In the long history of pitchers who couldn’t get out of their own way as long as they wore an Orioles uniform, but whose career went into orbit after being traded, there was never a more textbook case than Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta, who announced his retirement Monday after 12 major league seasons, called Camden Yards his home park from 2010 through June of 2013, when the Orioles traded him, along with Pedro Strop, to the Cubs for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger on July 2.
Trips to Norfolk and 6.00 ERAs marked his Oriole tenure under former manager Buck Showalter. He bounced between Baltimore and Norfolk up until the trade.
In five starts for Baltimore across three major league stints in 2013, Arrieta was 1–2 with a 7.23 ERA. He also made nine appearances for Norfolk, all but one of which were starts, and went 5–3 with a 4.41 ERA there.
After acquiring him, the Cubs started him off at Triple-A Iowa, brought him up, then sent him back down before his permanent promotion.
The 2014 season showed a turnaround. He took no-hitters into the seventh or eighth innings three times that season. On June 24, he retired the first 18 Reds in order, and on June 30, against the Red Sox, he took a no-hitter into the eighth.
He finished with a 10–5 record with a 2.53 ERA and came in ninth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award. Then in 2015, it popped.
On August 20, Arrieta became the first MLB pitcher to win 15 games that season. He was named NL Pitcher of the Month, going 6-0 with a 0.43 ERA.
After the 2015 All-Star break, he gave up nine earned runs during 15 starts over 107.1 innings for a 0.75 ERA, the lowest in MLB history in the second half. On October 5, he was again named NL Pitcher of the Month for his 4–0 September with a 0.45 ERA.
Arrieta’s 22–6 record and 1.77 ERA earned him the NL Cy Young Award, the first Cub pitcher to do so since Greg Maddux in 1992. In 2016, armed with a $10.7 million arbitration award, he threw his second career no-hitter on April 21, against Cincinnati.
At the time of the no-hitter, he had not taken a loss in his previous 17 regular season starts, only the second pitcher ever to go unbeaten in regular season play between no-hitters, the only other being Johnny Vander Meer, who threw consecutive no-hitters in 1938.
He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA for the year and led the Cubs to their first World Championship in 108 years.
After a 14-10 year in 2017, which included 14 wild pitches (tied for most in the NL) and 10 hit batsmen, he signed a three-year, $70 million deal with the Phillies, but his Philadelphia years were troubled and marked by injury.
He signed the three-year deal in March of 2018, too late to be on the 25-man roster, had to go to extended spring training, came back and went 10-11 for the season. He later revealed he’d played with a knee injury and had not told the team about it.
In 2019, surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow ended his season in August, finishing 8-8. After the 60-game, pandemic-ruined year of 2020 and 4-4 record, the Phils did not renew his contract, and he rejoined the Cubs in 2021 on a $4 million deal.
That produced a 5–11 record with a 6.88 ERA, and he was released in August, picked up by San Diego on a minor league deal but released by them after four starts.
What transformed him when his career soared with the Cubs in 2014-’16? A Sports Illustrated writeup said he had gotten into Yoga, pilates and a new diet, including Kale shakes.
At the same time as being happy for his success, one could only wonder why he hadn’t had those fitness ideas while in Baltimore. He was quoted as thanking Buck Showalter for all Showalter had done for his career while with the Orioles.
If Showalter did a lot for his career, why didn’t it ever show? Did no coach or trainer ever mention taking better care of his body in Baltimore?
If the Cubs’ pitching coach showed him a new pitch that was a career-changer, apparently that never happened in Baltimore. We’ll never know. Sometimes it takes a change of scenery to remake a player.
He is being hailed by Chicago writers for his achievements there, and former GM Theo Epstein said the Cubs wouldn’t even have been competitive without him. He wasn’t the first story of Oriole mediocrity and stardom somewhere else, and he won’t be the last.
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