There was a time earlier in this season when a Nathan Eovaldi start would bring a certain level of dread. We all saw his numbers with the Miami Marlins and his early results with the Yankees were not all that different. Here we are in July and at least the palms don't get a bit sweaty until the fifth inning. That is progress. And if you look closely at the numbers, Eovaldi is evolving and there is the hope that the Yankees have themselves a pitcher here.
The big thing going for Eovaldi is that despite the lack of success his "stuff" produced, the "stuff" was there and he is only 25-years-old. Like the old line in the Alladin movie, "He can be taught!" The result of that teaching is starting to pay off.
In Eovaldi's last six starts, he has pitched 33.1 innings and has allowed 30 hits. That is fairly significant an evolution as the one hallmark of Eovaldi's entire career is giving up a bunch of hits. He has allowed 9.8 hits per nine innings for his career and was at 10.0 last year and a whopping 11.3 this year. Seeing that rate shift to 8.1 hits per nine in his last six starts is encouraging.
But the biggest level of the evolution of Nathan Eovaldi is his pitch selection. Eovaldi has never thrown a split-fingered pitch before 2015. Now it is a pitch he throws nearly thirteen percent of the time. According to Fangraphs.com, the pitch has become Eovaldi's most effective pitch at seven runs above average for the season. I should caution here that Fangraphs calls it a change-up and PitchF/X calls it a splitter. Whatever you want to call it, the pitch is certainly a big part of the game plan now.
For the first time in his entire five-year career, less than 50% of Eovaldi's pitches are fastballs. And of those fastballs, he has eliminated the two-seam fastball altogether. Eovaldi also used to dabble with a cutter and that pitch is gone too.
This means that despite throwing 100 MPH as he did on several first-inning pitches last night, his repertoire includes four pitches: The four-seam fastball which he throws 49.5% of the time, the splitter at 12.7%, the slider at 25.6% of the time and the curve at 10.7%. It is a recipe that is starting to produce better results.
In the broadcast last night, I thought an excellent point was brought up when it was mentioned that Alex Rodriguez was asked why Eovaldi gave up so many hits despite throwing the ball so hard. A-Rod mentioned that all the fastballs were around the knees where batters have a better chance of catching up to the pitch. That makes a lot of sense.
You can see a concerted effort to get Eovaldi to throw his fastballs higher in the zone. Stacey is the queen of heat maps, so maybe she can show if he is actually throwing more fastballs up in the zone or not. But the observation last night was that maybe he is. The formula of throwing fastballs up in the zone and the split-fingered pitch lower in the zone should eventually lead to a higher strikeout rate and weaker contact.
All of this is not to say that Eovaldi has become a good pitcher. His strikeout rate is still lower than it should be and he is still basically a five inning pitcher. I do have to wonder if Eovaldi would do better now in the sixth and seventh and Joe Girardi just doesn't dare trust him to go longer than five plus.
Girardi would have every good reason to not trust Eovaldi later in the game. The pitcher's stats the third time facing a batting order and after a certain pitch count are atrocious. But you still have to wonder if the evolution of Eovaldi would warrant dangling a little more slack in that rope.
Most of us were angry when the decision was made a while back to put Adam Warren in the bullpen instead of Nathan Eovaldi. And we had a point. But Eovaldi is too tempting a project to cut off and slowly but surely, the results are getting better. At Eovaldi's young age, if the Yankees can make a pitcher out of him and his stuff, the decision could pay off in years to come.