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With just a few days until the winter meetings, we are officially one month into the offseason. (Yay! Only four more to go.) Which means it’s time for every baseball person’s favorite activity—speculating! Yes, we love filling our time speculating. Where will Chris Sale end up? What are the Astros trying to do? What does Jon Jay’s signing mean for Dexter Fowler? We have all the questions, and we’re trying to figure out the answers before spring breaks.

Upon hearing that the Yankees released Nathan Eovaldi this week, my question was what that means for the 26-year-old starter who'll spend the 2017 season recovering from two major elbow surgeries. Things are rough right now if you’re Eovaldi. You’re still relatively young in baseball years, you’ve had a career that inspires more “meh” than Star Wars prequels, and you've paired Tommy John surgery with a repaired flexor tendon tear.

Eovaldi won’t be medically cleared to throw a baseball again until around August at the earliest, so his addition doesn't exactly make a thin free agent class any heftier. Which is unfortunate, because even if Eovaldi could return in June or July–just a month or two earlier–he'd probably be able to entice rotation-hungry contenders looking to add depth.

Perhaps there's a team willing to sign Eovaldi and help rehab him back into a spot on their roster in August, sight unseen, but he doesn’t have the type of track record that inspires a lot of GMs to view the right-hander as a plug-and-play option. Eovaldi has gone through his share of growing pains in the majors and sports a 4.21 career ERA.

We’ve seen the results, Eovaldi struggles to get through the order a third time as a starter. He has his entire career, with a 6.23 ERA and .333/.394/.497 opponents' line the third time through the order. He’s only logged 15.1 innings of baseball that go through the order a fourth time, so it’s obvious that the bitter end of watching Eovaldi on the mound in any given start for a manager is somewhere between the fifth and sixth innings.

Perhaps a new era is on the horizon for Eovaldi. I’ll just lay it out: Maybe he’s better as a reliever. He doesn’t do well facing the same batter multiple times, but still has a league-average walk rate, a decent strikeout rate, and oh yeah, something else baseball loves to see in relievers—his fastball averages 98 mph. It lacks movement, leading to a .319 BABIP on the pitch, but 98 is still 98.

Eovaldi has been afflicted with something that often plagues pitchers who have their dreams of being a starter dashed—having fringy or below-average secondary pitches. Check out some of the numbers on his slider, curveball, and splitter:

Ball%

Strike%

Whiff%

BIP%

BABIP

SL

35.74

27.50

13.94

20.24

.313

CU

45.06

31.15

7.06

13.41

.325

SP

36.46

23.40

16.83

23.02

.285

Those numbers aren’t awful, but they aren’t awful in the same way that eating oatmeal for breakfast isn’t awful. It’s not good, but it’ll do for now.

Eovaldi has never been bad, he’s just been consistently plain. FIP has always liked him much better ERA and DRA, which is reflected in his consistent home run, strikeout, and walk rates until just this past season, when his HR/FB rate jumped. That was likely just one of the red flags that Eovaldi’s ailing elbow put up. Something we do know is that this elbow issue has been plaguing Eovaldi’s since at least 2015.

So what if the pathway for Eovaldi is up from here? Many pitchers have actually performed better coming off Tommy John surgery, though that’s not so much a result of the procedure itself as the procedure coupled with a strong path to recovery that follows, as stated here from the American Sports Medicine Institute:

“Indeed, MLB pitchers often show some improvement in performance upon return from Tommy John surgery. However such improvements for a professional or amateur pitcher are due to the surgeon fixing the problem followed by the pitcher working intensely with the physical therapist, athletic trainer, strength coach, and pitching coach.”

Some post-Tommy John pitchers have added velocity and may have better control over their secondaries, perhaps from an increase in physical strength aiding with mechanics. Control has never been a major issue for Eovaldi, which isn’t to say it hasn’t been an issue at all. He's maintained an average-ish walk rate, but the major trouble comes from his high BABIP, and that’s likely due to Eovaldi’s stuff sometimes just being too hittable, coupled with the lack of ability to mix in his secondary pitches.

Perhaps a return from TJS could be the perfect storm for Eovaldi. He could add a tick or two to his velocity, which in turn would make him even more appealing as a reliever—an outcome that already looks as though it might be the next step to maximize a successful big-league career. Perhaps Eovaldi was always on the brink of success, because he certainly hasn’t been someone one would label unsuccessful–he just hadn’t found his niche yet.

Maybe now, he can tighten up his approach and finally find better success. What we have to remember is this is baseball, ideas crazier than one about Nathan Eovaldi reaching his potential after coming back from TJS four years into his major-league career are tossed around all the time. And for every adequately backed theory, there is a crazy story of success, emergence, or for some tragedy around the bend. That’s baseball. Sometimes no matter how hard we try to control it, it’s unpredictable.

Thank you for reading

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ErikBFlom
12/01
I expect that Dan Duquette will consider signing him. The Orioles love a good price on a pitcher, even if it is overpaying for the performance.
TGT969
12/01
A candidate for Ray Searage-if the Bucs are not too cheap to take a flyer.
yibberat
12/01
Seems like a perfectly good twice-thru-order 80-pitch pitcher. Whether to start games or long relief - 40 or so appearances per year at 4 innings per is 160 innings.

Too bad MLB is too stupid nowadays to figure out how to schedule that or fit that onto a roster. So maybe they can pretend to turn him into a 20-pitch max guy.