The Miami Marlins struggled on offense, but the Fish had a solid pitching staff for most of the regular season. The major piece of that decent rotation was the elite work of Jose Fernandez, but other members of the starting staff also contributed in a major way. One of the pitchers who impressed me the most in 2013 was Nathan Eovaldi, the former Los Angeles Dodgers righty prospect who turned up his game a notch this past season.
Eovaldi came back on June 18 from a preseason shoulder injury and immediately returned to the starting staff with a brand new weapon: his faster fastball. At first, it appeared to have been a blip in the radar, but instead, it remained consistently present throughout the season. According to Brooks Baseball's player card, Eovaldi threw his four-seam fastball at an average velocity of 97 mph over the course of his 100-plus innings pitched. According to raw Pitch F/X data, among pitchers with at least 100 innings this season, Eovaldi's fastball was the fastest by a solid half-mile per hour over rookie Gerrit Cole's offering. Eovaldi's fastball beat out Stephen Strasburg's by almost a mile. He beat out Justin Verlander's by more than two miles per hour.
But Eovaldi's fastball was not all bark and no bite. Among the same pool of pitchers, it was the 11th most valuable fastball on a per-pitch basis, garnering 1.3 runs above average per 100 pitches thrown. On a rate basis, that fastball was better than the offerings of luminaries like Zack Greinke, Jose Fernandez, and Felix Hernandez. The increase in velocity definitely made it a better pitch.
However, Eovaldi's fastball was only really improved in one area. Opposing batters only hit .281 on fastballs put into play, and they had only an ISO of .099. Compare that performance to that of last year's, when Eovaldi mixed four- and two-seam offerings en route to a .338 BABIP and a .203 ISO. Despite the increased velocity, the fastball produced very similar swing and whiff rates and was equally placed in the strike zone when compared to last season. It seems the increased speed only served to make weaker contact rather than less contact.
All of his numbers, however, did improve slightly since last season. Eovaldi upped his strikeout rates and dropped his walk rate slightly, and the weaker contact certainly led to fewer home runs. Even without the greatly increased efficacy of his most obvious improvement, it seemed as though Eovaldi made strides during the season. Like last season, he had a nice streak towards the end of the year, as he finished the final two months with a 18.1 percent strikeout rate and 6.9 percent walk rate en route to a 3.32 ERA and 3.08 FIP.
These improvements, backed by the improved fastball, are a sign of ongoing success. It seems that Eovaldi is taking steps towards being a better pitcher, and the fastball increases his ceiling a little as the team's next-best starter. He is still having a terrible time figuring out his secondary pitches, but the improvement is incremental and real, and the Marlins should be excited for more from him next year.