John Middleton

Jake Arrieta addresses the velocity concerns

Jake Arrieta addresses the velocity concerns

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As good as Jake Arrieta will look in red pinstripes, there's no hiding the fact that he comes with some red flags.

His average fastball velocity dropped from 94.9 mph in his Cy Young season of 2015 to 92.6 mph last season, according to PITCHf/x data.

This has been interpreted in some quarters as the pitcher entering a decline, an idea supported by the Chicago Cubs' curious lack of aggressiveness in attempting to re-sign him. The Cubs instead signed Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal.

Arrieta was asked about both topics upon joining the Phillies on Tuesday.

"I think there was a number of reasons that things didn't go in a different direction," he said of the Cubs, the team he helped win the 2016 World Series. "But that wasn't necessarily the direction that maybe I wanted to go in."

Arrieta said he would cherish his memories with the Cubs and he welcomed the "opportunity to bring a lot to the table" for his new club.

"My focus is now on the Phillies and I'm committed to winning as a Phillie and using the experiences that I've gained to each and every player in this organization's advantage," he said.

Arrieta notched a 1.77 ERA in 2015. It swelled to 3.53 last year. That was largely the product of a poor first half. His ERA before the all-star break was 4.35 as opposed to 2.28 after it. He was the old Arrieta in August, going 4-1 with a 1.21 ERA in six starts on his way to NL pitcher of the month honors.

Arrieta, 32, did not deny the velocity drop. But he made it clear that there's more to pitching than a big fastball.

"You get to a point in your career where you understand that pitching isn't necessarily all about velocity," he said. "I can't tell you how many times you'll see guys who have high velocity that can't have success at this level. There is a tremendous amount of learning that has to be incorporated into a starting pitcher's repertoire rather than just going out there and trying to blow guys away with just sheer stuff and velocity.

"That's an experience I had last year and to be able to learn from my first-half inconsistencies and turn it around in the second half. High velocity or not, I know exactly what I'm doing on the mound and I know how to utilize my stuff. Does that mean the velocity won't be up this year? No. Sometimes you have a dip one year and a spike the next.

"That's not necessarily a tremendous concern for me. It's an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to maybe utilize another variable in your game. If that velocity does go back to 95-96 then the league is in a lot of trouble. But I don't think that tells the entire story. Velocity is sexy in this game, but there are a lot of great pitchers that can pitch without it."

General manager Matt Klentak said the Phillies spent considerable time studying Arrieta's drop in velocity. He said the club was "comfortable" with its findings and "thrilled" with the pitcher's signing.

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even though the Grapefruit League schedule starts on Friday and opening day is less than six weeks away, the Phillies are still hungry to improve their pitching.

In an interview with John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia on Tuesday, Phillies owner John Middleton said the team was “very” active in pursuing potential upgrades. Middleton went on to say that he would “love” to do something on that front.

Middleton made the comments as a number of attractive free-agent pitchers, including Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, remain unsigned.

“We’re having talks every single day with different people,” Middleton said. 

Middleton gets updates on those talks regularly from general manager Matt Klentak.

“Matt kind of now knows me, when we walk in the office and see each other for the first time he basically says [since] the last time I talked to you, John, at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon nothing happened or this has happened,” Middleton said with a laugh. “Then I’ll see him at lunch time and still nothing has happened or this has happened. We have a lot of conversations about that.”

Middleton is eager to win, but he remains committed to seeing the rebuild through. Klentak has often said he won’t make a shortsighted move that would jeopardize the future. He has said his goal is to play in October for a decade, not just one year. That’s Middleton’s goal, too.

If the Phillies were to make an upgrade on the pitching side in the coming days or weeks, it would have to be on their terms. They have been in continuous contact with Arrieta’s representatives all winter, but won’t go to five or more years to sign the right-hander who turns 32 in March. If Arrieta were willing to sign a deal in the two- to four-year range, the Phillies would definitely have interest (more on all that here).

Stay tuned on that one. Camps are open. Free agents Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez have signed in recent days. Like Arrieta, they are represented by Scott Boras. The pitching logjam looks ready to break and could have an impact in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are methodically striving to become playoff relevant again.

“We wouldn’t be out talking to people the way we are if we didn’t think that we could get that little extra push,” Middleton said. “I think we all feel this way. [It] just has to be done in an intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable way.

“But, yeah, I’d love to do something."

How Eagles' Super Bowl could affect other teams in town

How Eagles' Super Bowl could affect other teams in town

It took only until the end of Eagles Postgame Live Sunday night/Monday morning for the question of the Eagles repeating as Super Bowl champions to make an appearance. 

It's a reasonable thought. 

Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz and the Eagles' young nucleus would appear to give them a chance to compete for the Lombardi Trophy for several seasons to come. 

But what might be more interesting is how the Eagles' first Super Bowl title impacts the other three Philadelphia pro teams.

In the build-up and afterglow of the Eagles' dethroning the Patriots, the Phillies, Flyers and 76ers all said and did the right things to show their support. But make no mistake: There is only so much oxygen in the Philadelphia sporting landscape and the Eagles are currently consuming more of it than ever before. 

So how do the other teams react? Does this Eagles win inspire a greater sense of action among three franchises that are currently at different stages of significant rebuilds?

The Sixers would appear to be the closest of the non-Eagles franchises to competing for a title, thanks to the dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That being said, it's hard to envision anything the Eagles have accomplished affecting the Sixers' mindset. This is an organization, from lottery manipulation to injury updates, that marches to its own beat in every conceivable way. 

Historically, the Flyers have always been willing to sacrifice the future to improve their chances in the present. But the Ron Hextall era has been marked by a swift departure from that approach. Measured development and careful salary cap management have ruled this day for the Orange and Black. Perhaps the Flyers will feel the need to keep up with the championship Joneses. But the smart money is on Hextall staying the course at all costs.

So that brings us to the Phillies. At the behest of managing partner John Middleton, the local baseball club has undergone an analytically-inclined rebuild that hopes to develop a homegrown core capable of duplicating the success of the Rollins-Utley-Howard-Hamels era. To be fair, the Phillies have dipped their toes back into the deep-end of the free-agent waters this season by inking Carlos Santana this offseason. Generally speaking, however, steady improvement from within has been the priority.

The wild-card here is Middleton's famed competitiveness. Telling Ryan Howard that he wants his bleeping trophy back immediately following the 2009 World Series loss to the Yankees is Exhibit A in that regard. The Phillies' managing partner is also a native son who attended the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. So he knows the significance of what was accomplished Sunday night. He also saw the buzz the Phillies generated in this town from 2007-11 when postseason berths were a way of life.

So does Middleton utilize his vast financial resources to expedite his team's path to contention, not just in Major League Baseball but also on the Philly sports scene? It will be interesting to see.

The Eagles were always the most popular kid in school. Now they're the valedictorian too. And that should have everyone else in the class feeling pretty envious.