Nathan Eovaldi: A 2014 Marlins Optimistic View

Scott Cunningham

The Miami Marlins will once again count on Nathan Eovaldi to deliver on some of his promise show last season. Can he improve on the fiery fastball and deliver a full season of strong pitching?

The Miami Marlins are counting on Nathan Eovaldi to turn into an effective future starting pitcher. The club may not necessarily need that given the pipeline of promising arms heading Miami's way in the coming years, but the bird in the hand right now is definitely worth the two in the prospect bush. In 2013, Eovaldi showed real promise, and the Fish would like for him to continue capitalizing on that promise.

But what are the odds that he pulls off such a feat? Eovaldi is almost a one-dimensional starter who is struggling to find every other pitch. But the one pitch he seemingly has found is the fastball of great promise.

The Optimist's Argument

The argument for the optimistic view on Eovaldi is one arguing for historical dominance. Pitchers who average that kind of velocity over a great period of time all tend to be hits rather than misses. Since he began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the tail end of the 2011 season, Eovaldi has averaged about 95 mph on his fastball. Since the Pitch F/X era began in 2007, the starters who have thrown at least 400 innings (only 140 more than Eovaldi has thrown in his career) who have averaged the fastest fastballs in the game are the following:

Player, 2007-2013 Faastball Velo (mph) IP K% BB% ERA FIP
Stephen Strasburg 95.8 434 28.9 7.0 2.96 2.79
Justin Verlander 94.8 1574 2/3 23.7 7.4 3.35 3.27
Ubaldo Jimenez 94.7 1268 21.5 10.5 3.93 3.77
Jeff Samardzija 94.7 412 2/3 23.3 8.5 4.32 3.88
David Price 94.4 963 1/3 22.0 7.3 3.20 3.40

The next five names include at least two star-level pitchers and a few decent players. The point, however, is that you do not get to reach this many innings in the majors at this velocity without having done something right. Three All-Stars and two coveted players this offseason are the best comparisons in terms of velocity to Eovaldi, and that can never look bad statistically.

The ten pitchers with the best average velocity and at least 400 innings in the Pitch F/X averaged a 3.75 ERA and a 3.58 FIP from 2007 to 2013. Those are numbers the Marlins would be thrilled to see from Eovaldi this season, given that he bested those marks last year primarily with some good fortune on home runs. The strikeout component of those numbers would be expected to rise as well, as those ten pitchers averaged a 22 percent strikeout rate as a group versus a 8.1 percent walk rate. Eovaldi has matched neither of those marks, but given that the group has managed an average velocity of 94.4 mph, it is not out of this world to believe that Eovaldi could reach that with a fastball touching closer to 95 mph.

Consider the lower end of the pitchers on this list. The worst active ones listed here are probably Jeff Samardzija and Brandon Morrow, and both are considered very talented and coveted options. Brad Penny is the worst retired player here, and Penny had to have some terrible years on the back end to inflate his ERA and FIP to 4.47 and 4.36 respectively. Even if our optimistic expectations were for Eovaldi to settle into a high-3.00's ERA and FIP, the Marlins would still have a nice player on their hands; Samardzija, Penny, and Morrow averaged a combined 2.7 WAR per 200 innings. That is a solidly above average player, and that is the low end of the high-velocity players.

Optimist's Projection

The projection for Eovaldi could easily be optimistic. Each of the systems on FanGraphs have Eovaldi improving on his strikeout rate, up to 17.4 or 18 percent for the season. Given the velocity and the players who have achieved similar fastballs, that seems more than reasonable. The question remains with the walk rate, and that may be the difference between an acceptable and an above-average season.

With some good fortune, Eovaldi can match the sort of numbers the high-velocity pitchers averaged over their last few seasons. The Fans' projection of a 3.65 ERA and 3.64 FIP matches up nicely with the average numbers from that above list, and that could represent our optimistic projection. The Fans have him worth 2.3 wins in 171 innings, and I think that sort of season could be a springboard for better things to come.

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