Interesting Article on Dodgers Rookie Nathan Eovaldi


Thanks to Nathaniel Stoltz over on our minor league site Seedlings to Stars for a very informative article young Dodgers pitcher Nathan Eovaldi.

Rather than try and summarize all of the solid analysis Nathan has compiled here you go:

Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.

When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.

This time, I’m taking a look at Dodgers swingman Nate Eovaldi.

At age 21, Nate Eovaldi came up from Double-A to Los Angeles and was surprisingly effective, posting a 3.63 ERA and 4.35 FIP in 34 2/3 innings, between six starts and four relief appearances. He wasn’t considered a “top” prospect before the season, so for him to come up so quickly and play above replacement level was a nice development for the Dodgers organization. But where does he fit best in the long term?

The big knock on Eovaldi as a prospect was that his fastball was his only good pitch. Now, it is avery good pitch, as he threw it at 91-96 mph as a starter and 94-99 as a reliever, and the pitch features good sink, too.

However, as a starting pitcher, Eovaldi relied on the fastball over 70% of the time. That’s just fine in relief, when he gets the increased velocity and doesn’t have to face hitters twice, but it’s not optimal in the rotation. In particular, lefthanded batters saw a fastball around three quarters of the time, as Eovaldi’s other “main” pitch is a slider, a pitch that has a traditionally high platoon split.

As you might expect from a 21-year-old who was walking over four batters per nine innings in Double-A at the time of his recall, Eovaldi’s approach to fastball location isn’t particularly nuanced. Against righties, he basically is just looking for a strike:

Against lefties, he generally tries to hit the outside corner, but still seems to be, as some announcers say “throwing in a direction rather than to a location:”

One thing that is interesting that comes out of this is that Eovaldi does throw a lot of strikes. That, of course, makes his 5.19 BB/9 rate somewhat puzzling; indeed, 45.2% of his pitches found the strike zone, right in line with the league average.

The answer lies in his high fastball usage. The fastball is the straightest pitch in baseball, so it’s also the easiest pitch to take out of the zone. Eovaldi relies on the pitch so heavily that his locations are easier for batters to stay with–generally, they can tell if the ball will be in or out of the zone. Combine that with the large number of pitches toward the middle of the plate, and it makes sense that Eovaldi’s chase rate (27.7%) is about three percent below the MLB average, while hitters swing at his pitches in the zone about three percent more than average (68.7%). As a resultEovaldi gets fewer called strikes and more called balls than his raw location data would indicate, which is the main driver of his elevated walk rate.

If that can largely all be traced back to the fastball’s overuse, then the next logical thing to examine is the prognosis for Eovaldi’s other offerings, which consist of a hard slider from 84-89 mph, a big curveball from 73-78, and a changeup from 83-87. The slider is the only pitch of the three that the righthander shows any faith in, as the curve and change combined for seven percent of his offerings as a starter.

Most of Eovaldi’s sliders are to righthanders, against whom he deploys the pitch approximately 1/4 of the time. He tends to work the pitch away from them:

It’s an effective enough secondary offering, going for strikes 60% of the time to righties and drawing an 11.4% whiff rate, but it’s more “functional” than “good.”

Against lefthanders, the slider, curveball, and changeup combined to comprise just 23% of Eovaldi’s pitches (and that’s just as a starter, too). Combined, they went for a strike 58.2% of the time and drew a 10.9% whiff rate–again, not a trainwreck but far from inspiring.

In case you’re wondering, Eovaldi’s fastball does get good numbers. It actually shows a reverse platoon split, going for a strike 60.5% of the time and drawing a 6.5% whiff rate to righties, but then seeing those numbers move up to 66.3% and 10.9% against lefties. It’s no surprise, then, that Eovaldi’s strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties (1.67) was much better than it was to righties (0.93).

With his borderline secondary offerings, Eovaldi is probably best cast as a late-game shutdown reliever who can rely on throwing his fastball 80% of the time and just mixing in the occasional breaking pitch. He handles lefties well enough that he can face batters from both sides, but without a more well-rounded arsenal, he doesn’t seem to be an ideal fit for starting. Since he’ll just be 22 next year, it’s possible his secondary stuff takes a step forward, and it’s always tough to pigeonhole a guy into a bullpen role, but Eovaldi looks like he could be an electric setup man as early as 2012.

Seedlings to Stars has some fantastic analysis of prospects from all over the minors, so if you are a fan of prospect news be sure to make it part of your daily reading.

Lasorda’s Lair will be back later this week to hand out our post-season Dodgers grades.

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