Nathan Eovaldi has had a fascinating six-year career, debuting at age 21 and spending time with three different MLB clubs already. The word that best perhaps describe him though is "inconsistent." Eovaldi has no doubt flashed talent, but piecing it together has been the one thing holding him back from being a daunting force on the mound. After the first month of the 2016 season however, it looks like the Yankees may be seeing that development before their very eyes.
The 2015 season was a big step in the right direction for Eovaldi. Going to a bona fide bandbox in the form of Yankee Stadium as well as the DH-friendly American League could have harmed Eovaldi's numbers, but they didn't. In fact, Eovaldi was better in the 78.1 innings he pitched at home in 2015 than he was in the 76 innings he pitched on the road in nearly every single statistical category. He induced a slash line of .238/.307/.333 at home and when juxtaposed with the .323/.370/.419 mark on the road, the former looks downright gaudy. There's reason to believe that the young righthander for the Yankees is poised for an even better season in 2016.
It's important to look at both sides of the story though. In 2016, the script has been flipped early on. Eovaldi's numbers look outstanding on the road but egregious at home. He has yielded a 6.55 ERA which pushes his total ERA to 4.38. That combined with a 1-2 record might make an observer think, "Wow, Eovaldi is off to a dismal start."
However, there are many underlying causes. For one, Eovaldi's BABIP at home is a whopping .400. People were asking what's wrong with Clayton Kershaw when his BABIP was at .378 last April, so it seems foolish to say that Eovaldi is broken. That type of number is just too high to be sustainable over the course of a season. His career BABIP stands at .315 and while those numbers do increase on a year-by-year basis in his career, it shouldn't warrant much concern quite yet. By the end of May, fans should expect to see that number begin to taper off. For whatever it's worth, Eovaldi already shaved off roughly .060 points off his BABIP after his stellar outing in Arlington on Monday night. So work has already being done.
Like Kershaw, Eovaldi is posting a very high K/9 in the first month of the season. Eovaldi's doesn't quite touch Kershaw's mark of 12.35 that month, but it still stands at a very respectable rate of 10.22. That mark sits him 14th in MLB through April 28th, hovering around the company of Jerad Eickhoff, Drew Smyly, Aaron Nola, and Danny Salazar among others. Eovaldi's K% is at 28.0 percent, which puts him at No. 15 entering Tuesday, right around Jaime Garcia, Stephen Strasburg, Salazar, Eikhoff and Kershaw as well. That is pretty solid company. If the strikeouts keep coming, then success should too.
Speaking of strikeouts, and perhaps more importantly, swings and misses, Eovaldi looks sharp there, too. Going into 2015, Eovaldi never had a swinging strike rate better than 8.9 percent, which was his first year as a major leaguer back in 2011. Through April 28, his SwStr% has ballooned up to 9.9 percent through the first month of the season. That number may not be quite the level of Noah Syndergaard, David Price, Cole Hamels, Corey Kluber or even his teammates Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka but growth is growth, no matter how you slice it.
Eovaldi has been getting off to hot starts when he gets on the mound, too. He has thrown first-pitch strikes at a rate of 65.0 percent per FanGraphs, roughly two percent better than his previous career-best of 62.9 in 2014 with the Marlins. Getting ahead early in the counts typically leads to sustaining of confidence, something that he could most certainly benefit from going forward.
It might also be worth noting that Eovaldi may have found 'his' pitch. The usage of his four seam fastball still ranks at the top of the chart, but if one takes a look at his pitch selection since he debuted in pinstripes last season, a trend is noticeable:
The splitter, slowly but surely is rising up the charts. It was used only 5.87 percent of the time in April 2015. By September, Eovaldi doled it out 34.31 percent of the time. As far as raw pitch counts go, Eovaldi used it 22 times in April, and 172 times in August 2015, a jump worth 681.82 percent (!!). As the chart shows above, Eovaldi's splitter is currently second percentage of pitches standing at 27.14 percent and has been used 127 times in April 2016. The pitch has also been very effective in inducing whiffs, doing so 26 times, good for a whiff rate of 20.47 percent per BrooksBaseball.net. That's the more than any pitch Eovaldi has utilized thus far this season.
Eovaldi should be able to harness the power of his splitter going forward, especially if these trends continue. If he does, and his effectiveness on the mound continues, then he's poised to be even better in pinstripes in 2016 than he was in 2015. With a little luck, things will even themselves from how they started this season with his lofty BABIP, and his ability to get strikeouts at high rates should make him a daunting force on the mound for all who oppose him in the batters box.