Why to expect more from Jake Arrieta in 2019

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Why to expect more from Jake Arrieta in 2019

Jake Arrieta allowed 17 unearned runs in 2018, the most in all of baseball and at least four more than every starting pitcher in the majors except Francisco Liriano. 

That should change in 2019, with an improved Phillies defense. The Phillies will be better defensively at two positions, if not more, this upcoming season. Jean Segura is a better shortstop than anyone who played there for the Phillies last season, and Andrew McCutchen is obviously a much better corner outfielder than Rhys Hoskins, who moves back to first base. 

It felt like Arrieta was worse than he was in his first year as a Phillie, because of both the unearned runs and his lack of reliability during the Phillies’ coldest stretch of the season — which just so happened to be the stretch run. Over his last nine starts of the season, Arrieta had a 6.35 ERA and the Phillies went 2-7. 

When you look at Arrieta’s season in totality, it wasn’t that bad. He had three very good months and three bad months. More was expected, but Arrieta is not the Cy Young candidate of 2015 and the Phillies didn’t sign him to be that guy. They signed him because he lingered in free agency until the second week of March and because he was a clear rotation upgrade over what the Phils had. 

Arrieta is a bounce-back candidate in 2019, and with the Phils’ improved defense and perhaps better run support (which has an immeasurable psychological impact on a pitcher, the same way a 10-point lead in the NFL affects how a defense plays), we could see an ERA closer to 3.50 than his 3.96 this past season. 

Arrieta did lead the National League with a groundball rate of 51.6 percent. Aaron Nola ranked second in the NL and Nick Pivetta was 10th, one spot ahead of Jacob deGrom. It’s a meaningful metric. Even more meaningful is Arrieta’s 27.7 percent rate of hard contact, which was fourth-best in MLB behind only Zack Wheeler, Nola and deGrom. It didn’t mean a ton of success for Arrieta in 2018, but it’s a better future indicator than his ERA. 

As far as all the ground balls, consider that the league average batting average on grounders last season was .243. Against the Phillies, it was .255. That’s a difference of 17 or 18 hits over a full season. It all adds up. 

And if the Phillies do land Manny Machado to play third base, that would be three important defensive positions they upgraded. It would make their pitchers look better, and it should theoretically get guys like Pivetta and Arrieta closer to the ERAs their peripheral numbers match up with. 

There has been a ton of focus this offseason on the Phillies’ improving their rotation, and they do still need at least one more starter even if it’s for depth. But improvement can also come from within.

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Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss how Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down at the plate. Is there any connection whatsoever between spring training and regular-season productivity?

This is an important season for Nick Pivetta. Is he ready for it, and what went into naming him the starter in Game 2?

Also, an injury update on Rhys Hoskins.

1:00 — Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down.
3:00 — Any carryover between spring training and real baseball?
6:00 — Why is Nick Pivetta starting Game 2?
13:00 — Phillies want a consistent batting order.
17:00 — Is Odubel Herrera starting to "get it?"
20:00 — Update on Rhys Hoskins.
22:00 — Next Phillie in line for an extension.

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