Revisiting Eovaldi | The Process Report

Revisiting Eovaldi

Back in February, we looked at what the Rays could do with Nathan Eovaldi. We were a bit pessimistic  on what he would be able to do coming off a second Tommy John and speculated he could work out of the bullpen late in games. This speculation came while the trade rumors around Alex Colome were hot and heavy, and while Brent Honeywell still had a healthy UCL. Colome was indeed traded, but that happened nearly two months into the season. Honeywell’s UCL snapped about a month after the initial article was written, and Eovaldi’s season has worked out much differently than we speculated.

Eovaldi has made ten starts for the club after a late start to the season and has posted career bests in a number of categories. His 24 percent strikeout rate is five percentage points above his previous career best. His 11 percent swinging strike rate is the first time he has had a double-digit result in that category for his career. His 20 percent K-BB rate is nearly double his previous career best and his 3.46 SIERA is the lowest of his career by nearly half a run. The biggest blemish on his record is the 11 home runs in 57 innings of work, but eight of those have been solo shots, including the three the Astros hit off him when he was left in the game to face their lineup a third time through. Eovaldi’s struggles with the lineup the third time through are well-documented, and there have been times Kevin Cash has needed him to get a little length to give Jonny Bullpen some additional rest.

Truth be told, the Rays did not really know what they were getting when they inked Eovaldi to a two-year deal in which he would spend the first half of the deal rehabbing from a second Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi wrapped up his time with the Yankees by adding a cutter to his repertoire late in the season as he began to mostly resemble the pitcher we see today in Tampa Bay. The pitch came out of nowhere around the All-Star Break and quickly became his secondary pitch as he cut back on the usage of his splitter and slider:

Eovaldi’s cutter has the second highest average velocity (92.7) for all pitchers with at least 200 cutters thrown in 2018, trailing on Bryan Shaw (94.6) on the StatCast leaderboard. That average was pushed up a bit as 18 of the 20 hardest cutters he has thrown all season came in his most recent outing against Miami on July 20th. He threw 13 cutters at least 95.0 mph and a total of 18 if you round up by the nearest tenth, which gives us the recent spike on the chart below. Perhaps working on seven days rest does the rebuilt arm good:

 

The kind folks at @qopbaseball were kind enough to share with us a Pitch Quality report for Eovaldi. Their scale, the QOPA scale, has the following score benchmarks (calculation notes here):

 

The chart below shows how Eovaldi’s overall pitching grades on their scale as well as a breakdown of each pitch by score, where that score ranks amongst all pitchers, and how the velocity of that pitch ranks against all pitchers:

Only his slider grades out as “good quality” pitch, but the combination of his pitches are making the sum better than the individual parts. The particular pairing that has been effective is how his remora cutter has attached to his shark fastball.

When you see him throw the cutter like this (thanks to @pitchingninja for the gifs), it is easy to see why it has been such a weapon for him this season. The first gif is the cutter isolated to show how the pitch was changing time zones on its way to the plate. The second image shows how the cutter plays off his fastball; the 98 mph heater was fouled off late, but by the time Brian Anderson recognizes the cutter, he runs out of bat:

The two pitches have worked very well in concert with one another this season, as Fangraphs’s Jeff Sullivan pointed out two weeks ago when he declared Eovaldi may be the best starting pitcher on the market this month. The process to Rafael Devers is the opposite of how he attacked Anderson; the cutter set up the fastball here:

 

It is worth revisiting the fact Eovaldi has been asked to pitch deeper into some games than the statistics argue he should. The fact that the rotation has been incomplete all season, plus the fact The Opener strategy was berthed more from necessity than desire, the veteran had to do more than expected. His TTOP coming into the season had been historically high, but it zoomed off the charts in 2016 before he went down with his injury. If we update that same chart with this year’s data, we see the problem has not gotten any better this year:

He has been permitted to face 40 batters a third time in a game, and five of his 11 homers have been hit by those batters. That extra bit of exposure has as added 1.17 runs to his ERA as his 3.09 ERA the first time through the order gets smacked by a 7.20 ERA when he is left in the game beyond 18 batters. This gets back to the sum being better than the individual parts. Eovaldi has thrown four different pitch types at least 100 times this season, but that TTOP is more representative of someone with a more limited repertoire. He has altered his approach to batters during the TTOP, but it has done nothing to reduce the damage:

The five homers he has permitted ruing the TTOP have come off two four-seamers, a splitter, a cutter, and a slider. Four of the five were solo shots, but most damaging homer was earlier this month when he was left in to face Joe Mauer a third time with two runners on base. Eovaldi clearly had his worst stuff of the season in this outing as the Twins had already batted around on him in the first inning, and so he was seeing Mauer for a third consecutive inning and Mauer homered on the last pitch Eovaldi threw in that contest.

Hanselman’s excellent breakdown of the team’s hitting and pitching numbers the other day shows that Eovaldi has mostly been able to outpitch his expected outcomes over the course of the season, this despite only once avoiding the top of the lineup a third time.

Eovaldi had a 46 point difference in his R/L splits by wOBA – .298 vs RHB and .344 vs LHB. This season, the split is slightly higher with lefties at a .319 wOBA over 104 plate appearances, but righties are down to a .261 wOBA against him over 120 plate appearances. Hanselman’s mega-chart shows that Eovaldi could be doing much worse against lefties based on his xwOBA being 19 percent higher than his actual, and that he has out-performed his expected outcomes by nine percent against righties. That is how that dotted red line has remained mostly below the solid red line in the image above this season.

The traditional stat line splits for Eovaldi look as such:

The number that jumps out is the high slugging and ERA against righties considering the other metrics are so dominant. A big part of that came in three consecutive plate appearances in one of those outings when Eovaldi was asked to give the bullpen a little more rest and was left in to face the league’s hottest lineup a third time through:

At the end of the day, Tampa Bay has received a positive return on a pitcher they signed that had not thrown a baseball since August of 2016. They waited him out last year, and again this year after a late finger injury in camp, and are now in a position to flip him to a contender to get something for what was viewed as a nothing signing when it happened (much like they may be with Jonny Venters).

A contending team with a deep bullpen that has the luxury to pull Eovaldi a batter early and is trying to match up with potential playoff contenders that have a heavy dose of right-handed batters in their lineup would be well-served to consider adding Eovaldi before the trade deadline. He has faced 72 batters from the likes of New York, Houston, Oakland, and Seattle this season and his numbers the first two times through the order against those teams: .169/.181/.366 triple-slash with a .231 wOBA.

There are two teams missing from that discussion as Eovaldi has faced neither Boston nor Cleveland this season. Cleveland just went out and deepened their bullpen with Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. They have a large gap to make up in order to clinch a first-round bye, but given their terrible division, it is not impossible. Cleveland could use Eovaldi in their rotation the rest of this season behind Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco. They could then shift him to the bullpen in the post-season to give the club even more depth in the pen and allow Eovaldi to either come in to patch the leaks if one of the starters melts down early or to be used in higher leverage situations in later innings when the lineup is stacked right righties.

Alternatively, the Cubs have a more desperate need for starting pitching with Tyler Chatwood‘s command still AWOL as well as Jose Quintana‘s shoulder barking . The National League rules would make it easier for Joe Maddon to extract Eovaldi from the game before it got too late, but JoeMo has not done well this season with Quintana who has an even worse TTOP than Eovaldi.

Simply put, it has been fun watching Eovaldi pitch this season and we are happy he has exceeded our initial expectations and speculation. Hopefully, he brings something back on the trade market that can eventually do the same down the line.



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