The familiar mantra in baseball circles is that "you can never have too much pitching" and said mantra usually applies doubly when it comes to starting pitching. However, with the long-awaited return of Ivan Nova from his date with the knife and Tommy John's namesake medical procedure, the Yankees are faced with the same proverbial dilemma.
Although Joe Girardi has committed to going with a six-man staff for at least one turn through the rotation, as our neighbors in Flushing will attest to, six-man rotations don't work for very long. For those of you keeping score at home, the calculus of the situation means that someone is going to be relegated to a bullpen role. The popular sentiment among those who seem to be "in the know", is that Adam Warren will the "odd man out" because of his prior in a similar role and the Bombers' current need for a right-handed reliever, specifically one capable of bridging the gap to Dellin Betances in the Ninth.
Despite the fact that Warren may seem like the obvious choice, you have to consider the way the baseball landscape has changed recently, especially the way bullpens have evolved from a band of misfits consisting of specialists and guys who weren't quite good enough to be starters to a collection of flame-throwers capable of shortening games and spelling mediocre starting staffs. One needs not look any further than the Kansas City Royals for an example of what a bullpen full of power arms capable of lighting up all three digits of the radar gun can do for a team.
Right now (when healthy) the Yankees have two-thirds of a Royals-esque bullpen with the combo of Betances and Miller in the eighth and ninth inning but have yet to really find that seventh-inning bridge and given the recent flurry of roster moves, it's safe to say that they are still searching. However, their solution was likely sitting right under their noses the whole time, miscast as a starting pitcher because of his youth and electric stuff; for all of you expert deductive reasoners, we're talking about Nathan Eovaldi of course.
The Yankees traded for Eovaldi this off-season in large part because of his age (25 years old) to a staff that had aged considerably over the past few years and also because of his electric fastball, which is on average the fastest among all starters in the Majors at 95.9 MPH. However, despite his ability to light up the radar gun, hitters have been able to tee off on his vaunted fastball as opposing hitters are batting .313 off of Eovaldi and eye-popping .358 on balls in play, which represent the worst and second-worst marks, respectively among all Major League starters.
Matthew Kory of Fangraphs made a similar observation about Eovaldi recently given how poor his numbers are despite having such a formidable heater. Korry compared Eovaldi to several pitchers including Lance Lynn and Corey Kluber to try and figure out what they were doing right or different than Eovaldi. The overall conclusion is that despite his unbelievable velocity, Eovaldi's fastball has very little movement compared to a Corey Kluber nor does he have the height advantage a Lance Lynn does at 6"5 that would enable him to fool hitters with his arm angle and release point. It's clear that without the development of some plus secondary pitches that are capable of producing swings and misses, the 25-year old right-hander will continue to be plagued by inconsistency. That said, teams like the Yankees won't be too quick to give up on a player like Eovaldi who possesses very rare raw talent but the question then becomes would moving him to the bullpen be considered giving up?
It is not unprecedented for the Yankees to move players who project as Starters to the bullpen in the thick of a pennant race (See Phil Hughes 2009) and given his inconsistency and their need for the long sought after bridge to the eighth and ninth-inning guys, it feels like it would be a natural fit, or if nothing else, an interesting experiment. By the numbers, Eovaldi is among the hardest throwers in baseball and throwing him into the mix in a bullpen that already has a pair of closer-caliber flame throwers could make this club a real contender as opposed to a team that is simply hanging around in a less-than-stellar AL East. The Yankees already know Warren is a more-than-capable bullpen arm but they are now finding out that he can hold his own as a Starter as well and has only improved in that role as the season has gone on. On the other hand, Eovaldi's numbers as a starter speak for themselves and given the current rotation log-jam, it would make sense to see if his power arm is capable of mowing hitters down on a more consistent basis from the bullpen while filling a much-need hole.