On Nathan Eovaldi’s StrugglesBy
When it was learned that right-hander Nathan Eovaldi was the Dodgers’ main trade chip used to acquire Hanley Ramirez, there were mixed reactions among Marlins fans as well as the rest of the baseball world. Eovaldi was seen as having the potential to be a valuable part of a major league rotation in the future, despite not being seen as a future ace. He came to the Fish with twelve starts-worth of big league experience, and it was clear that Ozzie Guillen planned to stick Eovaldi into a regular spot in the rotation from the get-go.
With Eovaldi now having made six starts in his Marlins career, the numbers haven’t been all that impressive, particularly his latest outing against his former Dodger squad in which he gave up six runs in just three innings of work. Since the trade, the righty has posted a 3-3 record with a 5.33 ERA. One of the keys that I discussed with the trade went down was that Eovaldi’s success would, like it does for many, hinge on his ability to cut his walks down. So far in his six starts with Miami, he’s walked 18 and struck out just 16, but that surprisingly hasn’t been representative of the biggest problem he’s faced with the club to this point.
When you take a closer look at Eovaldi’s numbers for his Marlins career, the most likely reason for his struggles is that unlike in the past, he isn’t getting away with as many mistake pitches. Case in point – Eovaldi’s contact rate has jumped by nearly four percent (80.2 to 83.9), and hitters’ contact rates on balls in the strike zone against him have increased by five percent (82.8 to 87.8). If these numbers qualified, Eovaldi would have the highest contact rate among starters in the National League.
Some of these struggles can be attributed to luck. In his time with the Dodgers last season, hitters posted a .263 BABIP against Eovaldi, compared with .329 this season. Defense is certainly a big part of that, as Los Angeles committed the third-fewest errors in the NL in 2011, while the defense behind Eovaldi for the Marlins has included immovable object Carlos Lee at first base.
For Eovaldi to continue to progress as a pitcher, and to be a regular member of the rotation like the Marlins hope he can be, he’s going to have to pitch much more effectively in the strike zone. The slider has been his most effective pitch this season, with opponents hitting just .200 against it, but if he isn’t able to set the pitch up by locating his fastball in the right spots, he won’t end up having much success. And as you can see by this pitch location graph of Eovaldi vs. Lefties from Brooks Baseball, many of these fastballs are missing in the inner-half of the zone, right in the wheelhouse of a left-handed hitter.
There is still plenty of time for Nathan Eovaldi to prove that he’s the pitcher the Marlins hoped they had acquired and he’ll certainly be one of the most intriguing players on the Marlins’ roster to watch in the final month of the season. But if he continues to leave pitches up in the zone and fails to miss bats, it’s likely that there are plenty more struggles on the way.