Nathan Eovaldi: A Marlins Pessimistic View

Marc Serota

The Miami Marlins are hoping a few of their young players will develop in 2013 into consistent contributors. But Nathan Eovaldi may not be the man who can deliver this development, as he has significant issues in his game that may not be fixable.

The Miami Marlins are going to need a number of players to develop into regular contributors in 2013 if their chances of a competitive season are to arise anytime soon. One of those players upon whom the team will depend is Nathan Eovaldi, and the optimistic view on his development sees him developing the necessary tools to become an elite pitcher like Justin Verlander. After all, Eovaldi has the electric fastball that few starting pitchers can boast and the youth to allow for development.

But the pessimistic view sees Eovaldi for what he really is. After all, all of the optimistic case is based on blind projection of improvement with no mention of his significant flaws. Before Eovaldi can prove that he can fix the problems that are currently ailing him, he remains a hard-throwing hurler who cannot get pitches past hitters.

The Pessimist's Case

While the optimistic view is all about what Eovaldi could be, the pessimistic case is all about what Eovaldi is. Yes, he throws quite hard, as evidenced by his seventh-fastest fastball in baseball last year. And as mentioned in the initial article outlining Eovaldi as a key to success, he also has a strong slider. That makes him a decent pitcher versus right-handed hitters, and indeed he has shown that; in his career, he has faced 302 right-handed hitters and owns a respectable 3.91 FIP, and those hitters have hit a collective .290 wOBA against him.

But all those positives come with clear negatives, and those negatives involve his work against left-handed hitters. He has faced 370 lefties in his time and has a 4.41 FIP and lefties have hit .305/.378/.449 (.365 wOBA) against him. In other words, Eovaldi has turned the average right-hander into J.J. Hardy or Cameron Maybin of 2012 while making the average lefty into David Freese or Ben Zobrist of the same season.

This terrible work against lefties is perfectly supported by his scouting data as well, and that includes both subjective and objective scouting findings that are posted on this site. Eovaldi has struggled against lefties not for any undefinable reason, but because he simply has no tools outside of his fastball against them. His slider is good enough to be used against lefties, but his changeup and curveball are borderline unusable at the moment, and last season there was not any good reason to believe that they were developing into major league pitches. Without a third pitch to use against the southpaw hitters, Eovaldi is very likely to continue being crushed by them, and that should prevent him from reaching anything resembling Justin Verlander.

Youth was mentioned as being on Eovaldi's side, and the optimistic argument was made that, even though he did not perform well among the 22-year-olds who had significant time in the majors, he possessed better tools than those pitchers. But that still does not take away the fact that, in the end, he still was among the worst 22-year-olds starting pitchers since the 1993 expansion. Eovaldi had the 26th-worse strikeout rate among the 87 starters listed. When compared to the league average ERA, his ERA was ranked as the 22nd-worse. His FIP was 27th-worse among these players. Eovaldi was clearly not the bottom of the barrel, but he was also not particularly close to the average among these 22-year-olds.

A Historical Comparison

Remember the historical comparison brought up for Jacob Turner in his pessimistic outlook? The comparison between Eovaldi's age 22 season looks pretty similar to that of Chris Volstad and his campaign.

Marlins, Age 22 K% BB% ERA- FIP-
Nathan Eovaldi 14.8 8.9 111 108
Chris Volstad 15.7 8.7 122 123

What separates these two pitchers? Eovaldi did not suffer from the home run issues that Volstad had, but he had very similar strikeout and walk rates. In fact, Volstad's were actually better than Eovaldi's at age 22, and that cannot be a positive sign given where Chris Volstad is now in his development. And Volstad at least had the minor league pedigree of being a heavy ground ball pitcher whose game revolved around home run suppression as well; while Eovaldi only allowed 10 homers in 343 1/3 innings in the minors, he was never considered a ground ball pitcher with that sort of skill, and it was far more likely that he got away with superior stuff in the minors than any home run suppression skill.

Volstad followed the ugly 2009 season with poor 2010 and 2011 seasons before being shipped out, and it is quite possible that Eovaldi also has this problem given his mediocre strikeout material.

Prognosis

The prognosis for Eovaldi is quite poor in this pessimistic outlook. Volstad's average of his ERA and FIP over the next two seasons after his age 22 campaign was at 4.53. During this time, his strikeout rate was exactly 14.8 percent, identical to that of Eovaldi's right now. Meanwhile, his walk rate improved to 7.4 percent, and he allowed a reasonable 1.06 home runs per nine innings. Even if you up the walks and cut the home runs a little, a 4.50 or 4.60 ERA is not out of the question, and such a number would yield a terrible result for the Fish in 2013. The odds of his development from there are also likely to be low.

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