Thursday, February 12, 2015

Who is Nathan Eovaldi and can he help the Yankees?

The New York Yankees made a conscious decision when the offseason began to try and get younger. They did exactly that when they traded 28-year-old David Phelps to the Miami Marlins for soon to be 25-year-old Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees also received Domingo German and Garrett Jones in the deal, but lost Martin Prado to the Marlins.

While Phelps had provided solid swingman capabilities the last couple of seasons, Eovaldi steps right into the Yankees’ starting rotation, likely the fourth starter assuming good health for the rest of the staff.

The question is; can Eovaldi find himself in New York?

Eovaldi is a hard-throwing right-hander who for some reason has been unable to translate the power stuff into strikeouts, or prevention of hits for that matter. In 2014, Eovaldi tossed 199.2 innings compiling a 6.4 K/9 rate and allowed 223 hits. It was the most hits given up by any pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. He had a 4.37 ERA (3.37 FIP) which is somewhat encouraging.

If there was more good news to Eovaldi’s 2014 performance it was his walk rate being lowered from the low threes per nine, to 1.9 batters per nine. The problem of course is that more of the players he didn’t walk recorded hits instead of outs.

Despite the perceived negatives, the Yankees see youth, power and raw talent in Eovaldi. The club believes that pitching coach Larry Rothschild can work some magic for Eovaldi where the Marlins could not. Eovaldi has had glimpses of success in the past which made the move enticing for the Yankees.

In 2013 Eovaldi, across 106.1 innings, pitched to a 3.39 ERA (3.59 FIP). His K/9 rate was 6.6, and he allowed much fewer hits per nine (8.5 versus 10.1). That was at 23 years old. Further, for his career (460 innings), Eovaldi sports a 4.07 ERA (3.70 FIP), 9.5 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, 6.3 K/9 and a 1.33 WHIP. So, there is something there to work with here.

His four-seam fastball clocked in at 95.5 mph and his two-seam at 95.9 mph in 2014 per PITCHf/x metrics via FanGraphs. He used his four-seamer 57.1 percent of the time and the two-seamer just 6.6 percent. He also throws a slider (24.6 percent) and curveball (9.3 percent) and very minimally tosses a changeup.

He recorded negative values for each of his pitches except the two-seam fastball (3.2 runs above average), with the four-seamer being his worst pitch (3.8 runs below average). This is of course a problem when it is your go-to pitch. But poor performance from the pitch has not always been the case. In 2013, Eovaldi’s four-seam fastball was 12.7 runs above average. That’s a darn good measure of its capabilities.

Despite the obvious potential of Eovaldi’s heater, he and Rothschild have already begun working on his off-speed pitches. So far, Eovaldi is encouraged and excited.

"We've already begun to work on things," Eovaldi said via the New York Daily News. "He's (Rothschild) awesome. It's going to be a lot of fun working with him this year."

What do the projection models say?

Steamer is not giving him great marks – 10-11, 4.45 ERA (4.54 FIP), 6.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 9.3 H/9 and 1.3 HR/9 in 173 innings (30 starts).

ZiPS is slightly better depending on what you’re looking at – 4.51 ERA (4.16 FIP), 6.8 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 9.6 H/9 and 1.0 HR/9 in 159.7 innings (28 starts).

Clearly, projections are based mostly on past performance and do not look at the potential upside in players so they should be used as a talking point, not gospel. Eovaldi’s performance is going to hinge on whether or not he can begin to get some swing and misses on his four-seam fastball along with having faith in his off-speed offerings; neither of which he’s been able to figure out thus far in his young career.

The only certainty with Eovaldi is that he is primed to be Rothschild’s pet project with the rest of the rotation consisting of a veteran ilk, and that seems just fine to the long time pitching coach and his newest pupil.

Nathan Eovaldi photo courtesy of

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.