On Jake Arrieta, Aaron Slegers, and Extreme Release Points

Jake Arrieta turning himself from a Baltimore castoff to a Chicago Cy Young Award winner was a fascinating thing to watch, especially considering how it happened. This wasn’t just a guy who benefited from a change of scenery. When Arrieta adopted a new look, it was much more than his jersey color that changed.

The alterations were covered in a great 2014 Jeff Sullivan article titled Building Jake Arrieta. Among the things noted in that piece was his new release point that was primarily the result of pitching from the third-base side of the rubber.

Sullivan noted changes in Arrieta’s delivery yet again this May, pointing out an even more extreme horizontal release point in a piece titled Jake Arrieta Has Not Been Good. How extreme? Well, he’s throwing like a giant. No, not the kind that play in San Francisco. Arrieta has achieved nearly the exact same release point as Minnesota Twins pitcher Aaron Slegers, who at 6-foot-10 is one of the tallest hurlers to ever grace the mound.

Among the 562 right-handed pitchers Baseball Savant has data on from 2017, only three of them averaged a release point of at least 6.2 feet vertically and 3.3 feet horizontally: Arrieta, Slegers, and Brewers reliever Taylor Jungmann. Jungmann only thew 0.2 innings for Milwaukee last season, so there’s not much to unpack there. Below is the release point chart for Arrieta, courtesy of Baseball Savant:

And here is the chart for Slegers:

And finally, below is a graph showing how Arrieta’s horizontal release point has evolved over his career. You can see the dramatic dip to his first full season with Chicago in 2014. Things leveled out somewhat from there to 2016, but then there’s another noticeable dive last season.

Arrieta’s horizontal release point was farther toward third base than 98.6 percent of right-handed pitchers last year. It’s easy to see why a pitcher would want to create a unique look, as hitters aren’t accustomed to picking up a ball from that point, but how much does that really matter? Well, by the sound of this Francisco Cervelli quote from an MLB.com article in October 2015, I’m guessing it matters a lot.

“What makes him so tough is he throws the ball from the shortstop,” Cervelli said. “He’s supposed to throw straight. It should be illegal.”

Given Arrieta’s struggles, however, you can’t help but wonder if maybe he has taken this too far. He hit a career-high 10 batters and led the league in wild pitches for the second-straight season. Coming into 2017, Arrieta had averaged up just 6.2 H/9 and 0.5 HR/9 as a Cub. Last year, those numbers ballooned to 8.0 H/9 and 1.2 HR/9. His quality of pitch average also dipped from a score of 5.31 over his first three seasons with the Cubs to 4.98 last year.

The free agent market has been slow to get moving, but you’d have to figure things will start to pick up once the calendar turns over to 2018. It’ll be interesting to see if Arrieta’s new team tries to tweak some things with his mechanics. If nothing else, he’s shown a great openness to experiment.

Arrieta used his feet to get his arm into an angle that only a much taller pitcher should be able to achieve. Is it possible another set of eyes could get him pointed back in the right direction in 2018?

Tom Froemming is a contributor at Twins Daily and co-author of the 2018 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook.

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