Has Yankees Fireballer Nathan Eovaldi Made a Breakthrough?

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The New York Yankees’ Nathan Eovaldi throws a very hard fastball. Like most pitchers, the statistics do not tell all you need to know about him. Thus far his second year with the Bronx Bombers has seen him give up 23 gopher balls. Ian York examines Eovaldi’s hard fastball and the surprising recent effectiveness of his cutter.

Only a handful of pitchers have a higher average velocity on their fastball than Nathan Eovaldi, and only two of those (Noah Syndergaard and James Paxton) are also starting pitchers. This chart shows fastball velocity for pitchers who have thrown more than 250 four-seam fastballs in a season. Eovaldi’s is the red dot:

He entered the majors in 2011 with a fastball that was already in the upper tier (94.6 mph average) and has increased his velocity since then; in 2016 he has averaged 97.5 mph, and regularly tops 100 mph.

Nor is Eovaldi just a one-trick pony. In addition to his four-seam fastball (“FF” in these charts), he throws a slider (“SL”), split-finger fastball (“FS”), cutter (“FC”), and curve (“CU”). His pitches have good speed separation, and decent movement:

And yet, Eovaldi has been a fairly mediocre pitcher so far in his career, with a career ERA+ of just 93. He is living down to expectations in 2016, with an ERA of 4.80 (ERA+ of 89). However, Eovaldi’s last four starts have been much better: ERA of 3.60, compared to the 5.11 ERA he put up over the previous 19 games.

Interestingly, in those last four games Eovaldi has changed his pitch selection significantly:

After flirting with a cutter during the first few starts of the season, Eovaldi abandoned the pitch for most of May and June. In his last four appearances, though, he fully committed to the cutter, using it aggressively. He also dropped his curve altogether, and cut back on the splitter and on his fastball as well.

It isn’t surprising that he would get better results by using a cutter instead of his curve. His cutter has been a very effective pitch, while his curve has simply been bad. Looking at total bases per 100 pitches:

Total bases per 100 pitches
Average Eovaldi
Fastball 9.8 8.4
Slider 8.8 16.3
Splitter 10.2 12.7
Curve 7.9 20.5
Cutter 9.8 5.0

Eovaldi’s fastball, not surprisingly, is an above-average pitch, while his splitter is slightly below average but not terrible. His slider is hit hard, but he probably needs to keep a breaking pitch in his repertoire to help set up his other pitches. Since he essentially only used his curve on 0-0 counts (13% of 0-0 counts; 1.25% of all other counts) it’s unlikely that he will miss it much.

Is Eovaldi’s cutter a genuinely excellent pitch, or is he getting the benefit of surprise by throwing an unexpected pitch? At this point, the surprise will have gone out of his offering, so if the fairy dust is going to wear off we could see him regressing to his usual outcomes in the next few games. If the cutter is for real, Eovaldi may become an above-average pitcher.


Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork.

All data compiled from PITCHf/x and Baseball-Reference.com.

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Ian is an immunologist and virologist who lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons. Most of his time is spent driving his kids to baseball and soccer games, during which he indoctrinates his children on the glories of Pedro Martinez, the many virtues of the Montreal Expos, and other important information.

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