Getty Images

Jake Arrieta signing signifies Phillies are ready to be competitive

35 Comments

After several weeks of rumors, the Phillies finally signed starter Jake Arrieta on Sunday to a three-year, $75 million contract. The deal includes an opt-out after the second year as well as fourth- and fifth-year options that can bring the total value up to $125-135 million.

With Aaron Nola having already been anointed Opening Day starter by new manager Gabe Kapler, Arrieta will slot in the No. 2 spot in the rotation. He’ll be followed by Jerad Eickhoff and likely Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta. Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, and Mark Leiter are also pitching in hopes of making the rotation this spring.

At first blush, it’s easy to write off the Arrieta signing for a team that lost 96 games last season. Arrieta is 32 years old and has declined over the last two seasons in many important categories including ERA, innings pitched, and fastball velocity. In recent seasons, he has not pitched like the guy who won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award.

If Arrieta pitches well, that’s icing on the cake for the Phillies. What they need from Arrieta, simply put, is reliability. He has made 30 starts in each of the last three seasons. While he averaged fewer than six innings per start last season, he’ll be expected to go at least six every fifth day for the Phillies. Nola aside, that’s not something the club can rely on from anyone else in the rotation. Lively nearly averaged six innings per start, as did Eflin while Leiter, Eickhoff, and Pivetta averaged just over five innings and Velasquez was under five on average. Beyond Nola, nothing was guaranteed in the Phillies’ rotation. All of them struggled last season.

Pitcher (2017) ERA IP Starts IP/Start
Lively 4.26 88.7 15 5.9
Eflin 6.16 64.3 11 5.8
Leiter 4.96 60.7 11 5.5
Eickhoff 4.71 128.0 24 5.3
Pivetta 6.02 133.0 26 5.1
Velasquez 5.13 72.0 15 4.8

The Phillies also don’t need Arrieta to pitch like a Cy Young candidate. A 3.53 ERA, which is where Arrieta finished last year, is quite fine out of the No. 2 slot. Arrieta also fanned 163 batters in 168 1/3 innings despite losing nearly two MPH of velocity on his fastball. The biggest area where he can improve is his walk rate. After walking 6.7 and 5.5 percent of batters in 2014-15, that rate rose by a lot to 9.6 percent and 7.8 percent in 2016-17. Moving from Wrigley Field to Citizens Bank Park means more home runs, so Arrieta wants those homers to come with the bases empty, if possible.

Perhaps the most important benefit of signing Arrieta is that it signifies the Phillies are ready to be competitive again after years of committing to a rebuild. With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado poised to test free agency after the season, having Arrieta in tow makes Philadelphia a more attractive destination to a player of that caliber who wants to join a competitive club. The Phillies, after signing Arrieta, still have less than $70 million in obligations for the 2019 season, so they can still easily afford to go after the top free agents next winter. Right now, the Phillies are still a sub-.500 team, but they’re likely to be a Wild Card threat at minimum next season assuming they put their big financial muscles to use as expected. Don’t forget the Phillies can keep adding now and throughout the season as well.

Larry Walker to wear a Rockies cap on his Hall of Fame plaque

Getty Images
1 Comment

I guess this came out the day he was elected but I missed it somehow: Larry Walker is going to have a Rockies cap on his Fall of Fame plaque.

While it was once solely the choice of the inductee, for the past couple of decades the Hall of Fame has had final say on the caps, though the request of the inductee is noted. This is done to prevent a situation in which a cap truly misrepresents history. This issue arose around the time Wade Boggs was inducted, as he reportedly had a deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to pick their cap on his plaque which, to say the least, would’ve been unrepresentative.

There have been some mildly controversial picks in the past, and some guys who would seem to have a clear choice have gone with blank caps to avoid upsetting the fan base of one of his other teams, but Walker’s doesn’t seem all that controversial to me.

Walker played ten years in Colorado to six years in Montreal and two years in St. Louis. His numbers in Colorado were substantial better than in Montreal. His MVP Award, most of his Gold Gloves, most of his All-Star appearances, and all of his black ink with the exception of the NL doubles title in 1994 came with the Rockies too. Walker requested the Rockies cap, noting correctly that he “did more damage” in a Rockies uniform than anyplace else. And, of course, that damage is what got him elected to the Hall of Fame.

Still, I imagine fans of the old Expos will take at least some issue here. Those folks tend to be pretty possessive of their team’s old stars. It’s understandable, I suppose, given that they’ve not gotten any new ones in a decade or two. Add in the fact that Walker played for the 1994 Expos team onto which people love to project things both reasonable and unreasonable, and you can expect that the Expos dead-enders might feel a bit slighted.

Welp, sorry. A Rockies cap is the right choice.  And that’s Walker’s cap will feature.