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Should the Reds pursue Nathan Eovaldi?

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


A one-word response to that question might not be enough to convince you, so let’s take a closer look at Nathan Eovaldi. Yesterday the New York Yankees announced that they had released the twenty-six year old starting pitcher. Eovaldi was entering his final season of arbitration eligibility, but with this move he’ll begin the free agent process a year early. Eovaldi has been something of a puzzle to baseball analysts throughout his young career. His velocity has always been tantalizing, but things just haven’t seemed to click for him through six major league seasons.

So why would the Yankees be willing to cut a cost-controlled starter with upside? The primary reason is that Eovaldi will miss the entire 2017 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Last year he was diagnosed with “a torn flexor tendon and a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.” Rather than pay Eovaldi to rehab, New York decided to cut him loose.

Eovaldi’s struggles throughout the 2016 season also didn’t help his case. New York acquired the right hander prior to the 2015 season. Over 48 starts he provided a pretty mixed bag in terms of results.

In 2015 Eovaldi went 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA (3.42 FIP), but he had very different results in 2016. When he was shut down in August, Eovaldi was 9-8 with a 4.76 ERA (4.97 FIP). Part of the reason for his struggles stemmed from an uncharacteristic spike in the number of home runs he allowed. Prior to 2016, Eovaldi had a career rate of 0.6 HR/9. That number ballooned to 1.7 in 2016 which was the 12th worst rate in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 IP.

One of the oddities of Eovaldi’s career has been his low strikeout rate in light of his eye popping velocity. Last season Eovaldi’s fastball tied for the 11th highest average velocity (97.9 mph) of any pitch in MLB. Matthew Kory of FanGraphs broke down some of the likely culprits of this high velocity/low strikeouts combination. First, while Eovaldi does get great velocity on his fastball, it generates very little horizontal movement. Kory characterized it as “particularly straight.” Second, Eovaldi’s lack of quality secondary pitches was viewed as a major problem. However, this is a facet of his game he’s developed over the past few seasons.

Mike Axisa recently summarized a few of these developments in Eovaldi’s repertoire. In 2015 he added a splitter, and in the middle of this past season he began using a cutter. He found some success with these pitches, and they could go a long way toward diminishing the deficiencies of his fastball.

Over the course of his career Eovaldi has had stretches when he’s looked like a solid mid-rotation starter. For a team like the Reds, this absolutely seems like a player worth taking a flier on. They likely won’t be competing for a playoff spot in 2017, so the fact that Eovaldi can’t pitch next season won’t be a huge detriment. Eovaldi’s willingness to develop as a pitcher is encouraging, and some of his most egregious numbers from 2016 should revert closer to his career norms.

A rebuilding team can never have enough potential pitching, and Eovaldi could be something of a relatively low-cost lottery ticket for Cincinnati. Even if he were to come back and struggle as a starter, he has the kind of stuff that could potentially play as a solid bullpen option. While Eovaldi is far from a sure thing, he still has the kind of upside that could make a positive impact on a major league staff.