“That animal was in control the whole time,” said catcher David Ross, who caught the first no-hitter of his career. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He locked it in when he needed to, and it was fun to be a part of.”
Once a well-regarded prospect in the Orioles’ system, Arrieta struggled to get his footing in the big leagues. In fact, you could argue he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. His 5.33 ERA over the first three seasons of his career was the fourth highest among pitchers qualifying for the ERA title. Since joining the Cubs midseason via trade in 2013, Arrieta has an ERA of 2.17.
It’s a huge improvement, one that is a direct result of his increased use of a slider/cutter hybrid, a pitch Arrieta will grip and throw in the same way, using a change in velocity to keep hitters off balance.
“When I go away to [right-handers], when I try and elevate it and I want to expand it off the plate, it’s more of a cutter,” Arrieta told USA Today’s Jorge Oritz in August 2015. “If I want to use it underneath a lefty’s swing or in the dirt for a chase pitch to a [right-hander], I’ll use more of a slider, take some velocity off it slightly and increase the break of it.”
Because of the different velocities, baseball pitch-tracking system codes it in different ways, but his slider and cutter have combined for 17 strikeouts in 80 at-bats ending on the pitch this season. Having that pitch in his repertoire has made his fastball, change-up and curve more effective overall, resulting in a mere .189 average against all pitches since his arrival in Chicago.
But even before a batter has a chance to get wood on the ball, Arrieta is more often than not ahead of the game. He is getting a first-pitch strike on the batter two-thirds of the time — a huge advantage. Over the last three full seasons, National League pitchers have allowed an OPS of .802 after the count goes to 1-0. That drops to .593 after an 0-1 count. And if Arrieta isn’t getting that first pitch over for a strike, he is still getting batters to swing and miss 10.6 percent of the time, slightly higher than the 9.6 percent league average.
“I envisioned pitching like this, even when I had a (5.46 ERA) in Baltimore,” Arrieta said after the game on Thursday. “I expected to get to this point at some point, regardless of how long it took or what I had to go through to get there.
“I had visualizations of throwing no-hitters or throwing shutouts. So now it’s starting to happen for me. I don’t take any of it for granted.”