It’s appropriate to assume the Yankees’ fortunes this season hinge largely on, not their 40-year-old, part-time Designated Hitter, but rather their top three starting pitchers, all of whom were injured last season. But they could use some help from their No. 4 guy, too: Nathan Eovaldi, who throws nearly as hard as any starter in the majors. To this point, though, the results haven’t matched the radar gun:
He pitched a career-high 199 ²/₃ innings last season, but gave up a league-high 223 hits and had a 4.37 ERA in the relatively pitcher-friendly NL East.
“I had ups and downs,” Eovaldi said Wednesday at the Yankees’ minor league complex when asked to evaluate his 2014 season. “I accomplished a lot that I wanted to. I stayed healthy and got a lot of innings under my belt. I controlled my walks, but my ERA was a lot higher than I’d like it to have been. And I gave up too many hits.”
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His ERA was significantly higher at home last season than on the road (4.66 to 4.06), which is somewhat surprising considering Marlins Park is typically considered a pitcher’s park. And despite the fact he can flirt with 100 mph on the radar gun, he struck out just 142 batters.
The home/road numbers are probably irrelevant, just one of those SSS things. As for the hits and the strikeouts, well of course they’re highly correlated. If you don’t have a high strikeout rate, you’re obviously more likely to give up a lot of hits.
But some of those hits should be attributed to poor luck, as Eovaldi gave up a .323 batting average on balls in play, and there’s no obvious reason to think that’s got anything to do with his actual skills. On the other hand, he gave up a low number of home runs, as a percentage of fly balls. Considering his low strikeout rate and perfectly normal ground-ball rate, there’s no obvious reason to think he’ll maintain that home-run rate, either. Especially while pitching half the time in Yankee Stadium.
Will the strikeouts come? Last year, Eovaldi was one of only four qualifying starters who averaged at least 95 miles an hour with their fastballs. At 95.5, he ranked behind Garrett Richards, Yordano Ventura, and Wily Peralta.
But speed hardly guarantees strikeouts. Richards ranked 16th in the majors in strikeout percentage, Ventura 37th, Peralta 53rd … and Eovaldi 70th. Among 88 qualifiers. There’s more to strikeouts than speed, and the more is largely movement and a high-quality curveball or slider. For the last two years, Eovaldi’s had just one good pitch. He’s okay with just that, but the strikeout rate won’t budge much until he refines one of his off-speed pitches.