Jake Arrieta is a right-handed starter that started his career off poorly. His superficial statistics were bad, and while his peripheral statistics weren't much better, there were reasons for optimism. He was then discarded by his old team, the Orioles, in exchange for a lackluster return (Scott Feldman). After arriving to his new home, he was a different pitcher. Thanks to a new pitch (slider-cutter), he became increasingly effective. It culminated in him becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball and winning a Cy Young.
There are some signs that suggest that Nathan Eovaldi has a chance to undergo a similar career turnaround, as there are some undeniable parallels between them.
Eovaldi is a right-handed starter that started his career off poorly. His superficial statistics were below average (but not Arrieta bad), and while his peripheral statistics weren't much better, there were reasons for optimism. He was then discarded by his old team, the Marlins (and Dodgers previously), in exchange for a lackluster return (Martin Prado and David Phelps). After arriving to his new home, he was a different pitcher. Thanks to a new pitch (splitter), he became increasingly effective. It culminated in...
The Yankees hope that comparison finishes like Arrieta's did, but it's unreasonable to expect that. It's not, however, absurd to think that Eovaldi could also develop nicely and end up being a frontline starter.
Here's a further breakdown of Eovaldi and Arrieta early in their careers. Their numbers through their first four seasons are as follows:
|Jake Arrieta (2010-2013)||409.2||6.90||4.02||5.23||4.45||1.43|
|Nathan Eovaldi (2011-2014)||460||6.28||2.93||4.07||4.14||1.38|
Eovaldi's numbers were better across the board outside of K/9, but both really struggled. They didn't strike many guys out, had less than stellar control (Arrieta particularly), and allowed a ton of base runners. From 2010-2012, Arrieta had the fourth highest ERA in baseball among pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched. Overall, his ERA with Baltimore was 5.46. The Orioles had seen enough and dealt him to Chicago during the 2013 season. Eovaldi, meanwhile, was coming off a 2014 season in which he led the NL in hits allowed, posted the highest ERA of his career, and just wasn't striking many batters out despite his mid-high 90s fastball.
On the surface, it's understandable why the Orioles and Marlins dealt them in packages for average, at best, players. However, both did show encouraging signs that suggested things could get better.
In 2012 with Baltimore, Arrieta was 3-9 with a paltry 6.20 ERA over 114.2 innings; that is almost unfathomably bad. Looking deeper, however, Arrieta was actually becoming a better pitcher. He began to locate his pitches more effectively, posting the highest K/9 (8.56) and lowest BB/9 (2.75) of his career. He was allowing less hard contact (just 25.6% of the time), and his pitches were becoming more effective; his fastball and curveball had the highest PITCHf/x values of his career. Add it all up, and he posted a very solid 3.66 SIERA and 3.65 xFIP that season.
Similarly, Eovaldi's 2014 was better than it actually appeared. A 6-14 record, 4.37 ERA, and 223 hits allowed left much to be desired, but underneath the surface, he was improving. His K/9 was still stagnant at 6.4, but he walking less than two batters per nine innings, the best mark of his career. He also produced more ground balls and less hard contact than the previous season. Overall, he posted the best FIP, xFIP, and SIERA of his career (3.37/3.78/3.91), more predictive measures than ERA.
In Arrieta's case, a change of scenery immediately helped. After posting a 7.23 ERA with Baltimore in 2013, he posted a 3.66 ERA over nine starts after being traded to the Cubs. His peripheral statistics still left much to be desired, though. It's 2014 that is really viewed as the breakout season of his career. Over 25 starts, he went 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA and the advanced metrics backed him up. He posted a 2.26 FIP, 2.83 SIERA, the highest GB% of his career, and allowed less hard contact than ever. Pick any stat you want, Arrieta's breakout was legit.
The change of scenery may have helped, but not as much as the development of his slider-cutter hybrid pitch did. It's tough to classify the pitch, as Baseball Info Solutions lists it as a cutter while PITCHf/x classifies it as a slider. Arrieta himself isn't sure what it is, as he holds the same grip on it all the time, but can manipulate the movement and velocity. Eno Sarris of FanGraphs does a great job of breaking it down.
Whatever it is, it's filthy. He began throwing it a lot in 2014 (almost 30% of the time) after working hard on the mechanics of it, and it clearly paid off. Baseball Info Solutions had the "cutter" at 15 runs above average that season; PITCHf/x had the "slider" at 15.4 runs above average. In 2015, the pitch became even more effective, and it helped him become a better pitcher overall. We all know how that season went down. He won 22 games, had a 1.77 ERA and won the Cy Young.
That brings us to Eovaldi and his splitter. As last season progressed, Eovaldi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked on developing a splitter for Eovaldi. On June 16, he gave up eight runs and recorded just two outs against the Marlins. His ERA was at 5.12. After that disastrous outing, they adjusted the grip on his splitter and it paid immediate dividends.
He posted a 3.43 ERA down the stretch before landing on the DL with elbow inflammation; at times, he looked like the Yankees' best pitcher. Eovaldi started missing more bats and striking more guys out. He posted a 7.61 K/9 from that point on. If extrapolated over a full season, it would've been the highest of his career. The splitter was just great. It was 9.4 runs above average per PITCHf/x, and overall his whiff rate on it was 17% (Brooks Baseball), the best of all his pitches.
This will be Eovaldi's first full season throwing a splitter, and Yankee fans are excited to see how it's going to go. Look, I am not proclaiming that Eovaldi is going to become as good as Arrieta, win the Cy Young, and have a sub-2.00 ERA. However, there are parallels that clearly exist between the two. Arrieta is a prime example of how a change of scenery and a new pitch can completely change a pitcher. He's obviously an extreme example, but "Nasty Nate" is another pitcher who can really benefit from those things.
You can't expect a 1.77 ERA from Eovaldi this season. You can, however, expect and hope that Eovaldi continues to improve as a pitcher thanks to his splitter, and becomes a reliable 2 or 3 starter that eats innings, and does so effectively.
Statistics provided by FanGraphs unless otherwise noted