Miami Marlins 2014 Review: Nathan Eovaldi Grade

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Nathan Eovaldi: D+

With just a few more players to review, we turn our sites on one of the Marlins top young pitchers, Nathan Eovaldi. Entering 2014, Eovaldi was thought of as a candidate for a breakout season by some in baseball. Much of this was due to his high-velocity fastball. With a fastball that jumped up by 2 MPH in average the year before, there was talk of improved secondary pitches that would allow Eovaldi to become a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, 2014 didn’t quite work out the way Nathan or the Marlins had planned. Sure his fastball was still whizzing by batters at an excellent 95.7 MPH average, but something more was missing. Eovaldi was simply unable to avoid costly innings on his way to a 6-14 record. He posted an ERA of 4.37 to go along with 142 strikeouts in just under 200 innings (199.2).

He was more accurate when taking into account his walk rate, an acceptable 1.94 BB/9IP. Even the advanced statistics were an improvement as he posted a FIP of 3.37. Those statistics would go on to paint a picture of a pitcher who was pretty unlucky and maybe deserved a better season than he experienced.

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Eovaldi’s BABIP was a stunningly high .323, almost 40 points higher than last year. Balls were simply finding places where fielders were not against Nathan. BABIP statistics are also useful for us to gauge how hard a pitcher is hit. The basic premise is the higher the percentage, the harder he was hit since hard hit balls have a tendency to find grass more often than their soft counterparts. Can we truly explain away Eovaldi’s 2014 season as bad luck though?

When you dig a little deeper, you begin to see some trends that point toward a bigger problem that Eovaldi will face moving forward. One of the more surprising numbers I saw was Nathan’s strikeout rate. For a power pitcher like Eovaldi to post a 6.40 K/9IP, that is a problem. I am not expecting Jose Fernandez numbers around 9.00, but that is almost a batter and a half less a game than someone of his talent should be accumulating.

Why does Eovaldi struggle to strike out hitters with his great fastball? Any MLB pitching coach will tell you that a fastball is only as good as the changeup you have to back it up. Eovaldi did improve his secondary pitches this year, unfortunately not the right ones. He threw his fastball 8% less than he did in 2013 (62.9%), instead relying more on his improved slider (24.6%). His changeup? He threw that 1.8% of the time. To say he wasn’t comfortable with it was an understatement.

I have heard people claim that any off speed pitch is fine at keeping hitters off-balance. That is not the case. Many sliders and curveballs are meant to be thrown outside the strike zone to induce hitters to swing. Changeups are meant to look like fastballs, and act like fastballs, but make hitters swing early at strikes.

It became pretty apparent as the season wore on that hitters were attacking Eovaldi the same way. They would lay off any pitch that had any sort of sideways spin, trusting that he wasn’t trying to drop a backdoor slider in on them, and attack any pitch that had the natural backspin, knowing that there was virtually no chance that it was a changeup.

The fact that his fastball posted a runs above average of 0.3, is a testament to just how good that fastball was. Unfortunately, all of his remaining pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) earned negative values.

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This ties back in with the high BABIP on balls in play. The fastball was the pitch of choice to attack, and once they finally caught up to it, it was more likely to go for a hit due to the velocity of it.

The good news is that all is not lost. I do wish that a midseason adjustment would have been possible for Eovaldi, but hopefully they are using this offseason to develop a pitch to keep hitters honest. If he is unable to even adequately master a changeup, Eovaldi will not have a long career in the majors as a starter. Fortunately, it is much easier to teach a changeup, than to teach 98-99 MPH on the radar gun.

I am looking forward to watching Nathan progress. He is still a young pitcher with loads of talent. Worse case scenario, he could come out of the bullpen throwing triple digits and help out almost any team looking for late inning assistance. I am not grading on potential though, I am grading on 2014, and for that, I gave him a D+.

What about you? Let us know your grade in the comments below. Do you think that Eovaldi is a pitcher in the Marlins future? Drop us a line!

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