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Nathan Eovaldi is key for the Yankees rotation

Nasty Nate came on strong at the end of 2015 thanks to a new-and-improved splitter. With the Yankees rotation sporting several question marks, his role could be pivotal for the Yankee season.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Reports of the end of the free-spending New York Yankees may be overexaggerated, as a handful of frugal offseasons do not a trend make. The 2015 offseason saw the Bombers bring in Andrew Miller and Chase Headley as free agents, and this year they've brought in names like Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma, and everyone's favorite middle reliever, Vinnie Pestano. General Manager Brian Cashman has instead turned to trades to improve the team, controversially acquiring Aroldis Champan from the Reds and less controversially acquiring Starlin Castro from the Cubs this year.

One of the big headlining trades from the 2015 offseason was the Yankees sending David Phelps, Martin Prado, and cash to the Miami Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, and a minor leaguer. Eovaldi, who came to the Marlins from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Hanley Ramirez trade, was promising, but his three-year career had been very mediocre. Heading into his age-25 season, there was still hope. If he could put it all together, the Yankees might have a steal on their hands.

Eovaldi's 2015 season got off to somewhat of a rocky start, but he put it together down the stretch and ended the season on a high note. He had the best year of his career in terms of fWAR (3.2), rWAR (2.2), and WARP (2.1); FIP- (82); and strikeout rate (18.0%). PITCHf/x recorded his fastball coming in at an average of 96.6 miles per hour in 2015, the hardest he's thrown the pitch in his career. Not only was there overall improvement in the results for Eovaldi, but in each month of the season, his numbers improved as well.

Much of that had to do with a tweak made in June, in which Eovaldi altered the grip on his splitter, now a nasty out pitch. In April and May, Eovaldi allowed opponents to hit .325/.365/.457 against him. From the beginning of June through the end of the season, that dipped to .260/.323/.328. Not only was the pitch effective, but Eovaldi was using it with great frequency. By season's end, he was throwing the pitch over 30 percent of the time, according to Brooks Baseball data. Our very own Nick Stellini broke down the pitch and its effect on Eovaldi's game back in August.

But what does this all mean for the Yankees? With the questionable health of Masahiro Tanaka and the declining effectiveness of C.C. Sabathia, Eovaldi's role in the Pinstripe rotation will be augmented. He and Michael Pineda will have to join together to keep the Yankees rotation going until at least some of the question marks surrounding the other three are resolved. If Eovaldi's evolution was for real and not some fluke, and there is reason to believe it is real, the Yankees are in a much better position to make up for shortcomings and once again be playing October baseball in 2016.

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Joe Vasile is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. He is also the Broadcasting and Media Relations Assistant for the Salem Red Sox, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.