The Rise of Jake Arrieta

On July 2, 2013, the Baltimore Orioles acquired Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Pedro Strop and a struggling pitcher named Jake Arrieta. At the time, Baltimore was seeking to bolster their starting rotation and the organization believed that Feldman would help their pitching woes.

It’s hard to believe now, but Arrieta was merely an afterthought back then. In 69 career appearances with the Orioles, Arrieta had gone just 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA and a 1.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The 27-year old right-hander had once been considered a top prospect, but there were growing concerns about his control and velocity. In fact, from 2010-2012, Arrieta’s ERA was the fourth highest among all pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched.

Despite these struggles, Arrieta had actually been profitable for bettors. Although he posted a losing record (30-33), $100/game bettors would have earned $351 by taking Arrieta in every start. It’s also interesting to see that Arrieta closed as an underdog in roughly three-quarters of his starts, which helps to explain why on average he received just 35.5% of moneyline bets at our contributing sportsbooks.

Maybe it was the change of venue, maybe it was escaping the American League, and maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the reason, Arrieta has been a completely different pitcher since being traded. In 75 starts with the Cubs, Arrieta has gone 41-13 with a 2.17 ERA and a 3.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last season, Arrieta posted a 1.77 ERA with 236 strikeouts en route to his first career Cy Young.

As much as Cubs fans may love Arrieta’s incredible transformation, bettors may be even more appreciative. The Cubs have gone 52-23 (69.3%) with +20.33 units won when Arrieta takes the mound, which makes him the most profitable pitcher in our database over that stretch. This high level of success has transformed Arrieta into one of the most popular pitchers in the league.

The table below displays the record, units won, return on investment (ROI) and average moneyline betting percentage since Arrieta was acquired by the Cubs.

Year Record Units Won ROI Avg Public Betting
2013 5-4 +2.41 26.8% 35.4%
2014 15-10 +5.83 23.3% 41.4%
2015 27-9 +9.76 27.1% 64.1%
2016 5-0 +2.33 46.6% 75.2%

In order to fully appreciate Arrieta’s metamorphosis, we examined all 138 of his career starts. The table below, which uses data from the historical archive that powers our Bet Labs software, displays the public betting and closing line for every game of Arrieta’s career.

Date Opponent Opposing SP Public Betting Moneyline Result
4/28/2016 Milwaukee Brewers T Jungmann 78% -365 Win
4/21/2016 Cincinnati Reds B Finnegan 76% -197 Win
4/16/2016 Colorado Rockies C Bergman 74% -304 Win
4/10/2016 Arizona Diamondbacks S Miller 81% -204 Win
4/4/2016 Los Angeles Angels G Richards 67% -137 Win
10/18/2015 New York Mets N Syndergaard 73% -137 Loss
10/12/2015 St Louis Cardinals M Wacha 59% -202 Win
10/7/2015 Pittsburgh Pirates G Cole 63% -125 Win
10/2/2015 Milwaukee Brewers A Pena 88% -235 Win
9/27/2015 Pittsburgh Pirates A Burnett 56% -176 Win
9/22/2015 Milwaukee Brewers T Cravy 77% -327 Win
9/16/2015 Pittsburgh Pirates A Burnett 69% -138 Win
9/11/2015 Philadelphia Phillies A Morgan 76% -275 Win
9/5/2015 Arizona Diamondbacks R Ray 79% -215 Win
8/30/2015 Los Angeles Dodgers A Wood 72% -125 Win
8/25/2015 San Francisco Giants M Cain 66% -140 Win
8/20/2015 Atlanta Braves M Foltynewicz 77% -290 Win
8/15/2015 Chicago White Sox J Quintana 82% -116 Win
8/9/2015 San Francisco Giants J Peavy 57% -162 Win
8/4/2015 Pittsburgh Pirates J Happ 66% -129 Win
7/30/2015 Milwaukee Brewers J Nelson 77% -136 Win
7/25/2015 Philadelphia Phillies C Hamels 76% -210 Loss
7/19/2015 Atlanta Braves S Miller 68% -160 Win
7/12/2015 Chicago White Sox J Quintana 76% -165 Win
7/7/2015 St Louis Cardinals T Lyons 67% -167 Win
7/2/2015 New York Mets J deGrom 49% 106 Win
6/26/2015 St Louis Cardinals J Lackey 40% 111 Loss
6/21/2015 Minnesota Twins K Gibson 68% -137 Win
6/16/2015 Cleveland Indians T Bauer 68% -141 Loss
6/10/2015 Detroit Tigers S Greene 59% -110 Win
6/4/2015 Washington Nationals G Gonzalez 38% 104 Win
5/29/2015 Kansas City Royals E Volquez 35% -143 Loss
5/23/2015 Arizona Diamondbacks R De La Rosa 74% -125 Win
5/17/2015 Pittsburgh Pirates A Burnett 51% -140 Loss
5/12/2015 New York Mets N Syndergaard 56% -143 Win
5/7/2015 St Louis Cardinals J Lackey 49% 107 Loss
5/2/2015 Milwaukee Brewers M Fiers 80% -175 Loss
4/26/2015 Cincinnati Reds A DeSclafani 54% -116 Win
4/20/2015 Pittsburgh Pirates A Burnett 51% -105 Win
4/14/2015 Cincinnati Reds A DeSclafani 62% -143 Loss
4/8/2015 St Louis Cardinals L Lynn 51% -114 Win
9/24/2014 St Louis Cardinals J Lackey 48% -105 Win
9/16/2014 Cincinnati Reds J Cueto 27% 104 Win
9/9/2014 Toronto Blue Jays M Buehrle 34% 127 Loss
9/2/2014 Milwaukee Brewers Y Gallardo 36% -102 Win
8/28/2014 Cincinnati Reds D Axelrod 61% -104 Loss
8/22/2014 Baltimore Orioles K Gausman 23% -107 Win
8/17/2014 New York Mets R Montero 78% -111 Win
8/11/2014 Milwaukee Brewers Y Gallardo 31% 100 Loss
8/6/2014 Colorado Rockies J Lyles 72% -124 Loss
7/31/2014 Colorado Rockies P Hernandez 75% -200 Win
7/26/2014 St Louis Cardinals S Miller 34% -128 Loss
7/20/2014 Arizona Diamondbacks J Collmenter 68% 101 Loss
7/11/2014 Atlanta Braves A Wood 55% -104 Win
7/6/2014 Washington Nationals J Zimmermann 36% 161 Loss
6/30/2014 Boston Red Sox J Peavy 40% 146 Win
6/24/2014 Cincinnati Reds H Bailey 29% 107 Win
6/18/2014 Miami Marlins N Eovaldi 39% 112 Win
6/13/2014 Philadelphia Phillies R Hernandez 48% -104 Win
6/8/2014 Miami Marlins H Alvarez 29% -104 Loss
6/3/2014 New York Mets Z Wheeler 36% -108 Win
5/27/2014 San Francisco Giants T Hudson 21% 155 Loss
5/22/2014 San Diego Padres E Stults 47% 128 Win
5/13/2014 St Louis Cardinals A Wainwright 22% 206 Loss
5/8/2014 Chicago White Sox S Carroll 31% 109 Win
5/3/2014 St Louis Cardinals M Wacha 15% 165 Win
9/25/2013 Pittsburgh Pirates F Liriano 24% 153 Win
9/19/2013 Milwaukee Brewers K Lohse 27% 133 Win
9/13/2013 Pittsburgh Pirates C Morton 18% 156 Win
9/7/2013 Milwaukee Brewers J Hellweg 72% -142 Loss
9/1/2013 Philadelphia Phillies K Kendrick 34% -126 Win
8/26/2013 Los Angeles Dodgers Z Greinke 16% 232 Loss
8/21/2013 Washington Nationals R Ohlendorf 40% -108 Loss
8/16/2013 St Louis Cardinals J Westbrook 20% 120 Win
7/30/2013* Milwaukee Brewers T Thornburg 68% -130 Loss
6/17/2013 Detroit Tigers M Scherzer 34% 170 Loss
4/21/2013 Los Angeles Dodgers S Fife 59% -128 Loss
4/16/2013 Tampa Bay Rays R Hernandez 76% -120 Win
4/10/2013 Boston Red Sox R Dempster 42% 131 Win
4/5/2013 Minnesota Twins L Hendriks 81% -148 Win
7/5/2012 Los Angeles Angels G Richards 23% 129 Loss
6/29/2012 Cleveland Indians D Lowe 56% -139 Win
6/24/2012 Washington Nationals R Detwiler 43% -126 Win
6/18/2012 New York Mets R Dickey 32% 143 Loss
6/13/2012 Pittsburgh Pirates K Correia 56% -145 Win
6/8/2012 Philadelphia Phillies J Blanton 53% -122 Loss
6/3/2012 Tampa Bay Rays M Moore 28% 151 Loss
5/29/2012 Toronto Blue Jays R Romero 33% 125 Loss
5/23/2012 Boston Red Sox D Bard 46% -113 Loss
5/18/2012 Washington Nationals E Jackson 47% 105 Win
5/13/2012 Tampa Bay Rays J Shields 25% 111 Loss
5/8/2012 Texas Rangers N Feliz 32% -102 Loss
5/2/2012 New York Yankees I Nova 21% 155 Win
4/27/2012 Oakland Athletics B McCarthy 72% -119 Loss
4/21/2012 Los Angeles Angels J Weaver 20% 161 Loss
4/16/2012 Chicago White Sox P Humber 47% 105 Win
4/11/2012 New York Yankees C Sabathia 26% 163 Loss
4/6/2012 Minnesota Twins C Pavano 44% -116 Win
7/31/2011 New York Yankees F Garcia 20% 185 Loss
7/26/2011 Toronto Blue Jays B Morrow 20% 160 Win
7/20/2011 Boston Red Sox A Miller 12% 112 Loss
7/15/2011 Cleveland Indians J Tomlin 29% -101 Loss
7/7/2011 Boston Red Sox A Miller 16% 144 Loss
7/2/2011 Atlanta Braves T Hudson 28% 145 Loss
6/20/2011 Pittsburgh Pirates C Morton 38% -102 Win
6/15/2011 Toronto Blue Jays R Romero 45% 141 Loss
6/10/2011 Tampa Bay Rays J Hellickson 30% 108 Win
6/4/2011 Toronto Blue Jays R Romero 27% 109 Win
5/30/2011 Seattle Mariners D Fister 28% 106 Loss
5/25/2011 Kansas City Royals L Hochevar 57% -145 Win
5/20/2011 Washington Nationals J Marquis 52% -145 Loss
5/15/2011 Tampa Bay Rays A Sonnanstine 39% 110 Win
5/10/2011 Seattle Mariners M Pineda 52% -105 Win
5/4/2011 Kansas City Royals K Davies 51% -109 Win
4/29/2011 Chicago White Sox J Danks 43% 128 Win
4/24/2011 New York Yankees F Garcia 29% 121 Loss
4/19/2011 Minnesota Twins C Pavano 41% -113 Win
4/14/2011 New York Yankees P Hughes 50% 172 Loss
4/9/2011 Texas Rangers M Harrison 38% -103 Loss
4/4/2011 Detroit Tigers R Porcello 49% -118 Win
9/14/2010 Toronto Blue Jays S Hill 50% -110 Win
9/7/2010 New York Yankees C Sabathia 23% 348 Win
9/1/2010 Boston Red Sox J Lester 22% 196 Loss
8/26/2010 Chicago White Sox E Jackson 19% 176 Loss
8/20/2010 Texas Rangers C Wilson 23% 172 Loss
8/15/2010 Tampa Bay Rays J Hellickson 22% 219 Loss
8/10/2010 Cleveland Indians J Masterson 43% 129 Win
8/5/2010 Los Angeles Angels D Haren 16% 163 Win
7/30/2010 Kansas City Royals S O'Sullivan 26% 121 Loss
7/25/2010 Minnesota Twins K Slowey 29% 108 Loss
7/20/2010 Tampa Bay Rays M Garza 14% 173 Win
7/11/2010 Texas Rangers C Wilson 14% 219 Win
7/6/2010 Detroit Tigers A Galarraga 21% 169 Loss
7/1/2010 Oakland Athletics T Cahill 17% 128 Loss
6/25/2010 Washington Nationals J Martin 40% 109 Win
6/20/2010 San Diego Padres J Garland 23% 146 Loss
6/15/2010 San Francisco Giants J Martinez 25% 138 Win
6/10/2010 New York Yankees A Burnett 21% 186 Win

As you can see, the Cubs have won 20 of Arrieta’s last 21 starts dating back to last season with the lone loss coming in the playoffs against Noah Syndergaard and the Mets. It’s also interesting to see that Arrieta hasn’t been an underdog since July 2, 2015 when the Cubs closed +106 against Jacob deGrom and the Mets. Coincidentally, that’s also the last time that Arrieta received less than 50% of moneyline bets.

This string of phenomenal performances has turned every Arrieta start into must-watch baseball and has put oddsmakers in a very precarious position. In his last game, Arrieta closed -365 which made him the largest favorite since Clayton Kershaw (-375) faced the Phillies last July. Some books are trying to capitalize with unique prop bets.

After throwing a no-hitter against the Reds on April 21st, the Las Vegas based South Point sportsbook listed Arrieta at +500 to toss another no-no this season, with “no” listed at -700. Based on those odds, there’s a 14.29% implied probability that Arrieta will become the sixth pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters in a season.

Despite his rising popularity, Arrieta still isn’t the league’s most popular pitcher — that honor belongs to Clayton Kershaw. On his career, the three-time Cy Young winner has averaged 65.7% of moneyline bets. Since the start of the 2015 season, that number has been slightly higher at 69.2%.

Prior to the start of the 2015 season, Arrieta was listed at +4000 to win the Cy Young award — the same odds as second-tier pitchers like Julio Teheran and James Shields. Entering this season he had the second best odds (+700) of winning this prestigious award, trailing only Kershaw (+175). Based on the early results, anybody who took Arrieta at 7/1 is feeling very optimistic.

In five starts this season, the Cubs ace has gone 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA. Perhaps the most amazing statistic is that opposing batters are hitting just .151 against Arrieta, which is largely due to his filthy slider-cutter hybrid (sometimes known as a slutter). Arrieta’s stock has never been higher, which means this might be the optimal time to fade him.

At Sports Insights, our contrarian philosophy consistently finds value by going against the grain and taking unpopular stances. We recommend buying on bad news and selling on good news to capitalize on public perception. With Arrieta consistently receiving overwhelming public support, the Cubs lines have been extremely inflated every five days.

We wanted to know whether the oddsmakers were seeing similar trends and how public betting was affecting the opening lines, so we reached out to Scott Cooley, an Odds Consultant for Bookmaker.eu. “The Arrieta effect has certainly gained steamed over the past year,” according to Cooley. “Like the Yankees and Red Sox, the Cubs are one of our most ‘public’ baseball teams so we are usually going to shade their lines based on the action we expect to get on them. Arrieta’s success has compounded that further. He’s still not as much of a household name as Clayton Kershaw…but he’s getting to that level.”

Squares, or casual weekend warriors, consistently place wagers based heavily on recent results and they love taking the league’s “elite” teams. Oddsmakers can accurately anticipate the behavior of these bettors and shade their opening lines to force square bettors to take bad numbers when playing the popular side of a game. These shaded lines create additional value for opportunistic contrarian bettors.

We should note that historically it’s been a losing proposition to bet large favorites and large underdogs, which we explain in our 2016 MLB Betting Against the Public report. Although MLB favorites of at least -200 have won 69.4% of their games, that winning percentage isn’t high enough to cover the massive juice that most sportsbooks charge for big favorites.

Bookmaker, which is one of the market-setting sportsbooks, is charging 25 cents of juice on tonight’s Cubs/Pirates game (CHC -195, PIT +170). In contrast, they’re charging 10 cents juice on smaller favorites (i.e. DET -129, CLE +119). The juice is oftentimes prohibitive on large underdogs, which is why we have avoided them in our last three betting against systems.

We don’t recommend blindly betting against Jake Arrieta in every start, but the public’s infatuation with the red-hot 30-year-old has created artificially inflated lines. There are several additional criteria that bettors should examine before placing a wager:

  1. Underdogs have performed exceptionally well in games with high totals.
  2. The ideal moneyline range has been underdogs of +150 or less.
  3. Home-field advantage has been historically undervalued by baseball bettors.
  4. Teams with a winning percentage of greater than 60% have been vastly overvalued.
  5. Sportsbook Insider Pro subscribers can track sharp money indicators like reverse line movement and steam moves.

Bettors can also track the latest odds and public betting trends by visiting our free MLB odds page. Looking to create your own data-driven betting systems? Sign up for a free Bet Labs account and create up to five systems.

Have any questions for the staff at Sports Insights? Utilize our live chat to speak with a customer service representative or e-mail us at help@sportsinsights.com.

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David Solar

David Solar has been the Content Manager at Sports Insights for over four years. He specializes in sports betting analytics and has created several popular data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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