After a revolving-door career between the Baltimore Orioles and their Richmond-based minor league affiliate, Jake Arrieta considered quitting baseball altogether.
Three years later, he put together one of the most dominant stretches by a pitcher in the entire history of baseball.
Read this and find out how a change of scenery and an open mind to new training techniques, trademarks of his Maverick athlete type– helped Arrieta transcend the poor start to his career:
“Baseball is something that I’ve loved to do since I was a little kid, but it’s not everything,” Arrieta said to NBC Sports. “I had to reevaluate some things. I knew I could always pitch this way, but there were times where it seemed like maybe I wasn’t going to get to that point.”
The decision he was mulling over at the time stemmed from the Orioles rigid coaching for their pitching staff and Arrieta’s fluctuations between the Major and Minor League rosters.
“We were at a point where I had other things that I could segue into and establish a career elsewhere,” Arrieta said. “Not that I wanted that to happen, but I didn’t want to continue to go through the things we were going through and moving from place to place in the minor leagues at 25, 26 years old.”
The thought of quitting baseball altogether consumed him when he was by himself, and if he hadn’t gotten the change of scenery the trade to the Cubs would provide, he may have quit outright.
“On a long drive — or when the game’s over, just sitting there thinking about where I see myself in the near future — it wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “I wasn’t going to just continue to pitch in the minor leagues for another five or six years. If I wasn’t good enough to get the job done, I would move on to somewhere (else) where I was.
Arrieta’s struggles when he was part of the Orioles pitching rotation came from the coaching style the team employed.
“I feel like I was playing a constant tug-of-war, trying to make the adjustments I was being told to make and knowing in the back of my mind that I can do things differently and be better. It was such a tremendous struggle for me because as a second and third-year player, you want to be coachable,” Arrieta said in a Sports Illustrated profile about his career transformation. “I knew I got [to the majors] for a reason, and I was confused about why I was changing that now. You feel everybody has your best interests in mind, but you come to find out that’s not necessarily the case.”
Arrieta speaks about how the Orioles coaching staff would have him tweak his pitching mechanics and body positioning to be more in line with what the organization wanted, as opposed to what he was more comfortable with.
It makes sense that this sort of coaching would yield poor results with an athlete like Arrieta. As a Maverick athlete, Arrieta is the type of athlete who doesn’t like highly structured situations, and as you saw above– he questioned the status quo, why fix something (his pitching mechanics) that didn’t need to be fixed?
Mavericks march to the beat of their own drum, and while they are more likely to try new approaches to old problems or to be more flexible when it comes to making changes, they want to do these sorts of things on their own terms.
When he got traded from the Orioles to the Cubs, Chicago knew they had to let Arrieta be himself, and let him play the way that got him to the Majors.
“Look, man, I’ve been through a lot,” Arrieta told former Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio. “All I want to do is come over there and be myself and be a winner.”
“I was able to not hold anything back or feel like I was judged,” Arrieta says. “People had lost faith in me in Baltimore, and rightfully so. I knew that was not the guy I was. I was letting it out as hard as I could in a controlled way. I was across my body. I felt strong. I felt explosive.”
After arriving in Chicago, during his first offseason with the Cubs, Arrieta noticed a Pilates studio near where he and his wife were living and decided to give it a try, this according to Tom Verducci’s Sports Illustrated piece about Arrieta:
“Arrieta has always been a workout omnivore, devouring any discipline that will make him better: yoga, Olympic weight training, visualization, sports psychology…. Pilates? Sounded interesting,” reads the story.
The willingness to try Pilates and all the other workouts he had tried throughout the years shows Arrieta’s Maverick mentality– always looking for out of the ordinary, inventive ways to help solve problems and improve his game, and it turns out Pilates ended up being a huge difference maker for the ace pitcher.
“It’s an incredible experience,” Arrieta says. “Pilates has been around a long time but maybe was taboo in this sport. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see a reformer in every big league clubhouse.”
Like Arrieta says, Pilates may have been seen as taboo in baseball, but those with the Maverick mentality push the envelope and find what works for them, and Pilates certainly worked for Arrieta.
“What I noticed from Pilates last year was that I have much better control of my body,” Arrieta said. “I repeat my delivery consistently. My balance is much improved. And the mental and physical toughness Pilates requires to complete movements the correct way have directly helped me on the mound.”
The change of scenery and adoption of Pilates helped change the trajectory of Jake Arrieta’s career. He got away from an overly structured situation in Baltimore, and was able to find a creative, against-the-grain workout to keep him sharp on the mound.
Arrieta went from fringe MLB starter and minor league mainstay to one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, with a magical 2015 season where he posted a 1.77 ERA and a World Series ring in 2016.
Now with the Phillies, Arrieta will continue his Pilates and hopefully, continue his dominance over hitters in the MLB.