The Boston Red Sox square off against the New York Yankees this evening in a Wild Card matchup that is sure to be one for the ages. Though Yankees fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when Chris Sale pitched on Sunday, the Yankees still have their work cut out for them as the hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi is set to take the mound for Boston.
The Overall Numbers
Eovaldi, one-time Yankee, had a very good season. He pitched the most innings he has since 2014 (182.1), posted a career high strikeout percentage (9.63 percent), his lowest ERA since 2013 (3.75), lowest FIP of his career (2.79), and hit a new career-high with a 5.6 WAR.
But how did he fair against the Yankees? In 34 innings across six starts, Eovaldi struck out 34 batters and walked only four while pitching to a 3.71 ERA, 3.61 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. The Yankees slashed .279/.310/.434 against him, and posted a .320 wOBA. Additionally, though it is a comparison of small sample sizes, the Yankees hit more home runs—five—off of Eovaldi than any other team this year.
A Tale of Two Halves?
Though the season series against the Yankees started well for Eovaldi—he won his first two decisions by allowing just two earned runs (three total) and no walks while striking out 13 batters over 13.2 innings—his last four starts were not as successful.
The overall numbers since July make it look like Eovaldi has struggled against New York. In 20.1 innings pitched across four starts, he gave up 23 hits (three home runs), walked four batters, and struck out 21 while pitching to a 5.75 ERA. If you remove his September 24th implosion against the Yankees—seven earned runs with two walks, no strikeouts, and seven hits in just 2.2 innings pitched—from the equation, however, his numbers balance out and look really good. This is exactly why it’s important to acknowledge when working with small sample sizes—one bad game can change the whole picture.
How Does He Work?
Hard stuff early and in the zone followed by breaking stuff outside late is the recipe for success for Eovaldi. Here’s a look at his pitch breakdown:
Eovaldi leans on his four-seam fastball with 86th percentile velocity and strong horizontal movement. He keeps hitters off-balance, though, by throwing them a ton of stuff that moves, including a splitter with loads of vertical drop, as well as the occasional cutter.
Anything in red indicates an above-average pitch, meaning his slider, curveball, cutter, and four-seamer are all categorized as such, with his curveball teetering on the brink of elite. That means the Yankees’ hitters will be dealing with four above-average pitches when they step into the box tonight.
If you look in the hard hit percentage column, you’ll notice that the splitter is Eovaldi’s only pitch that gets hit hard. With an average launch angle of just eight degrees, though, this doesn’t bode well for a Yankees team that isn’t exactly adept at legging out grounders.
What should the Yankees approach be?
We already know that Eovaldi’s curveball—despite not having a ton of movement—is a lethal put-away pitch, but these graphics show that he doesn’t throw a ton of them in the zone. He does hit the zone quite frequently with his four-seamer and cutter, though. If we jump back up to the run values chart, these pitches resulted in a .360 and .351 wOBA respectively. Hitters were able to drive these pitches with more success, as they led to slugging percentages of .468 and .484. Of his 73 extra-base hits given up, 45 of them (61.6 percent) came on either his four-seamer or cutter.
The Yankees’ best bet is to take the same approach they took against Robbie Ray a few days ago. Eovaldi, like Ray, throws a ton of strikes but has a lethal breaking ball that doesn’t really hit the zone all that much. It is in the Yankees’ best interest to be aggressive with four-seamers and cutters in the zone, because Eovaldi’s curveball is good enough that strikeouts will start piling up if they allow him to get to two strikes. It sounds like common sense, but if the Yankees want to win this game, they need to lay off Eovaldi’s elite breaking ball and make him come into the zone with his fastball and cutter. Easier said than done, right?
The Yankees’ will look to make it seven straight victories against the Boston Red Sox tonight, but the offense still has their work cut out for them. If you need me, I will be on my couch, sweating profusely and on the verge of a heart attack for the fourth time in six years. Go Yankees!