What About Shifting Eovaldi to the Bullpen?

What if “Nasty Nate” could be even more nasty from the ‘pen?

Here’s a crazy idea for the Yankees to consider: what about moving Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen?  While it may seem sudden and unprecedented to move a 25-year-old pitcher oozing talent you just traded for to the bullpen, let’s analyze why the best way for Eovaldi to help the Yankees would be as a short reliever.

Reason 1: Eovaldi is Inconsistent as a Starter

If you take a look at any start by Nathan Eovaldi, one thing is apparent: he has great makeup and stuff on the mound.  Between his 98+ mph fastball, his above-average slider, and the promise of a developing splitter/forkball combo, the stuff is not the reason Eovaldi is held back as a pitcher.  Rather, it’s his incorrigible inconsistency that has plagued him since his days as a Dodger and a Marlin, and now as a Yankee.  Eovaldi can cruise for 5 innings, then have no way to escape adversity in the 6th, as he did in last nights win over the Angels.  To pitch so well for 5 innings and then to lose effectiveness and nearly taint a start is so frustrating to deal with; it merits consideration to become a bullpenner.  Having to throw an inning a night has a way of calming a pitcher down and allowing them to focus more on their craft.  This is exactly what Eovaldi needs to be successful in the bigs.  His stuff is not the issue, but his inconsistencies hurt him and bog down a mostly successful start into a no-decision.  Below is a table of each of his starts in 2015 (Credit: ESPN).

REGULAR SEASON GAMES THROUGH JUNE 5, 2015 YEAR TO DATE
DATE OPPONENT RESULT IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB Pit BF GSc Dec. Rel. ERA
Jun 5 vs LAA W 8-7 5.1 4 1 1 0 4 4 9 8 93 25 56 W(5-1) 4.16
Monthly Totals 5.1 4 1 1 0 4 4 9 8 93 25 1-0 0 sv 1.69
DATE OPPONENT RESULT IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB Pit BF GSc Dec. Rel. ERA
May 30 @ OAK W 5-3 4.2 11 3 3 0 0 2 13 9 96 24 32 4.40
May 25 vs KC W 14-1 7.0 8 1 1 0 1 4 11 13 103 30 60 W(4-1) 4.27
May 19 @ WSH L 8-6 4.1 7 5 5 2 2 5 7 7 82 21 32 4.73
May 12 @ TB L 4-2 7.1 6 4 4 0 2 6 12 9 101 29 54 L(3-1) 4.14
May 7 vs BAL W 4-3 5.2 6 3 3 2 3 3 8 11 102 25 45 W(3-0) 3.97
May 2 @ BOS W 4-2 6.2 7 2 2 1 1 2 11 13 111 27 53 W(2-0) 3.81
Monthly Totals 35.2 45 18 18 5 9 22 62 62 595 156 3-1 0 sv 4.54
DATE OPPONENT RESULT IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB Pit BF GSc Dec. Rel. ERA
Apr 26 vs NYM W 6-4 4.1 7 4 4 1 0 6 7 7 87 20 39 4.15
Apr 21 @ DET W 5-2 7.0 8 1 1 0 1 4 12 7 94 26 60 W(1-0) 3.12
Apr 15 @ BAL L 7-5 5.0 8 2 2 1 3 9 5 9 101 26 49 4.35
Apr 10 vs BOS L 6-5 5.1 8 3 3 0 1 1 10 12 94 25 40 5.06
Monthly Totals 21.2 31 10 10 2 5 20 34 35 376 97 1-0 0 sv 4.15
IP H R ER HR BB SO GB FB Pit BF AGS W-L S-BS-H ERA
Totals 62.2 80 29 29 7 18 46 105 105 1064 278 47 5-1 0-0-0 4.16

You can see the wild inconsistencies in his games from one to the next.  Eovaldi only averages 5.7 innings per start, an alarmingly low total for a starter.  He also averages 7 hits against in his outings, a reasonable total for a 7 inning starter, but not for one who doesn’t last deep into games.  He’s only made it into the 7th inning three times in 11 starts, a lesser pace than last year, where he averaged that one out of every three starts.  His average game score is a modest 47 (NOTE: A perfect score is 114, most scores are within 20-80).  However, through all this mediocrity, Eovaldi has only allowed 5 earned runs or greater once in his 11 starts, a sign that he is able to get out of trouble.  This ability to escape jams, combined with his natural ability to curb baserunning against him completely, are two traits that can service Eovaldi well in relief duty.  If Eovaldi became a short reliever, his inconsistencies would go down, similar to how Phil Hughes transitioned in 2009 into a top setup man.  In fact, Hughes was having many of the same problems that Eovaldi is now: the home run ball, low strikeout totals, inability to go deep into games, and overall inconsistency from one start to the next.  Hughes was eventually converted back into a starter after his successful relief gig, but was never the same.  Eovaldi, if given the chance as the 7th inning man, could carve a niche in Joe Girardi’s bullpen.

Reason 2: Eovaldi has the Stuff of a Power Reliever

Now if we take a look at Eovaldi’s pitch type data and his effectiveness with each pitch, we can see the building-up of a power setup man (Credit: Fangraphs)

YR Pitch # Avg minV maxV V
2015 FA 560 .375 91.0 100.6 95.8
2015 SL 294 .305 80.9 87.9 83.8
2015 CU 119 .333 71.4 82.5 74.8
2015 SPL 68 .040 81.7 89.1 85.0

Eovaldi’s fastball is comfortably 96 mph on average, with the possibility of reaching 100 every now and then.  This puts him comparable with few as a starter, but with the likes of Dellin Betances, Craig Kimbrel, and Jake McGee as relievers.  The fastball Eovaldi throws has natural cut to it, enough to almost be considered a cutter in the eyes of hitters.  The fact that Eovaldi throws his fastball 54% of the time may be the reason why it is hit against at a .375 clip; as a reliever he would throw less pitches thus making his electric fastball appear even better.  His slider is serviceable, thrown 28% of the time, and is his primary offspeed pitch.  Eovaldi could mix his slider into relief duty effectively, as it is not hit as hard as his four-seamer.  Eovaldi’s curveball is really just a get-me-over/change-of-pace type pitch that would probably be eliminated if he shifted to the ‘pen; it is rarely used as a starter anyway.  Eovaldi’s final pitch is his split-fingered fastball.  The splitter hasn’t been thrown a lot this year, but opponents are hitting just .040 off of it this year.  Eovaldi threw the pitch about 20 times last night and notched all of his strikeouts on that pitch.  If Eovaldi was a reliever, his split could become like Betances’s slurve or Andrew Miller’s slider as the pitch to watch out for.  Concluding, Eovaldi has the makeup of a reliever when looking at his pitch types and the way they’ve been hit.  Throwing less pitches makes Nate’s fastball and slider look more deadly, and his split has the potential to be a wipeout pitch if it continues to develop as it has.

Reason 3: The Yankees Have Lots of Starting Pitching Depth (With Even More to Come)

This is the biggest reason that someone needs to be traded or moved to the bullpen.  The Yankees currently have 3 starters not going anywhere in Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia (like it or not).  The Yankees also have Ivan Nova returning from injury, a young piece who has shown lots of potential in Adam Warren, and of course number-1 prospect Luis Severino.  Factor in the possible addition of a true ace this offseason with Jordan Zimmerman, David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Zack Greinke all available, and you’ve got a rotation logjam.  Warren could return to the bullpen or get traded, Tanaka could injure his elbow again, and Severino could always flame out, but even still the Yankees will have more starters than they know what to do with.  Keeping Eovaldi and Warren around as setup men and rotational safety nets could pay dividends to the future of the Yankees pitching staff.

Concluding,  Eovaldi should be shifted to the bullpen because of his inconsistencies as a starter, his plus repertoire, and the never ending count of quality Yankee starting pitching.  It is not a knock on Eovaldi to be shifted to the bullpen this offseason, but more or less a shift to behoove both him and the Yankee rotation.  I think Eovaldi could become a true bullpen weapon if given the chance, and boasting him, Betances, and Miller to close out games, in addition to Jacob Lindgren and friends, and the Yankees will have the best bullpen in baseball.

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