If you didn’t know any better, you might think that Jake Arrieta is in his early-to-mid 20s.
Actually, he’s 30.
If Arrieta seemed irrelevant before the 2015 season, well, that’s because he kind of was. He won 10 games with Baltimore in 2011 but was otherwise mired in mediocrity.
How do we explain a guy becoming so dominant later in his career?
“Well, he always had dominant stuff, but there’s a big difference between having stuff and being able to pitch,” Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Jake won 10 games, hurt his elbow and had to have the chips removed. He had a pitching coach, Rick Adair, who wanted him to throw a certain way. We give him away because that’s pretty much what Dan Duquette did. We traded him along with Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman. We were kind of in the pennant race. But you weren’t going to give Scott Feldman (the) $30 million he got from Houston. He’s a great guy, No. 4 or 5 starter. So (Arrieta) had a lot of value, we just didn’t get much for him. He goes to the Cubs. First thing the Cubs say is, ‘Hey, go down to Iowa, throw the ball any way you want. We don’t really care about mechanics. We’ll talk about getting hitters out.’
“And that’s really the name of the game,” Palmer continued. “You can talk about mechanics. Rick said, ‘Well, your hands have to be a certain way.’ At the end of the day, location, movement and velocity (are what matter). I would say that Major League Baseball gets a little enamored with the radar gun. I’ve seen a lot of 95-, 96-mile-per-hour fast balls crushed this year because they’re in the middle of the plate. They don’t have movement. Whey you try to throw harder, you usually don’t. In coaching, probably the best way to coach is to try to get a player to do what the coach wants him to do but make him think it’s his idea.”
Arrieta, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, has two no-hitters on his resume. This year, he’s 9-0 with a 1.56 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and has 75 strikeouts in 75 innings.
That’s lights-out stuff.
In a broader sense, Palmer, the author of “Nine Innings to Success: A Hall of Famer’s Approach to Achieving Excellence,” shared some of the pointers that helped him win three Cy Youngs and three World Series titles with Baltimore.
One of the most common pitching problems he sees? An over-reliance on max-effort pitches.
“If you’re (a hard thrower and you’re) not on your game, you’ve never really learned to pitch,” said Palmer, an eight-time 20-game winner. “I always thought that part of the art of pitching (was) getting through the lineup. One of the big numbers in 2016 is what does a guy do through the lineup the third time? Well, the numbers show that most pitchers have had a lot of problems. Why is that? Most are max-effort guys, they lose their velocity. They don’t really command the ball to both sides of the plate. You never learn how to pitch when you’re tried. When you get a little tired, you actually don’t speed your body up; you slow your body down and speed your arm up. Once you learn to do that – pitching is never easy, but it’s less difficult.”