For all the doubters out there, one thing points to upside as Jake Arrieta rejoins the Cubs in 2021. He’s entering the season healthy after various ailments derailed his three seasons with the Phillies.
“I think I've got quite a bit left to offer in this game,” Arrieta told reporters over Zoom on Saturday.
Arrieta dealt with injuries each of his three seasons in Philadelphia. He pitched with a torn left meniscus for a large portion of 2018, getting it surgically repaired the following January. After a promising first half (3.23 ERA, 18 starts), his numbers dipped after the All-Star break (5.04 ERA, 13 starts).
In 2019, the right-hander pitched through a bone spur for much of the season. The injury flared up that year after eight years of no issues following an August 2011 surgery. He underwent surgery again in August 2019, missing the final two months and finishing with a 4.64 ERA in 24 starts.
Last season, a hamstring strain put him on the shelf for the final two weeks of September, following a solid three-start stretch (3.00 ERA).
"But having said that, I didn't perform the way I was capable of," he said.
Arrieta noted those physical setbacks caused unintentional variations in his delivery and mechanics. His arm slot wasn’t where it needed to be and his offspeed pitches didn’t have the their normal break or late life.
Arrieta is healthy now and has been working within the Cubs pitching infrastructure to correct those issues. He cited Mike Borzello, the Cubs assistant pitching, catching and strategy coach, as someone who texts him often with any insight or information that could help.
It was within that infrastructure that Arrieta blossomed into a Cy Young Award winner following a trade from Baltimore in 2013. The right-hander, who turns 35 in March, is obviously at a different stage in his career at this point. He isn’t the pitcher who can dial up his fastball to the upper-90s: “That's just kind of the natural progression of your career,” he said.
However, Arrieta feels his ability to perform at a similar level as his first Cubs tenure is still there.
"My delivery should be and will be the same" he said. "We're making some adjustments there and we've been watching a lot of video to make sure that that's possible. And I think if I can get that delivery back to where it was, I think the results can be very close to where they were in ’15, ’16 and ‘17."
While it might be unfair to expect him to match that three-year production, Arrieta's dominant first run on the North Side doesn’t mean he feels he has nothing left to prove.
"I think everybody at this level, regardless of where they're at in their career, are trying to prove something," he said. "It might not be to one person. It could be to themselves, it could be to people in their past that didn't think that they were capable of performing at this level or a former organization, fill in the blank.
“I think each year has its own sort of challenges and different things that have different expectations, both personally and as an organization, as a team. So there's always things to prove. Not that that's in a negative way, it's really just to prove that I'm still capable of performing at a high level, the level that I expect to perform at.
"I have a lot in the tank, I have a lot to still accomplish in this game. And I'm excited that this is going to happen in this Cubs uniform again."
For a Cubs rotation that faced significant upheaval this winter, an effective Arrieta could go a long way.