Nathan Eovaldi experienced another rough post All Star Break outing on Wednesday in a 6-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Left handed batters in particular seem to have been teeing off on Eovaldi. The second inning homer he allowed to Freddie Freeman is the third one he has given up to a lefty in 2 post All Star game starts. In fact, 9 of the 11 home runs he’s allowed this season have been hit by lefties. This got me to wondering if Eovaldi has a tough time against left handed hitters in general, so I decided to pull up his 2014 splits:
Wow, I did not realize it was this bad. Left handed hitters are killing Eovaldi, while he absolutely dominates right handers. His .257 weighted On Base Average (wOBA) allowed against right handed hitters ranks 8th best in the National League among 56 qualifying starters. While the .362 wOBA allowed against lefties ranks 48th of 56. Similarly in Home Runs allowed per 9 innings (HR/9) he ranks 4th best versus righties and 44th versus lefties.
So far, he has faced 85 more left handed batters than righties on the season and I would expect that trend to continue as opposing teams obviously know about the splits. Interestingly, in 2013 he did not have the same results as his wOBA allowed was actually better against lefties (.300) than right handed hitters (.302). The question then becomes – what has changed?
Eovaldi is known for his excellent fastball velocity, but questionable secondary pitches which leads to lower than expected strike out numbers. A look at his pitch usage against lefties this season shows an 11% drop in fastballs thrown. In 2013 he threw fastballs 73% of the time with the frequency dropping to 62% this season. Instead, the heater seems to have been replaced by the slider in most of these occasions as Eovaldi has thrown 18% sliders to lefties in 2014 versus just 10% in 2013.
The results show that left handed hitters are slugging .484 against his fastball this season versus just .306 in 2013. Likewise on the slider, lefties are slugging .587 this season versus just .296 last season. In other words, he is not getting them out with either pitch this season. The change in pitch mix may or may not be contributing to the problem, but there has definitely been a shift away from the fastball. Could this be due to a new signal caller behind the plate in Jarrod Saltalamacchia?
Whatever the reason for going away from the fastball to lefties, this new plan is certainly not working and a change needs to take place. My suggestion would be to go back to something that did work just a season ago and start pounding them with fastballs. It is far and away his best pitch, so he might as well useit as often as possible. Considering how good he has been against right handed hitters, an improvement to just league average against left handed batters could springboard Eovaldi into a top tier starter.