There are plenty of ways to poo-poo Nathan Eovaldi. Dude has thrown 300 changeups and they’ve been bad, for the most part. Dude has gas, but his four-seamer gets only gets average whiffs. Dude’s thrown almost 500 innings and been league average. Dude’s done this in pitcher-friendly parks and leagues and now is headed to Yankee Stadium. Dude.
There’s at least one way to get excited about Eovaldi. By arsenal shape, speed, and peripheral results, he’s pretty much Garrett Richards.
First, it is true that Eovaldi doesn’t have a good changeup. He should probably just stop throwing it. If you look at different classification systems, he’s thrown anywhere from 150 to 300 changeups in his career, and averaged around a 8% whiff rate. The average whiff rate on a change is 13%.
The reason those systems have a hard time identifying his change is that it’s very close in movement to his sinker. At Brooks Baseball, his change has the same horizontal movement as his sinker, just over an inch more drop than his sinker, and eight mph difference in velocity. Those don’t really satisfy the conditions for a good changeup.
Maybe he should turf it. It worked for Richards. And before you say they’re really different pitchers, maybe we should look at the shape, velocity, and whiff rates on their pitches. It’s a bit eye-opening:
So maybe Richards’ slider is a little better than Eovaldi’s. It has more movement and has shown a bitter whiff rate so far. And his curve is bigger than Eovaldi’s and has also had better results. But Eovaldi’s fastball actually has a bit more horizontal movement than Richards’, especially when it comes to the sinker.
Zoom out a bit, and you’ve got more similarities than differences. Both are big fastball guys with two good breaking pitches. Both have bad changepieces. Both have had some issues with command, both showed good command more recently.
If you agree that they are at least somewhat alike, let’s move on. How did Richards get over the hump and become the Richards that he was last year?
The two biggest changes he made to his mix were radical but effective. Richards turfed the change and upped his slider usage to near 40% by the end of the year. From an outcome standpoint, it made a ton of sense. His changeup wasn’t getting whiffs, and his slider was. With the curve, he had a weapon against lefties.
Richards does throw the sinker more than Eovaldi, so the new Yankee may want to look at his fastball usage. There might be something there. He may also want to turf the changeup, it’s not working anyway. Eovaldi’s curve has better results by whiffs against lefties than righties anyway (12% to 8%), so it’s effective as a platoon-buster.
Should Eovaldi push his slider usage as far as Richards did? By the end of the season, the Angel was throwing the pitch more than a third of the time. That’s harder to recommend — his strikeout rate went down in the second half, and the result was mostly seen (if they were) in his ground-ball rate and walk rates, which improved. The ball rate on Richards’ slider is better than Eovaldi’s, so maybe Eovaldi can’t command the slider as much as the Angel starter can.
Richards has always had better overall whiff rates than Eovaldi, so maybe those differences in breaking pitches are very important here. But it might be equally important to note that turfing a bad pitch can be as useful as improving it. If Nathan Eovaldi’s changeup isn’t getting good results, why keep throwing it? There’s a good chance he’ll be better without it, if Garrett Richards‘ history is to be believed.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.