In 2015, Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta enjoyed one of the finest seasons of pitching in baseball history.
His run after the All-Star break in particular, during which he went 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA over 103 1/3 innings in 15 starts, was unprecedented and helped win him the Cy Young Award.
But Arrieta was not always the unhittable fireballer he is today.
In fact, during a disastrous 2013 season with the Orioles, which saw him demoted to Triple A after four starts (including Opening Day), he contemplated quitting baseball altogether.
When he was traded midseason to the Cubs, it was only because Baltimore’s front office had given up on him.
After arriving in Chicago, Arrieta began to turn things around, in large part because he returned to pitching crossfire (standing all the way on the third-base side of the pitching rubber), which his coaches in Baltimore had wanted him to replace with an approach from the center of the mound. His ERA began to drop almost immediately.
But it was a far more unlikely habit that Arrieta developed over that first offseason that helped him really take his game to the next level: Pilates.
In an excellent Sports Illustrated profile on the Cubs ace by Tom Verducci, Arrieta revealed that he became obsessed with Pilates after happening upon a studio in Austin one day with his wife, completely by chance.
Pilates? Sounded interesting. Arrieta figured he would take one or two classes a week. He walked into the studio and signed up for a class with an instructor named Liza Edebor. “I pitch for the Cubs,” he told her.
It took him one session to get hooked, and how he’s a total Pilates junkie:
After Arrieta’s first session with Edebor he told her, “We need to train together. This is life-changing.”
He took sessions three times a week. He ordered a custom-built reformer for Wrigley Field and put it in the only space available, a cramped storage room that doubled as manager Joe Maddon’s media interview room. Last season Maddon conducted media briefings while Arrieta ground through his Pilates workout just a few feet away.
Arrieta has since turned his garage into a Pilates studio, and his trainer works with him six days a week.
“Jake went from a regular-sized athletic guy to just ripped,” Edebor told Verducci. “And the only thing we did was Pilates.”
Here’s how Arrieta describes it (via SI):
“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.”
“What I noticed from Pilates last year was that I have much better control of my body,” Arrieta says. “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.”
Arrieta’s right: If he can figure out a way to match his success from last season, you better believe every pitcher in the league will be hooked on Pilates.