Is Nathan Eovaldi a Bad Pitcher?

chrislogel
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The Marlins lost to the Mets 9-1 in a game that was an absolute blowout. Nathan Eovaldi was, yet again, hammered in his appearance as he gave up 6 earned runs in 4.1 innings pitched. This makes 26 earned runs allowed in his last 7 appearances. He has 6 losses in his last 7 games, with 1 no decision. His 4.48 ERA is more than a run higher than his 2013 campaign.

All this has contributed to the question that must be asked. Is Nathan Eovaldi bad?

In the current age of viewing baseball players, there seem to be two competing sides. On one hand, you have the analytical side that utilizes advanced metrics and fancy sounding statistics to attempt to predict what a player could be.

The other side of the coin would be the group that believes they know a good ball player when they see one, and that a scouting eye is more predictive than some silly stat, (Unless that stat is an RBI since that directly leads to runs).

So let’s look at this from both perspectives. My eyes tell me that Eovaldi is a worse pitcher than last year, by a large margin. His fastball looks slower, with less movement. He seems to struggle with location, routinely grooving baseballs down the middle of the plate. His offspeed pitches are flatter, with less control, and he has shown an inability to pitch out of jams.

But what do the advanced metrics say? Believe it or not, they say he has pitched better this year than last year.

Eovaldi’s Fielding Independent Pitching stat (FIP) is 3.43 so far in 2014. You can think of this stat similarly as ERA, but its idea is to remove the luck and randomness that exists in the ERA stat. His 2014 FIP is actually better than 2013, when he posted a 3.59.

According to FIP, Eovaldi has actually been an average pitcher this year, but why does he take so many losses and allow so many runs?

For this answer, I believe that we can take a look at what FanGraphs has to say about FIP.

"“As a result, a statistic that estimates their ERA based on their strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs while assuming average luck on balls in play, defense, and sequencing is a better reflection of that pitcher’s performance over a given period of time.”"

To me, the key word in this sentence is “sequencing”. The order in which things happen matter greatly in baseball. FanGraphs uses the example of having 2 outs and allowing a single, single, and a home run and an out. In that scenario you just gave up 3 runs. Reverse that order of hits and you allow 1 run, a couple of singles, and strand the runners on base with an inning ending out.

According to research, sequencing is random. This is where I feel like more research is necessary. Certainly sequencing is more difficult to control, but some pitchers seem to do a better job of it than others.

It means getting that crucial strike out with runners on base. It means inducing that much-needed ground ball for a double play. Take a look at Eovaldi’s start last night. The first 3 innings he allowed 1 hit and was largely cruising, until he reached the 4th.

After 3 hitters, he had a runner at 2nd base with 2 outs. Any out gets him out of the inning and he is still in great shape. However from that point, he allowed a double, single, walk and double allowing 4 runs to score. He was unable to get that final out until Bartolo Colon came to the plate. 4 hits, 4 runs.

That, in a microcosm, has been Eovaldi’s season. Contrast that with Colon’s pitching the next inning. Colon actually allowed 3 hits, and had the bases loaded with 1 out, and didn’t allow a single run. 3 hits, 0 runs.

That is not to say that Colon pitched particularly better than Eovaldi on the night. As a matter of fact, through Colon’s 7.2 innings, he allowed 12 hits. That is more per inning than Eovaldi’s 6 hits in 4.1 innings. It was the sequencing that allowed Colon to only surrender 1 run and Eovaldi to surrender 6.

The whole night would be like that for the Fish. Miami out-hit the Mets 13-12, yet were outscored 9-1. Some of that could certainly be blamed on a suddenly replacement level lineup sorely missing Giancarlo Stanton. I would counter and say a Mets lineup without David Wright is not that much better.

So what does all this tell us? Is Eovaldi just incredibly unlucky, or after a while, an unlucky stretch that continues just becomes who you are? Is the sequencing truly completely random, or does Eovaldi melt when the pressure is turned up?

I believe, particularly with a young pitcher like Eovaldi, that things have a tendency to snowball. He has to have the feeling of “oh no, not again” every time he runs into a jam.

All of this could be changed with some confidence, or not, but I am not willing to give up on Nathan Eovaldi just yet. This season has shown that he has some significant room for improvement over the offseason. Hopefully Miami has the coaching staff that can help him get to where his talent says he can be.

What do you think about Eovaldi? Have you seen enough? Would you be looking to trade him? Let us know in the comments below!

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