Epstein calls Jake Arrieta-PED speculation 'reckless,' and he's right

An unfortunate subplot to the ongoing dominance of Jake Arrieta has been the growing whisper campaign that suggests -- without a whit of reliable corroboration -- that performance-enhancing drugs have abetted his recent success. Those whispers recently got the megaphone treatment thanks to Stephen A. Smith, one of two paint-by-numbers provocateurs on "First Take."

In the course of casting doubt upon Arrieta's accomplishments, Smith marshalled such tired evidence as increasing win totals. For reasons sufficient to themselves, people pay attention to Smith, and some might even plausibly call him an opinion-shaper in our little burgh of sports. All of that is what prompted Cubs president of baseball ops Theo Epstein to fire back at Smith, albeit not directly by name. Via ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers, here's what Epstein said on Thursday morning:

"I saw the clip of essentially an accusation on the ESPN morning show [First Take]," Epstein told the Kap & Co. Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. "I found it to be completely reckless. It's someone who has never met Jake, as far as I know, has never been in our clubhouse. I don't know if he's ever watched him pitch. [He] would make that type of accusation without talking to anyone who knows Jake and anyone who understands his work ethic and changes that he's made."

Epstein's correct. Despite what some of us like to think, determining whether someone has used banned substances is far more complicated than eye-balling a stat line. But as long as we're eyeballing stat lines, here's one ...

(Chart via Brooks Baseball)

His velocity's been largely steady over the years. The (modest) uptick occurs in 2013, when he pitched to a 4.78 ERA for the Orioles and Cubs. We're not talking about a soft-tosser who morphed into something far more fearsome as he hit his late 20s. We're talking about a guy who came into the league with a fastball that sat in the mid-90s.

What Arrieta did was adjust. For instance, take a look at his arm slot over the years ...

(Chart via Brooks Baseball)

It's changed, a lot and often. Now take a look at his horizontal release point -- i.e., where he stands on the rubber ...

(Chart via Brooks Baseball)

It's changed, a lot and often.

These are adjustments -- the kind of tinkering that almost always goes on, especially those like early-career Arrieta, who was lurching and lunging to build and then cling to a major-league career. That's to say nothing about altering grips and his pitch mix (Arrieta starting last season became much more of a sinker-slider guy). So you're talking about a pitcher who gained experience, experimented with his delivery, switched organizations and by extension coaching staffs, famously devoted himself to conditioning, altered his repertoire, and found tremendous success.

That's a rare turn events, in that greatness itself is rare, but making a big mid- to late-career leap forward is hardly unprecedented. Swap them in time, and we'd be seeing the same accusations being leveled at Red Ruffing, to cite one of many examples. I could go on: Dazzy Vance, Rip Sewell, Curt Davis, Hoyt Wilhelm, Al Leiter, Cliff Lee, R.A. Dickey, Randy Johnson, for instance.

Until Jake Arrieta fails a drug test or confesses to something untoward, the best explanation is that he learned, grew, and changed enough to harness his already excellent stuff. So, yes, Epstein is right about speculation to the contrary being reckless. It seems to pay well, though.

There’s a simpler, less nefarious explanation for Jake Arrieta’s success.
There’s a simpler, less nefarious explanation for Jake Arrieta’s success. (USATSI)

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories
    CBS Sports Shop