Jerad Eickhoff did not come into the league with much fanfare as a 15th-round pick by the Rangers out of Olney Central College in Illinois back in 2011. After being drafted, he essentially went through a level per season with little to no fanfare there, either. It makes sense that he never made a dent on the prospect scene, as he had neither intriguing pedigree nor eye-opening stats. He was merely fine against minor-league competition. He started opening some eyes towards the end of 2014, and even then he was just a prospect sleeper rather than fully on the map. He’d pitch well enough in 2015 at Triple-A to be the least notable piece of the six-player package that went to Philadelphia in the Cole Hamels deal. After a few impressive Triple-A starts in his new organization, he closed out the year in the major-league rotation. It was a shockingly good eight-start stretch, as the righty pitched to a 2.65 ERA and struck out nearly a batter per inning. He put himself in a position to start 2016 in the rotation and prove that stretch wasn’t a fluke.
What Went Right in 2016
Although it’s not the sexiest quality for a fantasy pitcher, Eickhoff’s biggest strength is his control. After walking just over two batters per nine innings in his major-league debut season, he followed that up by walking 1.9 per nine in 2016. The way he succeeds at this is interesting, though, as he’s more average than great at hitting the zone on a consistent basis. Instead, Eickhoff limits his walk by inducing swings on pitches that end up out of the strike zone. He was in the top-third of the league in O_Swing_Rt in 2016, mostly thanks to his big curveball. It’s a pitch he’s relied more on as his career has moved on, and it’s turned into a legitimate weapon for the righty.
Beyond the control, there is also the run prevention. Again, this isn’t the sexiest skill for a fantasy pitcher, particularly since it can fluctuate year-to-year. He wasn’t quite up to the standards he set for himself in that brief 2015 stint, but he still finished the year with a solid 3.65 mark. Eickhoff was able to do this despite owning peripherals that suggested a worse season was ahead. Part of that was certainly luck, but Eickhoff has a profile that can lead to low BABIPs for his opponents. For one, he’s a fly-ball pitcher, which can lead to home run issues but also leads to a lack of singles. He’s also a pitcher who leans on breaking balls — he throws a slider along with the aforementioned curve. It goes without saying that it’s tough to square up effective breaking balls.
Finally, there is the matter of health. It’s not as if Eickhoff has an injury history, but any pitcher staying healthy for an entire season is worth highlighting. In his first full major-league season, he made 33 starts. He still failed to reach the 200-inning mark — a sign that he needs to make it deeper into games — but merely staying in the rotation all year is a win for fantasy owners.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Eickhoff was mostly impressive in 2016 and cast aside any doubts his 2015 was a fluke, but it was far from a perfect season for the 25-year-old. For one thing, he saw a decrease in strikeouts from his major-league debut. Last season, he struck out just 20 percent of his opponents. That’s fine for a mid-rotation starter, but fantasy owners want more. Unsurprisingly, he saw a decrease in his swinging strike rate, mostly thank to a drop off in effectiveness of his changeup. The breaking balls are legit, but he needs his fastball and/or changeup to step up if he wants to be a consistent strikeout arm.
There was also the issue of home runs. Remember when I mentioned that Eickhoff is a fly ball pitcher? Well, it showed with his home run rate. The righty allowed 30 homers all year for a rate of 1.4 per nine innings. For what it’s worth, it was more acceptable for most of the season before he started allowing more than two per nine innings in August in September. Still, he’s a fly ball pitcher who calls Citizen Bank Park home. It’s probably not going to end well.
Finally, we have the issue of Eickhoff against lefties. It’s hard to be a good starting pitcher in this league if you have major platoon splits as Eickhoff did in 2016. While righties put up just a .645 OPS against him, lefties mashed their way to an .822 OPS. The problem, again, was his changeup. If he can’t improve the pitch, lefties will continue to have a field day against him and he’ll never be able to take the next step forward.
What to Expect in 2017
Right now, Eickhoff is being drafted as the 54th pitcher in NFBC leagues, meaning he’ll only have to pitch as an SP4 in 15-team leagues and an SP5 in 12-team leagues. While there isn’t a ton of upside here, that’s a reasonable expectation for him. If he can take a big step forward with his changeup, he can see a few more strikeouts and have much more success against lefties. It’s a lot to ask for, but there’s some upside to go with a solid floor. Eickhoff won’t win you any leagues, but he’s a solid mid-rotation arm for your fantasy teams.
The Great Beyond
Just like with next year’s expectations, you shouldn’t be expecting Eickhoff to be a long-term ace. With that being said, he’s a fine mid-rotation option who is just entering his prime years. He’s not someone you go out of your way to acquire, but he’s a nice piece to have added into bigger trades to help solidify your pitching staff. His future is only made better by being on an up-and-coming team that should provide more wins over the next few years.
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