Orioles paid first-round money for a guy who really just isn’t that good. Disclaimer: Speed up his delivery and watch his velocity soar. If only I could convince them to do this, then Arrieta would not be as overrated.
And he was right; Arrieta was regarded as a first-round talent, but he didn’t display first-round quality stuff during his junior season at TCU. His fastball velocity dropped from 91-95 mph down to 88-91 after his sophomore season.
More than a year later, Arrieta’s stuff is back to what it once was and you can credit the mechanical adjustments Arrieta made as the primary reason. No, he didn’t speed up his delivery—his tempo is still painfully slow—but he did make his mechanics more efficient. How did he do this? Let’s go to the tape…
Below is Arrieta’s draft video (left) and Arrieta during his stint with the U.S. Olympic team this past season. You’ll see in both instances, after Arrieta lowers his leg, he appears to step over an imaginary object. This step-over enables Arrieta to kick-start an aggressive hip rotation and take a longer stride into foot plant. The point of the step-over move is to add velocity.
But compare the differences… which version has the bigger, more aggressive move into foot plant? From my point of view, it’s the 2008 version. This more efficient step-over move allows Arrieta to build up more momentum heading into foot plant and in the process generate more torque.
The more forceful the hip rotation, the more torque Arrieta creates between his torso and hips. The bigger the separation between his torso and hips, the more power is transmitted to the shoulder. The more power transmitted to the shoulder, the greater the potential for velocity—as long as the kinetic chain is in sync throughout the delivery, which Arrieta’s is.
When a pitcher adjusts his stride, this can create problems with timing. To compensate for the bigger step-over move, Arrieta employs a larger tilting of the shoulders.
Another change between the two versions occurs at finish. Arrieta is better able to get out in front in 2008. In the clips below, notice the better upper body tilt and extension, meaning he is releasing the ball just a little closer to home plate than he was in college. The difference is very subtle—look closely at the frame in which the ball is released and the path the arm travels as it decelerates. This small change means his fastball gets on hitters a bit quicker and from an injury standpoint, this development means Arrieta is giving his arm a little more room to decelerate. His finish is a slightly more abrupt in the draft clip.
In Arrieta’s case, it was the classic case of taking a player’s current mechanics and making them more efficient. Arrieta’s mechanics weren’t overhauled, but he displayed qualities that—if implemented more efficiently—could increase his velocity. The Orioles in all likelihood recognized this, since they shelled out a $1.1 million signing bonus to sign Arrieta—a record amount for a fifth-round pick.
What kind of stuff does Arrieta possess today?
Fastball – pumped anywhere from 91 to 96 with some late life…velocity usually moves down to the 92-94 mph range after his first couple of innings. Commands the pitch well to both sides of the plate.
Slider – thrown in the mid-80s with good bite, though there are times when the pitch will break too early. He struggles to command the pitch, often bouncing it in the dirt. When he’s commanding this pitch, he’s very difficult to hit.
Curveball – a 12-to-6 version, thrown between 78 and 80 mph…he doesn’t throw it often and it projects to be an average pitch. The pitch needs more consistency.
Change-up – he’s made great strides with the pitch, doing a better job of maintaining his arm speed…the difference between his change-up and fastball ranges between 5 and 10 mph. It’s another pitch that needs to become more consistent.
Arrieta is difficult to center the ball against because his many pitches all come in on similar planes. Below is an example of this as he’s throwing a 95 mph fastball on the left and an 86 mph slider on the right. The slider was one of the best he threw in this particular outing.
Arrieta has progressed appreciably since being drafted out of TCU in 2007. His stuff has ticked up another level, but his command still needs work. There is a reason some feel he’ll be at his best out of the bullpen. He can be great in spurts, but will have innings where the plate can be anything but found. However, the fact that he does put it together in spurts leads many to believe he’ll eventually be able to put it all together.
Should things click for Arrieta, he’ll give the Orioles three pitching prospects—along with Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz—all of whom are close to MLB-ready with No. 2 starter upsides. That leads many Baltimore fans to expect their team to actually become a contender in the vaunted and highly competitive AL East. The promise of pairing these three with phenom Matt Wieters only furthers these expectations.
But for the Orioles to contend, they need their pitchers to pan out. Arrieta is the biggest mystery of Baltimore’s big three pitching prospects. If he even comes close to reaching his upside, I suspect many Baltimore fans will be very happy.
Best case outcome: No. 2 starter
More likely outcome: Borderline No. 3 or strong No. 4 starter… worst case for Arrieta would be a move to the bullpen.