Remember how our very own Murphy Powell wrote about Nathan Eovaldi not getting strikeouts recetnly? In that piece, Murphy looked at how instead of using his Speedy Gonzalez-esque fastball to blow people away a la Aroldis Chapman, Eovaldi instead generates a ton of ground balls. Murphy also threw in a few Brooks Baseball heatmaps to display how he gets those grounders, and how he theoretically could get himself some more strikeouts with the high fastball.
Then a funny thing happened. Four days after the article was published, Eovaldi took a perfect game into the sixth inning before being knocked around for three runs on a bunch of weak singles. He ended up completing seven innings, striking out eight batters in the process.
His next outing was on the 25th, and he pitched eight innings of shutout, four-hit ball against the high-octane Astros offense. He struck out seven guys in that outing. In both of those performances, Eovaldi was pushing his fastball into triple digit velocity territory well after his pitch count had passed 100. His new splitter, which Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild forced unto him upon his trade to the Bronx, was also dipping and diving all over the place. While doing research for this article, I stumbled upon this video of Al Leiter breaking down Eovaldi's new-look split, and it truly hammers home just how dynamic the pitch has become.
Let's look a bit more at Eovaldi's splitter. In his start against the Twins, Brooks Baseball says that Eovaldi threw 32 splitters, and 18 of them drew swings. Seven of those swings resulted in whiffs. Seven more of them were put in play, and five resulted in outs. That's pretty good for a secondary pitch, but it's nothing compared to what he accomplished against Houston. Against the strikeout-happy Astros, Eovaldi threw 49 splitters. It was his most common pitch of the night, five ahead of his four-seam fastball. The Astros swung at 31 of those splitters. Not a single one of them made contact.
Eovaldi's usage of the splitter has been trending upwards all season (see below), and his results have gotten better too.
He hasn't had to lean on his breaking balls as much because of it, even though he has a lively curveball under his belt. The splitter gives him the offspeed movement that his arsenal had been desperately lacking before his trade to the Yankees, as his changeup did no good for him whatsoever in Miami. Per FanGraphs, the pitch was worth -4.2 runs below average last year, which put him quite towards the bottom of the leaderboard in that regard. Now, he can use this to put batters away.
The results, particularly this month, speak for themselves. Batters have hit .198/.275/.265 against him, and 19.8 percent of them have struck out. The opposition has only managed a 13.9 percent hard-hit rate too. In short, over his last two starts, Eovaldi pitched like the great pitcher many envisioned when they looked at his impressive raw start.
We should pace ourselves and realize that this is just two starts' worth of data. We should also recognize that the Twins and Astros both rank inside the top ten in the league for strikeout rate. These two starts saw Eovaldi match up against teams that were primed to fail against him. Regression is a likely outcome for Eovaldi's sudden journey into excellence. Then again, his next start comes against the Braves, who have the third highest strikeout rate in the game. There's a very real chance we see a lot more of this the next time Nathan Eovaldi takes the hill.