Jake Arrieta makes his seventh start tonight for the Phillies in their series-opener against the fading Mets, a team he didn't face when the Phils were at Citi Field in early-April.
He'll enter the night 3-1 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and .207 opponents' batting average, all ace-like numbers that any team would love to have atop a rotation.
The biggest questions outsiders had about Arrieta entering 2017 were his fastball velocity and ability to miss bats. They were fair questions coming off a season in which he averaged a career-low 92.1 mph and had his lowest swinging strike rate since coming to the NL.
This season, the fastball/sinker velocity has been slightly up (92.5), but he's generated even fewer whiffs. There's more to this conversation, though.
Arrieta has a sky-high groundball rate of 60.4 percent to lead the National League. It is exactly 17 percent higher than the league average, and it's even four percent higher than Arrieta's rate in 2015 when he won the Cy Young award.
Thus, it's not surprising to see Arrieta also top another leaderboard — just 17.7 percent of the balls in play against him have been classified as "hard contact." It is by far the lowest rate in all of Major League Baseball, with Aaron Nola next at 22.5 percent.
Last weekend in D.C., Arrieta matched Max Scherzer in a game in which Scherzer struck out 15. Arrieta allowed just a run on two hits in an incredibly efficient afternoon, exiting only because the Phillies needed to pinch-hit for him in a close game.
After the game, I asked Arrieta whether he'd prefer to strike out 15 like Scherzer or get through six innings on 75 pitches the way he did himself. He chose the latter.
"I don't care about strikeouts," he said. "I'm trying to get the guy out on the first pitch."
Obviously, if you induce a groundout on the first pitch, that's an at-bat which won't help your swinging strike rate. Arrieta is A-OK with that.
This season, Arrieta has gotten nearly one-fourth of his outs in the first two pitches of an at-bat. It's a major reason he's averaging 15 pitches per inning. In that category, Arrieta ranks eighth in the NL, right behind Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg and just ahead of Zack Greinke. (It's no surprise that Nola ranks second.)
Arrieta is not going to wake up next week or next month averaging 95 mph with his sinker like he did at his peak, but it's pretty clear that over the years he's learned how to pitch without his fastest fastball. That bodes well moving forward for a pitcher the Phillies will pay $45 million in his age-33 and 34 seasons.