Since about mid-way through the 2014 baseball season, one of the best pitchers in baseball has been – and continues to be every fifth day – Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs. He was the National League’s Cy Young award winner last year after an historic season in which he put up numbers not seen since Bob Gibson in 1968.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising, Arrieta was a top draft pick out of TCU in 2007. He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and quickly rose through the minor leagues. He made the big club in June 2010 and won his first start – against the Yankees.
He was known for great ‘stuff’, ‘filthy’ in baseball parlance, four pitches, and a very idiosyncratic windup. He had everything needed – including an almost fanatic work ethic – to be an ace. But he wasn’t, that start against the Yankees was pretty much the highlight of his first seasons in the majors.
Arrieta crashed and he crashed hard. How hard? He set the record for the worst ERA ever recorded by a starting pitcher for the Orioles. The Orioles’ history, by the way, goes back to 1901. This despite the fact that dozens of well-known players – including a few future Hall of Famers – said that Arietta had the best stuff they had seen in years.
So, what happened? It’s really relatively simple. Arrieta’s throwing motion and pitch selection didn’t fit the Orioles
pitching ‘metrics’. He threw across his body, he threw from the first base side of the pitching rubber, he kept his hands low, he loved his cutter (almost unhittable). The Orioles organization wanted their pitchers to throw a certain way, Arrieta, according to their pitcher standards, did everything wrong. And, they forbid all their pitchers to use the cutter.
They broke Arrieta’s pitching down and rebuilt him to fit their notions of what made an effective major league pitcher. Along the way, unsurprisingly, they lost the Arrieta they had drafted. The results were a disaster, he was demoted to the minors, he came within a whisker of quitting baseball forever.
Then, he was traded to the Cubs. In his first meeting with Cub management, he was told to do what came natural to him – to be himself. They, in essence, would plan around him.
The results were virtually instantaneous – his first full season with the Cubs he finished 9th in the National League Cy Young Award voting, his second year he won it, this year he’s still off the chart good.
By now, you can probably see where this is headed – call it ‘pigeonholing’ or ‘cookie-cutter’ or generic or a dozen other things, but trying to wedge people or businesses into preconceived, pre-planned, slots is at best counter-productive, at worst disastrous.
Jake Arrieta is a business worth millions, it just happens to revolve around his ability to pitch a baseball. Cookie cutter planning almost destroyed his business.