Nathan Eovaldi could prove to be a critical player in the development of the Miami Marlins over the next few years, but that all depends on whether he develops his pitches. Let's delve into his current repertoire with Pitch F/X.
The Miami Marlins are going to need the best out of more than a few of these 2013 keys to success, both in this season and in years to come. If the Fish are to be believed, they will want to re-establish the so-called "Marlins Way," which includes a healthy dose of effective, young pitching. But if guys like Jacob Turner, Nathan Eovaldi, or Henderson Alvarez do not develop into effective players, the Fish will have a tough time finding those talents in the minors.
So what does Nathan Eovaldi bring to the table in terms of his pitching repertoire? Just like we did with Jacob Turner, we turn to Pitch F/X and Brooks Baseball's player cards for assistance on this matter.
Subjective Scouting Report
Unlike Turner, Eovaldi was never considered an elite prospect. However, he was no slouch as a prospect either, as he did appear in the fringes of top-100 prospect lists heading into 2012. Before the 2012 season, Minor League Ball's John Sickels ranked Eovaldi second among Los Angeles Dodgers prospects and had this to say about him.
2) Nate Eovaldi, RHP, Grade B, Borderline B+. He made huge progress last year, although his major league K/BB ratio was poor and indicates he still needs some refinement. He would probably better off pitching out of the major league bullpen than going to Albuquerque if he doesn't make the rotation in spring training.
Of course, Eovaldi pitched in the minors and received a call in June to join the rotation to replace an injured Ted Lilly. The scouting reports at that point were pretty similar, all indicating that he was likely a weak starting pitching candidate as of right now and more of a high-end relief prospect. Chris Blessing of Bullpen Banter had this to say about Eovaldi.
Eovaldi is essentially a two pitch pitcher and I believe he will be a success as Major Leaguer. I think his niche will be as a hard throwing, late inning reliever. Although I think he's improved his two best pitches, there has been little or no improvement in his curve or change. I think the change has actually regressed some. I'd like to see him ditch one of his two lesser offerings and concentrate on crafting a "Show Me" pitch. He still needs a bit more seasoning but not much. I expect to see him a fixture in LA's bullpen this summer.
These are not encouraging words for a top prospect, but from the gist of this and more summaries, Eovaldi boasts an easy mid-90's fastball and a decent slider but raw and ineffective third pitch options in the curveball and changeup. This matches the sort of scouting report we have discussed before here on the site.
Pitch F/X: The Basics
Once again, we will be using Brooks Baseball's player cards to discuss Eovaldi's pitches. Here are the basics of his work.
|Pitch||Count||Freq||Velo (mph)||pfx HMov (in.)||pfx VMov (in.)||H. Rel (ft.)||V. Rel (ft.)|
How does this table compare to the scouting reports that we saw above? Indeed, it compares quite favorably, showing Eovaldi as primarily a fastball / slider pitcher who attempted to mix in cutters, curveballs, and changeups to find an effective mix. The fastball indeed averaged close to 95 mph last season, matching his scouting report perfectly.
The use of the slider was something of interest to me, as Chris Blessing mentioned that Eovaldi was more than capable of using his slider versus left-handers because he drops the pitch out of the fastball's plane. Perhaps this was due to simply a lack of options, but it seems as though Eovaldi did use the slider quite often versus lefties, as he threw it 13 percent of the time against them. Of course, he was forced to use more fastballs in those instances (63 percent) than he did versus righties (59 percent), and that is because his slider usage went up to 30 percent versus righties.
The other two offspeed pitchers were more neglected, but Eovaldi was still forced to use them because teams threw a steady amount of lefties at him. He threw just 883 pitches versus right-handers as compared to a whopping 1261 pitches against lefties. Part of that can be chalked up to his struggles leading to deeper counts, but part of that is just based on teams taking advantage of his platoon weaknesses that were apparently well-scouted. When it came to facing lefties with two strikes, Eovaldi went to the slider 25 percent of the time, and that ranked as easily the highest non-fastball mark in 2012; he threw twice as many sliders with two strikes against lefties than he did curveballs.
Pitch F/X: Performance Metrics
*Note that BIP, traditionally the abbreviation for "balls in play." also refers to home runs in this table. BABIP, on the other hand, still only refers to non-home run balls in play.
What do these numbers indicate regarding Eovaldi's pitches? In terms of effectiveness, these numbers match up with his subjective scouting reports extremely well. It is clear right from the onset that Eovaldi's best pitch is his fastball. It induced the second-best ground ball rate in the largest sample in 2012, and even though the BABIP was somewhat high, it was not hit terribly hard as a pitch. It happened to be one of two pitches that Eovaldi was able to place in the strike zone well, thus generating more called strikes. His whiff rate on the pitch was passable, though not as good Turner's was on his lower-velocity fastballs. A swing-and-miss rate of 13 to 15 percent is just fine, and Eovaldi's fastball has the potential to do better as he develops his other pitches.
Of his secondary offerings, clearly his slider stands out as the best. He is better able to control the pitch than Turner was able to control any of his non-fastballs, as Eovaldi's balls to called strike ratio of 3.1 on the slider topped Turner's other pitches by a decent amount. Earlier in the season, it appeared the slider was not generating enough whiffs, but that seemed to have corrected itself. Still, Eovaldi's slider was not able to match Turner's curve or slider in whiff rate, leaving it closer to even to his other pitches in strikeout potential. This may also be due to his forced use of the slider against left-handers who almost certainly see it better. However, it was not as though lefties did significantly worse against the slider, as they missed 24.6 percent of the time they swung and offered at it more than 52 percent of the time.
Unfortunately, Eovaldi's other pitches remain criminally bad. Of the three other options, the curveball seems to have the best chance of being effective, as he was also able to put it in the strike zone. However, it had major problems in getting hitters to swing and miss, leaving it as less of a strikeout pitch and more of an early count, get-ahead type of option. Few pitchers have the 12-to-6 breaking capability on curves to induce a lot of called strikeouts, and Eovaldi is definitely not one of those Barry Zito types. His changeup was a better whiff candidate, but he simply could not put it in the zone, though hitters did offer at it more than expected given his lack of command over the pitch. Still, its major problem was that it was hit very hard when hitters did make contact, though that may also be a small sample phenomenon.
What can we say about Eovaldi's pitches based on these numbers? Once again, we will grade each pitch based on the scouting 20-80 scale, with 50 as average and each increment of 10 as a standard deviation better than the league average.
Fastball (50): I came out of this analysis impressed with Eovaldi's fastball. He fared decently well with controlling the pitch and did a passable job of missing bats with it. When the bats did make contact, they did not hit him terribly hard, and with some regression to the mean, you can expect him to perform better on the heater. Given his inability to use it effectively due to his poor secondary pitches, you have to give him some leeway in terms of potential. After all, 95 mph fastballs do not grow from trees, and his numbers should improve greatly once he fine-tunes his second pitch and finds a third pitch with which to work.
Slider (50): Eovaldi's slider is better than Turner's curveball or slider as of right now, so grading it even with the other pitches is not particularly fair to either pitcher. Eovaldi was able to put it in the zone and get some called strikes, but he also did a good job of missing bats with it. Its performance, at its current usage, did not dip dramatically against left-handers in terms of whiffs, though his strike zone placement was a lot worse versus southpaws. If he can begin missing a few more bats overall, this pitch has good potential down the road.
Curveball (35): Unfortunately, Eovaldi's two lefty offerings were not very good. He was able to put the curve in the strike zone, and not inducing swings with the curveball is fine if you are placing it properly. But he is in need of a lefty out pitch, and it does not appear as though his bender is the type that can do that. It did display some good break in the vertical plane, so it may have a chance to be a knee-buckler type with more work, but it is hard to see hitters swinging over it much.
Changeup (30): This pitch has been terrible for him thus far, and as a result there is no reason to think he will improve it in the future. Its only redeeming factor is that it seems to be able to get swings and misses, but hitters will start laying off of it entirely if he cannot find the strike zone with it. It was also, in the very small sample from 2012, Eovaldi's hardest hit pitch, which may also be a sign of lack of command in placement in the zone.
Cutter (Incomplete): We just did not see enough of the cutter to make a judgment, as Eovaldi gave up on the pitch as soon as he arrived in Miami.
The scouting reports remain more than accurate about Eovaldi. His fastball and slider are good enough to both have 60 potential, so his ceiling is clearly higher than Turner's and his grab bag of decent but unspectacular pitches. But Eovaldi is far away from having a third pitch available to him, while Turner already has two average pitches and a third that is very close to that. For that reason, it is harder to predict whether Eovaldi can continue to do well as a starter or will be forced to move to the bullpen, where his two-pitch skill can be maximized in efficiency.