Often when you see teams in the middle of boat-racing their way to a pennant, acquiring pitching can be their top priority come trade deadline season. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish last year. The Astros went out and got Justin Verlander in a last minute deal. The Cubs added bullpen help with a splash, acquiring Aroldis Chapman in 2016. The Royals added Johnny Cueto in 2015. The Red Sox fit into a category with these teams. Their pitching staff was more than acceptable, owning perhaps the best pitcher in the American League in Chris Sale and elite reliever Craig Kimbrel, supporting them with the serviceable Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Ryan Brasier, and Matt Barnes.
The problem was that pitching wasn’t necessarily the strong-suit of the trade market this season, especially starters. There was really no big name player to be had, with the best available starters looking like Nathan Eovaldi, Cole Hamels, and J.A. Happ. The Red Sox opted to deal with the Rays for the rental Eovaldi, their main move on the pitching side of things, sending away Jalen Beeks, a 25-year-old left-hander sitting in triple-A.
Eovaldi has long been known as the hard-throwing starter that couldn’t correlate the strikeouts with the velocity. He was in his third organization (Dodgers, Marlins, Yankees) by his age 26 major league season. He’d been having success, but after a badly timed down year with a Tommy John Surgery mixed in, the Yankees released him right after the 2016 season. He’d then sign a two-year deal with the Rays late in the offseason, subsequently rehabbing for the duration of 2017. Then after some early season rest and four rehab starts, he was ready to make his return.
Ten starts after his year-plus hiatus, Eovaldi looked back and as good as ever, striking out 53 and walking eight through 58 innings. His velocity was stable and swinging-strike rate was at a career high. Because of this, the Rays got to fulfill their goal in flipping him and the Red Sox had added pitching help, gearing up for a postseason run.
The success has continued for Eovaldi in a different uniform. Among 111 pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched since the trade, he ranks 13th in FIP.
FIP Leaders Since Eovaldi Trade
|2018||Lance Lynn||2 Tms||60.1||2.48|
In a Red Sox uniform, Eovaldi’s fastball has been on another level. Along with his velocity being up (97.0 MPH vs 97.5 MPH), the overall results reached a highpoint. A lot of this had to do with a September in which the pitch was as close to unhittable as you can get (.120 wOBA, .207 xwOBA).
That success has carried into October, helping him garner wins in both of his starts, allowing three runs over 15 innings. His last two starts have seen his two highest average four-seam velocities of the season.
With the Red Sox on the brink of a World Series appearance, Eovaldi figures to be one of the better weapons with the roll he’s on. He’s played a big part in their current run and now he’s getting to showcase his contributions on the biggest stage— just in time for his free agency.
*All numbers and graphs are as of October 17th and are before his game five relief appearance