Was the Pedal Pushed Too Far?
I can only thank the Lord that Twitter didn’t exist in 1984, because what would it have looked like after the first two games of the NLCS that year? Anyway, last night I saw a lot of tweets about how Arrieta was pushed too far in the 2nd half and that Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio got too caught up in his other worldly excellence to notice he was working too hard. I sort of wondered about that for a while, because I only remember a couple starts where I thought, “You know what? The Cubs don’t need Arrieta out there right now.” So let’s go back through it and see if I should have thought it more often.
Before we dip into it, obviously this shit if futile and there’s nothing anyone can do about it now but we’ve got an off-day to kill. And I’m curious.
Arrieta’s first start after the All-Star Break was in Atlanta on July 19th. He threw seven innings on a 113 pitches, which is a tad on the high side. He only gave up three hits, two walks, struck out 10. So clearly there wasn’t a lot of high stress innings here. The Cubs were up 3-0 after the third inning, and didn’t tack on a 4th until the 9th after Arrieta had left. I suppose you could say he should have been cut after 6 innings with only 98 pitches, but he’d had a full week off before with the break and that seems too easy in hindsight.
July 25th vs. Philly: You might remember this one for other reasons. Six innings, 94 pitches, three runs all on a Ryan Howard homer. Clearly this wasn’t too far.
July 30th at Milwaukee: Six innings, 97 pitches, left with the Cubs trailing 2-0 though they would rally to win. Five hits, two runs, four walks (one intentional) six K’s. Six innings and less than 100 pitches doesn’t seem like it’s unreasonable, especially with the game very close.
August 4th at Pittsburgh: Seven innings, 109 pitches, two hits, no runs, 5 Ks, three walks. The Cubs were up 5-0 after six innings, though this was probably the first “important” game of the season. Definitely could have taken him out after six here, saved him 20 pitches because even with the Cubs bullpen back then, nine outs with a five-run lead was most certainly doable.
August 9th vs. San Francisco: 7 2/3rds with no runs, 6 Ks, 2 walks, 117 pitches. That’s definitely a lot. The Cubs only held a 2-0 lead at the time. Had Arrieta been pulled after the 7th it would have saved him 14 pitches, but this was when the Cubs were going for the sweep of the Giants to secure a playoff spot, and the Cubs had been pen heavy the game before and two before that (the first of the early Hammel pulls). It’s defensible, but you could argue this was too much.
August 15th at White Sox: 6 2/3rds, 105 pitches, 5 Ks, 2 walks, 5 hits, three runs (two earned). The Cubs went into the bottom of the 7th up 6-1. Could have saved two outs here for sure.
August 20th vs. Atlanta: 6 innings 107 pitches, no runs. Seems pretty economical to me.
August 25th at San Francisco: 6 innings, 101 pitches, one earned run. I was at this one and though Arrieta wasn’t at his sharpest, this would hardly be called taxing. After six innings the Cubs were up 8-1 and he was pulled. No complaints here.
August 30th at Los Angeles: So who’s going to argue with this one?
September 5th vs. Arizona: 8 innings, 117 pitches, no runs. The Cubs were only up two runs after the 3rd inning. 117 pitches for 8 innings is still pretty economical, but maybe could have saved him one inning here?
September 11th at Philadelphia: 8 innings, 112 pitches, one earned run. There’s the problem here that this was the first of a double header. The Cubs were up 5-1 after the 7th inning, and this was the Phillies after all. It’s understandable to keep the pen to the lowest use possible, but probably could have saved an inning here?
September 16h at Pittsburgh: 8 innings, 117 pitches, six hits, two runs. Jake left this game with a 2-2 tie, and it was the day after a double header. So again, the pen was almost certainly not at full strength, though the nightcap of that doubleheader was Lester’s complete game so maybe it was. Still, this was the series where the Cubs still could very much catch the Pirates and even the Cardinals, it didn’t seem ridiculous at the time. Might seem that way now.
September 22nd vs. Milwaukee: Complete game, 123 pitches. No runs. 3-0 after the 5th. That’s not the biggest lead in the world, but with hardly any stress anywhere in that game… I don’t know. Not everyone throws a “Maddux.”
September 27th vs. Pittsburgh: 7 innings, 84 pitches. I mean, c’mon.
October 2nd vs. Milwaukee: 6 innings, 72 pitches.
I won’t throw the wild card game in here, because I don’t think you can play that game worrying about what might come after it, because nothing is going to come after it if you lose it.
So looking back over it… what do you count? I get somewhere between 6-8 innings that could have been saved and that’s it. I guess that’s one game, and if you wanted to squint and really breathe hard you might argue that the Cubs could have gotten one more dominant start then which would have come against the Cardinals last week. But they won that anyway. Even eight innings less would be 220 innings. I just can’t see where that would make a huge difference. I understand this is pretty rudimentary and not the best examination, but I can’t see where too much should have been different.