To say expectations for the Cubs are rather high would be an understatement. From guarantees to predictions to projections, for the first time under Ricketts family ownership the Cubs will be expected to win games at the big league level, and a lot of them.
The front office made moves this off-season focused on improving the win total of the Major League team, not to build depth in the minor league system by inking players with one purpose, to flip before the trading deadline for more prospects.
The Cubs fired the first shot of the winter with the hiring of Joe Maddon. And in the process the front office brought in one of the best managers in the game that is seemingly a perfect fit for the Cubs moving forward. Maddon is not only an excellent strategist he will deflect the attention and pressure from the players which should allow them to perform in the fish bowl known as Wrigley Field.
Since landing Maddon, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have added Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Tommy La Stella, Jason Motte, Chris Denorfia and Dexter Fowler to a rather young roster. And with every addition, expectations continued to grow.
But could a player that was on the roster and had a breakout season of his own a year ago be the key to the Cubs success in 2015? Is there only one player that could be a difference for the Cubs? Or does the Cubs competing for a spot in the playoffs depend on several players performing beyond expectations and the ‘kids’ getting off to a good start?
Buster Olney took a look at 10 players he feels are pivotal to his team’s success in 2015. And for the Cubs to be playing meaningful games in September with a shot at post-season play, Olney thinks Jake Arrieta picking up where he left off last year is the key.
Jake Arrieta dominated for the most part last season. Arrieta had only a couple of bad starts after missing the first month of the year. The Cubs won 15 of the 25 games he was on the hill and are 20-14 in his 34 starts spanning the last two seasons.
Arrieta struck out a career high 167 batters while walking only 41 and allowing 114 hits in 156 2/3 innings. Arrieta ended the season with a 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 2.26 FIP in 25 starts. Arrieta flirted with no hitters and has been very good at Wrigley Field.
Arrieta loves pitching at Wrigley and his performance backs up his recent comments about The Friendly Confines. Arrieta is 9-2 in 18 starts with a 2.04 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. Arrieta has allowed 65 hits with 103 strikeouts and 34 walks in 114 2/3 innings at Wrigley.
In a recent interview on MLB Network Radio, Arrieta said he learned how to focus on what is important while he’s on the mound and how to cut out the distractions.
The recent projections for the upcoming season are pointing to a solid year for Jake Arrieta but not a repeat performance of his 2014 campaign. FanGraphs’ Steamer Projections have Arrieta finishing the year with a 10-9 record in 27 starts with a 3.65 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 3.48 FIP. And PECOTA and ZiPS calculations have Arrieta with similar numbers.
When pitchers and catchers report to Mesa in less than three weeks, Arrieta will not be the focus of the media’s attention. But when the games start, he will have to perform for a team that is expected to win as Buster Olney pointed out. Arrieta sounds confident he’s put the doubts behind him that led to his struggles with the Orioles. And if all goes as planned for the Cubs in Spring Training, Arrieta should slot in Joe Maddon’s rotation right behind Jon Lester and in front of Jason Hammel.
So is Buster Olney right? Is Jake Arrieta the key to the team reaching its goals this season? Or is there another player or players the Cubs success is more dependent on in 2015? The search for the answers begins in 20 days.