Jake Arrieta‘s second career no-hitter, authored last Thursday, brought yet more scrutiny to the Orioles, the team with which Arrieta began his professional baseball career. The O’s selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. He quickly garnered respect, as he was ranked among baseball’s top-100 overall prospects going into the 2009 and ’10 seasons by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.
However, Arrieta never found success in Baltimore. He made 63 starts and six relief appearances for the Orioles in the big leagues, but mustered only a 5.46 ERA with a 277/159 K/BB ratio in 358 innings. On July 2, 2013, the Orioles traded him with reliever Pedro Strop to the Cubs in exchange for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger. Boy, would the Orioles like to have that one back.
Arrieta, though, was one of a handful of heralded pitchers in the Orioles’ system. Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Zack Britton were among the arms frequently rated among the organization’s top-10 in some order. Matusz transitioned to relief work in 2012 after struggling as a starter, where he’s had more success but hasn’t provided nearly as much value as the Orioles had hoped. Tillman has had a few solid years out of the rotation, but has mostly been inconsistent and owns a career 4.20 ERA. Britton went from failed starter to lights out reliever, with an aggregate 1.75 ERA in 149 1/3 innings since the start of the 2014 season.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports caught up with Britton, wondering why the Orioles haven’t been able to turn any of their four pitching prospects into a legit major league starter. It sounds like former pitching coach Rick Adair had a lot to do with it.
“They took away the individual approach to everything,” Britton said. “Things we did extremely well in the minor leagues to get to the big leagues – we were told that just doesn’t work here. And you’re like, ‘That’s kind of weird, right?’ You don’t just reinvent yourself in the big leagues. That was the struggle. And the struggle, as we got older, was trying to get back to what made us what we were before.”
Adair took a “personal leave of absence” in August 2013 and never returned.
As Passan notes, Arrieta had a cutter, but the Orioles forbade him from throwing it. According to FanGraphs, Arrieta didn’t throw a cut fastball until 2013, the year he was traded to the Cubs. 6.1 percent of his pitches were cutters that year, followed by 28.3 percent in 2014, 29.1 percent last season, and 23.3 percent so far this year.
Britton thinks that if Arrieta had spent time with the Orioles’ current pitching and bullpen coaches — Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti, respectively — he would have flourished. “With Dave and Dom, if Jake had the opportunity to work with them, I don’t see why he wouldn’t have done here what he’s done there,” he said. As Britton notes, Arrieta always had that kind of talent. The difference was that the Cubs allowed Arrieta to pitch the way he was comfortable pitching and the Orioles didn’t.