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The Braves Should Be Pursuing Jake Arrieta

Photo by Gene Wang

The Braves have been quite disappointing for a few seasons now. Through these struggles, the team has managed to pile a healthy stock of quality prospects. Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, A.J. Minter, and Luiz Gohara seem to be MLB ready. Guys like Austin Riley, Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Cristian Pache, and Max Fried make up a healthy farm system. The Braves also have some strong MLB talent, such as Ender Inciarte, Tyler Flowers, Julio Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino. All have shown flashes of stardom. Additionally, Freddie Freeman is the best player to put on a Braves uniform since Chipper Jones and is one of the most underappreciated bats in the game. Yet, the Braves are wasting his prime seasons while tanking in the only baseball market in the south that isn’t a bad Florida team.

The Braves have some money to spend, but why have we not seen them in on free agent starter Jake Arrieta? This question can also be asked of Mike Moustakas, who still remains available and is a solid third baseman, which is a point of need for the Braves. Jake Arrieta, to me, looks to be the equivalent for the Braves of what Jon Lester was to the Cubs in 2015.

First, a bit of background from the author: I am a Cubs fan from Georgia. So while I do not exclusively follow the Braves, they have been a team I have supported since I was a kid. If it wasn’t the Cubs in the playoffs (and they went precisely 3 times between 2003 and 2012, when I was watching and the Braves went every year) I would root for the Braves. I have been to many Braves games, and have made one Cubs at Braves game each year since 2013. So while I am not a Braves homer, I do have some experience watching this team from the corner of my eye.

The 2018 Braves are projected for 72 wins by Fangraphs, which would equal the number of wins the 2017 Braves got. For a group that claims to be dedicated to winning, the Braves have simply not done anything that would help prepare them to begin winning. The only move completed so far this entire offseason was some salary reshuffling this offseason, with a Matt Kemp/Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir swap. However, the young core of MLB ready players the Braves have is beginning to make waves as it hits the majors. Ronald Acuna is a star in the making, Ozzie Albies looks like the next Dustin Pedroia at 2B, and Dansby Swanson’s adjustments might kick in this season. Where is the faith in this young group? The front office, while under some turmoil early in the offseason, has yet to capitalize on this slow developing market for starters. I would estimate the 72 wins as a low number if the young bats like Albies, Swanson, and Acuna play as well as they are capable of, and Freddie Freeman stays healthy all season.

This brings us to Jake Arrieta, the best remaining free agent on the board. Jake has been rumored to be asking for 6-7 years and 200 million dollars, something befitting of a current top 5 pitcher in baseball. To Jake Arrieta’s credit, he was the best pitcher in baseball not named Clayton Kershaw from 2014 through 2016, with his 2.42 ERA and 2.72 FIP being second only to Kershaw in that time period.

However, in 2017, something visibly changed in Arrieta that has driven teams away from offering the 2015 Cy Young winner the big contract he is asking for: his velocity. Jake’s velocity fell 3 MPH from 2016 to 2017 (and had begun in mid-2016). His crossfire release and crazy movement on his pitches remained, but with this velocity drop came an increase in hard contact rate allowed for Jake. Hitters cracked a hard hit ball off Arrieta 29.4% of the time in 2017, which is a near 6% increase from the 23.8% hard hit he allowed from 2014 through 2016, 3rd among qualified pitchers. Combine this with the potential “juiced ball” and Jake got bit hard by the home run ball, with 14% of his fly balls becoming home runs in 2017, compared to just 8.1% of those from 2014 to 2016. Jake Arrieta is clearly no longer the 2015 Cy Young version of himself, coming off a 4.11 FIP season, so why should the Braves be looking into a pitcher like this, who is possibly going the wrong way in his career?

The easy answer to that question is that the Braves starting pitching is EMBARRASSING. The best projected pitcher the Braves have is prospect Luiz Gohara, at 2.4 WAR. Their rotation projection looks like this:

  1. Luiz Gohara, 131 IP, 2.4 WAR
  2. Brandon McCarthy, 158 IP, 2.0 WAR
  3. Sean Newcomb, 156 IP, 1.9 WAR
  4. Julio Teheran, 175 IP, 1.5 WAR
  5. Mike Foltynewicz, 150 IP, 1.4 WAR
  6. Scott Kazmir/Max Fried/Mike Wisler – 147 IP, 1 total WAR

Even the “worse” 2017 Jake Arrieta pitched 168 innings and was worth 2.4 fWAR, which would clearly lead this current Braves rotation. Even projected out for 2018, Arrieta gets better, with 170 projected innings pitched and 2.8 projected WAR. He would bring stability to this rotation even as the kids get older. If Luiz Gohara or Kyle Wright is a future ace, what better way to introduce them to the major league rotation then to be watching and learning from a former ace and Cy Young winning pitcher? Jake Arrieta is not where he was and he and Scott Boras are probably asking for more money than teams are comfortable giving to a pitcher with projected numbers like Arrieta’s. But when compared to this Braves rotation, Jake IS the ace they need to fire up the end of the rebuild and prepare them for competing in 2019

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