB starters this year, is why we saw Arrieta give up so many hard-hit balls and long flys.

Sure, had the defense played better, Arrieta’s innings would have ended sooner and much of the damage done against him wouldn’t have happened, but that’s reflected in his still-reasonable ERA of 3.54.

Unless Arrieta suddenly rediscovers how to get hitters to swing through some of his offerings, he’s going to need to keep the ball down if he wants to survive. That, and teach his fielders how to record some dadgum outs.