The Miami Marlins will look to Nathan Eovaldi again as a key to success in 2014, in the sense that the development of Eovaldi as a mid-tier pitcher on this roster is critical to the club's future. Miami could be looking at a second or third starter for many years to come behind Jose Fernandez, or they could be looking at someone who would be best served working out of the bullpen if and when the rest of the team's prospect pitching depth pans out. Eovaldi's 2013 season convinced a lot of folks that he has what it takes to make it as a starter, but a full, successful 2014 season is a must to continue that belief.
In order for us to determine how well Eovaldi will play out in 2014, it is worth re-evaluating his stuff in 2013. Last season, we took stock of Eovaldi's scouting report via Pitch F/X and found someone who had an average or so fastball and secondary stuff that was holding him back. This year, one of those things definitely changed, but how has his overall evaluation been changed as a result?
2013 Scouting Report
As mentioned, Eovaldi was evaluated last season and given an average grade on both the fastball and the slider. Here is what I said about the fastball last year.
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.
The thought was that Eovaldi would eventually develop the pitch into a better one as his secondary stuff improved. Once those pitches began to whiff hitters, the fastball would be easier to put in the zone and would yield better results.
Meanwhile, the slider was given an average grade and the other two lefty-related offerings were given poor grades well below average. The thought was that improving on these pitches would be the key for Eovaldi to jump to the next level.
Pitch F/X: The Basics
It is worth noting the immediate and obvious differences between this set of pitches and last season's classifications.
PITCH COUNT FREQ VELO (MPH) PFX HMOV (IN.) PFX VMOV (IN.) H. REL (FT.) V. REL (FT.) Fourseam (FA) 878 41% 94.95 -5.62 8.68 -2.95 6.23 Sinker (SI) 439 20% 94.73 -7.31 7.67 -2.99 6.28 Cutter (FC) 78 4% 92.11 -0.60 7.86 -2.83 6.45 Slider (SL) 429 20% 85.81 2.57 1.71 -2.64 6.58 Curveball (CU) 189 9% 75.18 4.31 -8.22 -2.40 6.79 Changeup (CH) 132 6% 85.51 -7.07 6.79 -2.90 6.36
The biggest difference lies in the fastball. In 2013, the fastball's velocity ticked up about 1.2 mph on average, from around 95 mph to around 96.2 mph. The fastball also had a little more dip this season than it did last year, as the average vertical movement dropped to seven inches from closer to eight inches. Both those additions served Eovaldi well and no doubt contributed to his increased use of the pitch. Eovaldi threw about 10 percent more fastballs this season than he did last year.
To compensate, he all but cut out the changeup from his arsenal, instead focusing primarily on the curveball as his go-to third pitch. He threw that pitch in about nine percent of his deliveries, and those primarily came when he was ahead in the count against left-handers. The 10 percent devoted to him working on the cutter and changeup all but disappeared, instead being consumed by the fastball.
When it comes to that fastball, Eovaldi really depended on it, especially when behind hitters. When lefties or righties were ahead in the count, Eovaldi threw the fastball around 86 percent of the time. In comparison, Jose Fernandez turned to his fastball around 65 to 73 percent of the time, depending on his matchup versus lefties or righties respectively, if he fell behind in the count. That kind of number is what Eovaldi recorded when he was even in the count.
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.
You can obviously ignore the results of the changeup given the extreme lack of them in the sample, but the other pitches reveal some insights. The most important thing that this evaluation shows is that, despite the improvement of the fastball's velocity, its effectiveness has not changed. When you compare it to last year's chart, you will see that the numbers are almost identical.
In terms of balls that were not put into play, the similarities are ridiculous. Eovaldi threw just as many strikes with his increased velocity and, more surprisingly, got just as many swings and misses with it. This could be attributed to the fact that he had to use it more as well, meaning that hitters adjusted and found their level of production against it. This reasoning once again points to Eovaldi's need to develop his secondary offerings in order to limit the fastball use. While it is still better for him to throw these fastballs over the terrible changeup and cutter, his dependence on the pitch is limiting his work.
It was on balls in play that the fastballs differed, as hitters made far weaker contact on the pitch in 2013. It makes some sense that this would happen, seeing as though fastball was harder and therefore more difficult to get around on. But with hitters whiffing at the exact rate they did last season, you have to wonder if the results on balls in play are also due to luck.
The slider was hit-or-miss this season, with fewer called strikes but more whiffs. According to pitch type linear weights calculated by FanGraphs, the slider went from being a net positive in 2012 to a net negative last year, indicating that the trade-off was not successful overall. The decreased effectiveness of the pitch felt evident this year as we watched Eovaldi struggle to put hitters away all season long. The pitch never looked like a true out pitch this season.
The rest of his repertoire left much to be desired. The curveball looked just as bad this year as it did last season, and that is discouraging given that he was able to choose it as the sole lefty out-pitch on which to work. As was the case last year, he simply had little control over the pitch and never got hitters to bite, unlike his work with the slider.
Once again, we will grade Eovaldi's pitches based on the scouting 20-80 scale, in which 50 is the average and every ten points is a standard deviation above or below the mean.
Fastball (55): Heading into this analysis, I fully expected to move the fastball up to 60 given that Eovaldi's increased velocity was a major talking point and focus all year last season. But the statistics confirmed that many of the numbers from 2012 have not changed despite the increased speed in 2013. Part of that may be due to Eovaldi's increased usage causing a balance shift back to 2012 levels, but that means that hitters are still performing about as well as they were before. The ceiling for Eovaldi's fastball has increased, and the velocity may be playing a role in the pitch not getting beaten like it was before, but without tangible improvement in metrics outside of balls in play, it is difficult to justify upping the grade any further.
Slider (45): I lost a bit of confidence in the slider this season. The loss of control over the pitch was a major deterrent to its benefits, as Eovaldi was never able to get elite swing-and-miss rates out of the pitch before. The whiff rates improved this past year, but without his ability to get called strikes, the pitch looks significantly worse. This may be the most important pitch for him this year, if only because it will assure him that he can strike out righties and may help balance out his issues versus lefties.
Curveball (35): The curveball looked exactly the same as it did last season, and it did not look good last year. Without any control or threat of placing it in the zone, hitters can pass on the bender and let it land below their knees and out of the strike zone.
Despite the feeling that Eovaldi took a step forward in 2013, there is clearly much work left to be done here. His fastball improved, but not nearly as much as it felt like given the uptick in velocity. His slider looked worse, and he still does not have a third pitch. The 2014 season will reveal more of whether Eovaldi is ready to assume an important rotation role.