Phillies

What Jake Arrieta is doing even better than in Cy Young season

What Jake Arrieta is doing even better than in Cy Young season

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.

The 12 best free-agent hitters after Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

The 12 best free-agent hitters after Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

You know who the top two free-agent position players will be this offseason: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado.

What about the rest of the class? Let's take a look at the dozen next-best bats out there after those two. 

Catchers — Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal

It's these two and little else behind the plate. Grandal seems likely to re-sign with the Dodgers, who have a ton of money and value his framing and work with the pitching staff. Grandal also has a .799 OPS the last three seasons with an average of 24 homers. He's one of the better all-around catchers in baseball, despite his ugly showing in the NLCS.

For the Phillies, Ramos is worth re-signing, and the Phils should have a key advantage on other teams because they know more about his health situation. If the Phils deem Ramos able to play 100-plus games in 2019, they should bring him back. He's one of the best hitters at any position in this free-agent class.

Infielders — Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Jed Lowrie, D.J. LeMahieu, Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier, Marwin Gonzalez

Donaldson offers the most "boom" among this group. He's three years removed from winning AL MVP as an impact power hitter and impact defender at 3B. From 2015-17, he hit .285/.387/.559 with an average of 37 homers and 100 RBI.

But a calf injury cost Donaldson most of 2018 and prevented the Blue Jays from getting much value for him in a trade with the Indians. Donaldson will be one of the most interesting free agents this winter. Will a team pay him for past performance? Will he sign a one-year, prove-it deal? The latter seems more likely.

Murphy should get something like two years, $18-20 million. Just tough to commit long-term to a 34-year-old who can't play defense and is one year removed from a devastating injury.

Gonzalez is worth keeping an eye on for Phillies fans. He can play every position on the diamond other than pitcher and catcher, and he can do more than just stand at that position. He's a decent fielder all over the place. A better hitter than Asdrubal Cabrera. A better utilityman than Pedro Florimon.

Outfielders — Michael Brantley, A.J. Pollock, Nick Markakis

Pollock and Brantley have been oft-injured in recent seasons and that will certainly impact their markets. Pollock has missed 249 games the last three seasons. Brantley has missed 242.

Non-Bryce Harper outfield help isn't among the Phillies' top needs, but there's no question Brantley or Markakis would make this a better, more well-rounded lineup because of their ability to hit for average and produce a ton of doubles. 

We'll delve deeper into the Phillies fit for many of these players in the days and weeks to come. But there's some talent out there even if the Phils strike out with that top tier.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Has Manny Machado played (and talked) himself out of Philly before ever getting to Philly?

usa_manny_machado_dodgers.jpg
USA Today Images

Has Manny Machado played (and talked) himself out of Philly before ever getting to Philly?

A hearty congratulations to Manny Machado for getting through Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday without doing anything stupid, anything to hurt his free-agent platform.

Or should we say anything else?

Machado, the gifted shortstop/third baseman who has long been the fancy of the Phillies’ front office, didn’t exactly author a brilliant campaign speech when he acknowledged his raging allergy to hustling in an interview with baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal earlier this week.

“Obviously, I’m not going to change,” Machado told Rosenthal. “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be Johnny Hustle. It’s not my cup of tea, not who I am.”

Can you imagine the reaction that Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, had to these comments? (No, Danny, no. That’s a heavy chair, do not throw it through the window!)

In less than a month, Lozano will start shopping the 26-year-old infielder to prospective buyers. Estimates on Machado’s price tag have hovered around the $300 million mark, give or take a Brinks truck or three. Now, the first question that Lozano is going to hear from the potential suitors won’t be about what it will take to sign his client or whether Machado wants to play shortstop or third base, it will be about the player’s aversion to hustle. Or, as it is known in other circles, playing hard.

In some cities, admitting you don’t, won’t or can’t hustle could make you toxic.

New York is one and the Yankees just so happen to need a shortstop next season as Didi Gregorious recovers from elbow surgery. People close to Machado have told me he likes the idea of being a Yankee because, one, they are the Yankees, and two, he wants to play on the East Coast with a team that trains in his native Florida.

The Phillies also play on the East Coast and train in Florida. They also have a lot of money and a longstanding interest in Machado. They tried to acquire him from Baltimore in July and were willing to include big talent in the deal if Machado would have agreed to a contract extension. The Dodgers ended up getting Machado and the Phillies, quietly confident that they could land the player as a free agent this winter, moved on.

But now you have to wonder if Machado could work in Philadelphia. It’s almost become cliché to say the city — i.e., the fans who pay the bills — likes a certain kind of athlete, one that goes all-out all the time, but when you think about some of the city’s all-time favorites — Chuck Bednarik, Bobby Clarke, Brian Dawkins, Chase Utley — you realize it’s not cliché, it’s fact.

Even before Machado made news for the wrong reasons this week, there had been whispers that some in the Phillies organization would prefer to steer clear of Machado for just the reasons that the player articulated in his ill-advised and ill-timed comments. To the best of our knowledge, general manager Matt Klentak remains open-minded, and that’s good because Machado is a great talent and the Phillies need some of that if they are going to put a winner on the field.

But this whole issue has complicated things for Klentak and an ownership group that is poised to write some big checks this winter. Whether or not to pursue Manny Machado is going to require a lot of thought and a lot of weighing the rewards of his talent versus the risk of his makeup.

And who are those guys over there in the corner grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats? Looks a little like Bryce Harper and Scott Boras.

More on the Phillies