📌 Join the BPCrew Chapter in your city and meet up with more Yankees fans! 👉 CLICK HERE
ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 01: Nathan Eovaldi #30 of the New York Yankees throws a pitch aganst the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 1, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The new Nathan Eovaldi

Nathan Eovaldi tormented Los Angeles and Miami fans for four years before he arrived in New York this spring. Despite his overpowering fastball and obvious talent, Eovaldi was fairly mediocre, posting a 4.07 ERA in 460 innings for the Dodgers and Marlins. Power pitchers are supposed to be tough to hit and possess a propensity for the strikeout, but the opposite was true for Eovaldi: he had allowed 9.5 hits per nine innings while only striking out 6.3 per nine. In fact, Eovaldi led the National League in hits allowed last season, giving up 223 in just shy 199 2/3 innings.

He seemed even worse after transitioning to the Junior Circuit. Although he went 5-2 in his first 13 starts, Eovaldi pitched to a 5.12 ERA and allowed 12.4 H/9 while striking out just 6.4 per nine. Batters were hitting .329/.371/.464 against him, and he was averaging fewer than six innings per start.

However, he may have begun to turn things around. While he still isn’t hurling complete games, he hasn’t given up a lot of runs, either. Eovaldi salvaged the final game of the Yankees-Angels series by pitching 5 1/3 scoreless innings, and notched two six-inning, two-run starts before that. In his last three games, he’s allowed four runs in 17 1/3 innings for a 2.08 ERA. The Yankees have won each of those games, and Eovaldi is holding hitters to a .206/.275/.238 slash line. Eovaldi has made some changes to his pitch repertoire and pitch sequencing that have contributed to his recent success.

The flame-throwing right-hander has been able to better control his offspeed offerings recently, which he talks about in this video below:

Those offspeed offerings include his nasty splitter.

Per BrooksBaseball.com, Eovaldi has reduced his fastball usage from 52% in his first 13 starts to 42% in his last three. He’s made a corresponding increase in his splitter, using it about 10% more often since his start on June 20—up to 20% of the time. He’s also changed how his pitches move slightly: his fastball now has more drop to it, his curveball now has more downward bite to it, and his slider and splitter feature greater horizontal movement.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s also increased his velocity. Each of his four main pitches has been thrown harder on average in his past three starts:

Pitch Velocity Increase
Fastball +0.5 MPH
Slider +1.1 MPH
Curveball +1.5 MPH
Splitter +3.1 MPH

Eovaldi has also mixed up when he throws his pitches. Previously a reliable first-pitch fastball thrower (about 56% of the time), Eovaldi now throws his heater less than 35% of the time for his first pitch. Instead, he’s used it more when ahead in the count and—especially against right-handed hitters—with two strikes. Eovaldi now likes to throw his curveball or slider on the first offering, opting for a breaking ball 60% of the time on the first pitch. While Eovaldi has begun to walk more batters (2.4 BB/9 in his first 13 starts vs. 3.1 BB/9 in his last three) his deception has cut the amount of hits per nine innings he’s allowed nearly in half, from 12.4 to 6.8. Overall, Eovaldi’s allowed an average of 1.1 baserunners per inning in his last three outings—much lower than the 1.7 he gave up before.

Eovaldi’s new and deceptive approach has indeed made him more difficult to hit. Although he’s now only striking out marginally more batters, hitters are making softer contact with his pitches. Batters’ exit velocity has gone from 88.64 MPH on average to just 86.17 MPH on average in his last three starts. Put differently, batters made “hard” contact (as defined by Baseball Info Solutions) on nearly 33% of his pitches in his first 13 starts, but just 20% of the time in his last three games. Eovaldi has also generated ground balls at a 52% clip, up from 48.8%.

There are some signs that Eovaldi can’t keep up this level of performance. His opponents’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which lies around .300 for most pitchers, is .260 in his last three games, signaling that he’s getting lucky because batters are hitting the ball directly at Yankee fielders. Likewise, he hasn’t allowed a home run over that span, and nobody can keep that up.

However, in his first 13 starts, his opponents’ BABIP was through the roof, at .371. That means that Eovaldi was severely unlucky in those games. That doesn’t mean that Eovaldi is owed luck, or that he’s going to keep the low BABIP he’s featured recently to balance out the high BABIP that he previously had, but it does show that Eovaldi—before he adjusted his repertoire—was better than his 5.12 ERA showed. Indeed, over that time, Eovaldi’s fielding-independent pitching (FIP), generally considered a better measure of a pitcher’s ability to prevent runs than ERA, was 4.04. Now, he’s a better pitcher with the changes he’s made to his pitches. His control may have taken a hit for it, but he’s made up for it with the amount of hits he’s been able to prevent. While he won’t pitch to a 2.08 ERA for the rest of the year, there’s a good chance that we will see a better version of Nathan Eovaldi than we saw for the first two-and-a-half months of the season.