If you sort last season’s starting pitchers by average velocity and set a filter for 50 innings pitched, you’ll find Nathan Eovaldi at the top of the list with a 96.2 mph fastball. He shares that distinction with Danny Salazar, who has already had his day in the sun. Elite skills, especially velocity, are the things to look for in an undervalued asset. Eovaldi might be a good late round target based on that velocity alone, but let’s go through the exercise of evaluating him all the same.
Last year was the best of Eovaldi’s career, which spans parts of three seasons. He pitched to a 3.39 ERA and 3.59 FIP, although his xFIP was a less robust 4.15. That’s because he held home run rates well below average. His stinginess with long balls (7.1% HR/FB over 260 career innings) could be his related to his home park, part of his skill set, luck, or a combination of those factors.
As the article title suggests, Eovaldi leans very heavily on his fastball. He threw the pitch over 70 percent of the time last season, yet that degree of predictability didn’t really hurt him.
Unsurprisingly, his fastball appears to be his best pitch both on an aggregate and per pitch basis. Hitters have some trouble squaring up the cheddar, which is probably why the pitch has the lowest ISO and BABIP of his three regular offerings.
As you can see from the situational data, there are some trends in his pitch usage. He throws an occasional change-up against lefties, but he obviously doesn’t have much feel for the pitch. He also peppers in the occasional curve ball while reserving the slider for strikeouts. Against right-handers, Eovaldi pockets the change-up entirely and generally sticks to a fastball-slider repertoire. Against both types of batter, Eovaldi throws almost exclusively fastballs when he falls behind in the count.
With another franchise, Eovaldi may be relegated to the bullpen, where his traditional fastball-slider combo and elite velocity could play up. It’s possible that the Marlins will consider such a move as some of their pitching prospects reach the majors. However, at this point in the offseason, Eovaldi appears to be competing with Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner for the second spot in the rotation. Brian Flynn or Kevin Slowey look like the early front runners for the last spot. As such, the Marlins don’t have the depth to try Eovaldi in the pen.
Winning games was a problem for Eovaldi last season and that trend could continue into 2014. Of his 18 starts, three were clunkers that were lost early in the game. In the remaining 15 starts, Eovaldi posted an excellent 1.87 ERA, yet he only won four of those games. Imagine if he had given that performance with the Cardinals offense behind him. For fantasy purposes, this is a definite red flag. However, I’m projecting Eovaldi to be cheaply available this season. That wouldn’t be the case had he played for a better team, so the lack of projected wins are already priced in.
Despite the big fastball, Eovaldi’s lack of secondary stuff has hampered his ability to rack up strikeouts. He generally strikes out around six batter per nine (career 6.19 K/9) and while he isn’t generous with free passes, he allows enough that a 4.00 ERA should be expected. A similarly mediocre WHIP should be expected. The overall package is one to target as a project rather than someone who will contribute positively in 2014. You will have the benefit of using him in a very pitcher friendly home park, which should give him some usefulness as a platoon pitcher.
I anticipate Eovaldi being drafted near the beginning of dollars days at a cost of $1-3. I consider him a better target in leagues with deep rosters, where bench spots can lay fallow for long periods without hurting the active lineup (i.e. Ottoneu). Owners in leagues with shallow benches may want to pass on Eovaldi.
He could take a big lurching step forward if he discovers enough secondary stuff to compliment his fastball, but it’s a long shot. He’s entering his age 24 season and the 96 mph velocity has only been present for one season. A decline to lesser speeds could be in his near future. Just ask Ubaldo Jimenez.
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