Every week, Michael Beller will break down and analyze a starting pitcher using video to explain his success, or lack thereof. This week's pitcher is the Miami Marlins' Nathan Eovaldi.
Nathan Eovaldi generated plenty of buzz as a sleeper pick during draft season after his first full season with the Marlins portended of a potential breakout. He made 18 starts and threw 106.1 innings, amassing a 3.39 ERA, 3.59 FIP and 1.32 WHIP while holding opposing hitters to a .249/.318/.363 slash line. He had just 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings, but the fact that his fastball sat in the mid-90s signaled that he could easily miss more bats. He started to realize that potential in his first start of the 2014 season.
Eovaldi shut down the Rockies on Tuesday, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out a batter per inning across his six frames. He threw 62 of his 95 pitches for strikes and walked just one batter, an encouraging sign after he posted an 8.9-percent walk rate last season. While his fastball will probably be his best pitch, it's the development of, and confidence in, his secondary offerings, as well as improved command, that will help him jump a level or two this year. Both of those were on display against the Rockies.
The 24-year-old Eovaldi had plenty of highlights from Tuesday night, which MLB.com has helpfully collected for us in the video below. The clips show off the full range of Eovaldi's stuff, and why those who invested in him have to feel pretty good about themselves right now.
Let's start right at the top with his strikeout of Drew Stubbs. Now yes, Stubbs won't be on Joey Votto's level any time soon, but the fact that Eovaldi got one of baseball's most prolific swing-and-miss guys to swing and miss isn't the takeaway here. On a 2-2 count, he paints the outside corner with a 98 mph heater, and Stubbs doesn't have a chance. If he misses with this pitch, he goes full and likely has to use the middle of the plate to ensure that he doesn't walk a dangerous baserunner. The fact that Eovaldi is willing to pick at the corner in this situation is a sign of how much he has grown as a pitcher and the lengths to which he has harnessed his stuff. Ninety-eight on the black is going to get you a lot of whiffs. That's step one for Eovaldi -- not just throwing gas, but putting it where he wants it.
Step two comes in the next highlight, when Eovaldi strikes out the mighty Carlos Gonzalez. He gets ahead of Gonzalez 1-2, and last season, he might have turned to a fastball in this spot. Not so this year. Eovaldi snaps off a sharp slider and gets Gonzalez to swing and miss at a pitch that ends up at his feet. That slider is going to be a crucial pitch for Eovaldi this year. He threw it just 18.6 percent of the time last year, while throwing his fastball more than 70 percent of the time. On Tuesday, 23 of his 95 pitches were sliders, and 14 of those were strikes. Those sliders had an average horizontal break (away from a righty, into a lefty) of 2.16 inches and speed of 86 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. The Rockies swung at 12 of those 23 sliders, putting just four in play. Two of those were ground balls and one was a popup. In short, his slider was a real weapon for him against Colorado, and that's dangerous for opposing hitters. If Eovaldi can pair a strong slider with his overwhelming fastball, the strikeouts will pile up.
Finally, let's fast forward to the 37-second mark in the video. Michael Cuddyer, the NL batting champion from last season, is at the plate, and the count is 2-2. Like he did against Stubbs in the first, Eovaldi dials up a fastball on the outside corner. Just like Stubbs, Cuddyer swings right through it. Again, it's not just about the pitch, but the situation. Cuddyer hits second in the Colorado lineup, right in front of Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Going to a full count would likely compel Eovaldi to challenge Cuddyer. After all, he doesn't want to walk him ahead of the Rockies' big bats. He executes the pitch perfectly, but the mere fact that he wants to throw that pitch at that time illustrates that the Eovaldi breakout could very well be more than just myth this season.
Eovaldi was strong all game. His first fastball clocked in at 98 mph, and his last one got up to 96. He threw almost all fastballs and sliders, though he did mix in the occasional curve and changeup. It would be nice to see him develop that change a bit more -- he threw it just 1.7 percent of the time last year -- to use against lefties, but he was able to mix his fastball and slider effectively against a pretty strong lineup in the Rockies. The fastball establishes his high strikeout ceiling, but it's the secondary pitches and newfound command that will ultimately get him to there. One start into the year, he appears to be well on his way to that ceiling.