Fantasy Baseball Analysis: Who’s the Next Jake Arrieta?

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Updated: February 12, 2015
Dan Straily could be this year's Jake Arrieta in terms of a breakout star.

Who's The Next boxThe third in our 2015 “Who’s the Next” series examines whether Dan Straily (above) compares to post-hype sleeper breakout Jake Arrieta.

It didn’t look good when Arrieta started the season on the DL with a sore shoulder. He was ranked No. 150 at starting pitcher in our preseason rankings.

The Cubs right-hander made his season debut on May 3 with 5.1 scoreless innings against the Cardinals, striking out seven. After struggling in his second start and getting through at least five innings in just three of his first six starts, Arrieta got red hot in June and never let up (quality starts in 17 of his last 19 starts, with the only duds coming in hitter-friendly Colorado and Cincinnati). Arrieta finished with 10 wins, 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 167 strikeouts in 156.2 innings that made him the 16th-ranked starting pitcher on ESPN’s player rater.

Drafted in the fifth round by the Orioles out of TCU in 2007, Arrieta quickly became a top prospect, ranking as the Nos. 67 and 99 prospects in baseball by Baseball America in 2009 and 2010, respectively. He was never able to put it together in Baltimore though, struggling to a 20-25 record with a 5.46 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Orioles.

The Cubs came along and fleeced the Orioles by acquiring Arrieta along with strikeout reliever Pedro Strop for quad-A catcher Steve Clevenger and a two-month rental of Scott Feldman. Once under the tutelage of Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, Arrieta began to turn things around with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts to finish 2013.

Going into his age-28 season, we were assuming that Arrieta would gravitate toward his previous numbers despite knowing there was at least some chance of a mild breakout. Deploying a new pitch he learned with the Cubs more last season, his cutter became his best offering and made his fastball much more effective. Even his curve became a plus-pitch as he all but scrapped his ineffective slider.

Looking for candidates for who could be the next Arrieta is a little tough since we had him ranked No. 150 going into last season and that’s as far as our current rankings for this season go. Jeremy Hellickson ranks No. 138, is a former top prospect, is moving to a new team and is entering his age-27 season, but he’s already had two good fantasy seasons.

Looking at our long list of others falling outside the top 150, Dan Straily jumps out. He is entering just his age-26 season, but he has similarly struggled to a career 4.54 ERA in the majors since his days as a top prospect (No. 85 by Baseball America in 2013).

Like Arrieta, Straily is changing teams, first getting sent from the A’s to the Cubs last summer and then being dealt to the Astros this winter. Also like Arrieta, Straily posted big strikeout numbers in the minors (9.6 K/9 compared to Arrieta’s 8.8).

Here is a comparison of Straily’s projected stat line for 2015 next to the line we were anticipating for Arrieta last year:

Dan Straily: 8 wins, 4.42 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 110 Ks in 134 IP

Jake Arrieta: 8 wins, 4.34 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 113 Ks in 130 IP

So obviously we’re as lukewarm on Straily as we were on Arrieta last year, but we see the chance for a breakout.

Straily, after all, was dominant in two stints at Triple-A in 2012 and 2013. He posted a scintillating 2.02 ERA with a whopping 82 Ks in 66.2 IP with Triple-A Sacramento in 2012 and then had a microscopic 1.14 ERA with 33 Ks in 31.2 IP with Sacramento in 2013. He struggled everywhere he went in 2014 – 4.71 ERA with Sacramento and a 4.93 with Oakland before 4.09 with Iowa and 11.85 with Chicago after the trade to the Cubs.

Straily’s average fastball velocity was down to just 88.7 mph last year after 90.2 in 2013 and 91.3 in 2014, so keep a close eye on the radar-gun readings during spring training and early in the season.

Through all the struggles last year and the reduced velocity, Straily still managed combined strikeout rates of 9.4 K/9 in Triple-A and 8.1 K/9 in the majors. He did have a decent season with the A’s in 2013 with 10 wins, a 3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 124 Ks in 152.1 IP, but that’s a far cry from the breakout Arrieta had last year.

Maybe with a full spring training, veteran pitching coach Brent Strom can get Straily turned around. Strom was instrumental in Dallas Keuchel’s breakout last season, so we can hope he can find the key to open up Straily’s potential breakout.

Straily is someone to target in AL-only or very deep mixed leagues, otherwise just scout him and be ready to pounce if he starts to make a splash in the Astros rotation early in the season.

 

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