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Nathan Eovaldi's new slider could propel him to new heights

Nathan Eovaldi is throwing his slider about five miles per hour faster than he did last year. How can this adjustment help him going forward?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

It was the same old story for Nathan Eovaldi during his first start of the 2016 season. The Texas native might have been out of his element in the chilly New York weather, but Eovaldi was unable to put Astros hitters away. Due to a frustrating amount of two strike foul balls, Eovaldi had to be lifted after five innings and 94 pitches. (Here is the box score from that game.)

However, his new slider was significantly less familiar. After throwing his slider at an average 85 mph in 2015, Eovaldi's 21 sliders on Thursday clocked in at an average 90.8 mph. When the Yankees traded for Eovaldi during the 2014-2015 offseason, he really only threw a fastball and slider, but his breaking ball took a step back during the 2015 season. By the end of the year, his newfound splitter became more of a go to put away pitch.

Interestingly, Pitch F/X data from his April 1st spring training start classified the pitch as a cutter. It may very well be the case that Eovaldi tightened his slider up into a cutter, but when a guy throws 100 mph, a 90 mph slider isn't unimaginable. Either way, the new pitch could be what finally gets Nasty Nate over the hump.

Historically, Eovaldi's biggest issue has been getting left-handed hitters out. For some reason, lefties have no trouble at all with his fastball, even though it sits in the upper 90's. There are multiple theories as to why this is the case, including a low spin rate on his fastball and Eovaldi's apparent inability to command his fastball within the strike zone.

His mid 80's slider never really helped him against lefties either. In any case, adding a cutter-like pitch to the mix can help him against lefties, especially if he can spot it on the hands. In addition to having a reputation as being effective against opposite handed hitters, cutters are often associated with pitchers who try to get quick, weak contact. For someone who often finds himself at 90 to 100 pitches after five innings, a cutter could help him become more efficient as a pitcher.

Of course, there are still consequences for failing to locate his new pitch. On Thursday, Astros outfielder Preston Tucker was able to turn on an 89 mph offering that caught too much of the plate, launching a home run into the second deck in right field.

In order to add velocity to his slider, Eovaldi has had to sacrifice some of the movement he used to get. According to a small sample of Pitch F/X data, Eovaldi was getting around four more inches of vertical movement on his slider last year. However, weird data from Masahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel, who pitched on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, suggest that the Yankees' Pitch F/X technology might need to be recalibrated. Still, if Eovaldi is throwing a cutter-like pitch, he can't count on getting the same vertical depth that he is used to seeing.

Another potential downside Eovaldi's adjustments is the stigma surrounding cutters. Several scouts, pitching coaches, and executives in the baseball community believe that throwing cutters can lead to injury, and/or that the pitch is generally useless. Orioles GM Dan Duquette has gone as far as banning the cutter for all of Baltimore's pitching prospects, telling them that they are better off developing a curveball if they want a platoon-neutral breaking ball. If Eovaldi has indeed shifted to a more cutter-esque grip, he is adding it to a repertoire that already includes a 100 mph fastball and a splitter, two pitches that are often associated with injuries.

Even with his injury history, it is still be a risk worth taking. Throwing close to 20 pitches per inning is also considered to be harmful to a pitcher's health, so adding a pitch that can help him get out of innings quicker could actually improve his health. Furthermore, on Thursday's start against the Astros, he quietly picked up seven strikeouts in five innings, without walking anyone. It is possible that he likes his new slider better because he finds it easier to command. Either way, Eovaldi and his revamped slider will be an interesting storyline to watch.

Data is courtesy of Brooks Baseball.