In the ever-present contest of awesome names, Nathan Eovaldi is loaded with some potent ammunition. Perhaps not coincidentally, Eovaldi substitutes a cannon for a pitching arm. Eovaldi's average fastball velocity over 95mph puts him in rare company among starters. In 2013, the list of starters with at least 100 innings and a fastball greater than 95mph contains less awesome names but awesome players Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, and Gerrit Cole in addition to Eovaldi. However, Eovaldi's performance seems to have lagged behind the other players on this list.
As we like to do here, I'm going to present some numbers. In terms of batted ball frequency (data not shown but is from Baseball Savant), Eovaldi was about average. However, in terms of production on batted balls, I allow the following table as evidence.
|Year||BIP BA||BIP SLG||Lg BIP BA||Lg BIP SLG||Relative Production|
His production allowed on balls in play was below average in 2013. While Eovaldi seems to have some decent skills in preventing damage done on contact, some of those production numbers are dependent on luck, his defense, and his home park. His problem lies in his other possible outcomes, the strikeout and the walk. The table below shows his K% and BB% relative to league average.
|Year||K%||BB%||Lg K%||Lg BB%||Rel K%||Rel BB%|
For a guy who throws the ball so hard, he doesn't generate many strikeouts. His K% improved in 2013, though, at least partially due to a velocity increase. If we look back a few years (I chose 2010 arbitrarily) at those pitchers who threw at least 100 innings with an average fastball velocity above 95mph, Eovaldi's 2013 K% ranked last. If Eovaldi can make another K% jump, his performance could become ace-like due to his ability to limit the damage on contact, if it's for real. However, making that jump could prove difficult.
According to Brooks Baseball, in 2013 Stephen Strasburg's offspeed stuff, a changeup and a curveball, had a 23% and 14.5% whiff rate, respectively. Eovaldi's primary offspeed stuff, a slider and a curveball, had a 16.7% and 6.7% whiff rate, respectively. If Eovaldi's K% is to improve, he's going to have to generate more whiffs with his offspeed stuff.
Perhaps that means he must throw offspeed more often when he's ahead (he still uses his fastball over 50% of the time when he's ahead and when there are two strikes), or perhaps he needs to get more horiztonal movement on those pitches (they appear to be merely average in that regard). Maybe his offspeed stuff just isn't that good and won't be that good, and so he doesn't trust it. Regardless of why his offspeed stuff doesn't generate whiffs, the cannon for an arm won't be loaded forever.
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Kevin Ruprecht is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royal Stats for Everyone. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.