Opinion

Why Nathan Eovaldi Will Live Up To His Contract

The Boston Red Sox crossed off the biggest thing on their offseason to-do list on Thursday, signingNathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $67.5 million contract. While most of Red Sox Nation rejoiced to see their playoff hero return, some believe it came at too high of a price. The Nathan Eovaldi contract ranks 20th among starting pitchers, and some may say that’s too high for a guy with a career 4.16 ERA and two Tommy John surgeries.

However, that sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. Signing Nathan Eovaldi is a great move for the Red Sox, as the hard-throwing righty should continue to be one of the better pitchers in baseball during histime with the Red Sox.

The Nathan Eovaldi Contract Was A Good Deal

Detractors of the Nathan Eovaldi contract seem to have his time complaints with handing out this deal. For one, they look at his career 4.16 ERA and think that he’s an average pitcher and not a superstar. Secondly, they claim that his extensive injury history makes his a high-risk signing who’s just waiting to get hurt.

Eovaldi’s Deceiving Career Numbers

Let’s start with looking at his career numbers. At first glance, it does appear as though the Red Sox bought high on a guy with some fairly pedestrian numbers. Throughout his major league career, Eovaldi has pitched 850 career innings to the tune of a 4.16 ERA and a 3.82 FIP. He strikes out a below average 6.78 batters per nine innings while walking a pedestrian 2.74 batters per nine.

However, looking at his career numbers is doing a disservice to the pitcher Eovaldi has become. The hard-throwing righty has reinvented himself as a pitcher, in large part thanks to his utilization of a cutter. The cutter has been discussed ad naseum by a wide variety of news outlets, so let’s not waste too many words on it here.

After never throwing a cutter prior to 2016, Eovaldi used the pitch on 32% of his offering in 2018. The results were astounding. In 111 innings between the Rays and the Red Sox, Eovaldi posted a 3.81 ERA and a 3.60 FIP. His numbers improved as the season went on, which is only natural considering he missed all of 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery. From July onward, Eovaldi posted a 3.69 ERA and a 2.99 FIP. His K/9 was a solid 8.4 and hisBB/9 was an impressive 1.8.

These are the numbers of a really good number three pitcher in the rotation. While he won’t be as good as he was in the playoffs (nobody can be THAT good for a full season), his cutter makes him a strong arm third arm behind Chris Sale and David Price.

Eovaldi’s Overblown Injury History

The second reason some people don’t like the Eovaldi contract is that of his extensive history with injury, specifically Tommy John surguries. Eovaldi has suffered two UCL injuries thoughout his life, one coming in 2017 and the other coming back when he was a 16-year old. It’s only natural to speculate about how long his arm can hold up if there are already signs of it falling apart. However, actual doctors have spoken up, saying that Eovaldi’s elbow is nothing to worry about.

Dr. Christopher Ahmad, head physician of the New York Yankees, performed Nathan Eovaldi’s second Tommy John surgery back in late 2016. According to the doctor, Eovaldi’s post-op evaluations and exams revealed nothing structurally damaged with the new ligament. In many ways, it was like Eovaldi had a brand new arm.

There’s no such thing as a pitcher without injury risk, but Eovaldi is no more susceptible to injury than anyone else in the game. That’s coming from a medical professional and is almost certainly more based in fact than the paranoid ramblings on your Twitter feed. Tommy John surgery isn’t the kiss of death it once was. Medical science has come a long way and has allowed players like John Lackey to continue pitching late into their 30s after undergoing the UCL surgery.

From a certain point of view, the Tommy John injury may actually help Eovaldi’s long-term durability. As MassLive’s Christopher Smith pointed out on the Red Sox Unfiltered podcast, missing a year actually alleviated the strain on the majority of Eovaldi’s body. We’ve already established his arm is as good as ever, and the rest of his body has less work than the typical 28-year old pitcher. If anything, it stands to reason that Eovaldi has better odds than most at staying healthy throughout the life of his contract.

How This Affects The Team

This move effectively seals the 2019 Red Sox roster. Eovaldi’s contract, along with the Steve Pearce signing, shows the Red Sox are basically planning on going into next year with the 2018 core completely intact. They’ll likely add a reliever or two, but this should basically be what the final roster looks like.

2020 is a different story. Boston has several key players hitting free agency after 2019, including Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, and Rick Porcello. Sale and Bogaerts will earn massive paydays and the Red Sox can’t allow either to leave. This probably leaves Porcello on the outside looking in, meaning that the Red Sox essentially prioritized keeping Eovaldi over keeping Porcello. The question is, was this the right decision?

In a word, yes. Porcello is a strong mid-rotation arm in his own right, but Eovaldi has the higher ceiling and the safer floor. Porcello is only one year older than Eovaldi but has already tossed 1,863 innings in his professional career. Eovaldi, meanwhile, has thrown just 850. The human shoulder can only throw so many innings, and Porcello already has over 1,000 more innings logged than Eovaldi. Because of this, it’s safe to assume Eovaldi has a lot more left in his tank than Porcello.

Additionally, Eovaldi is just the better pitcher. Outside of Porcello’s magical 2016 Cy Young campaign, the righty has yet to finish a year with an ERA or FIP below 4.0 as a member of the Red Sox. Eovaldi, meanwhile, finished the 2018 regular season with a 3.81 ERA and a 3.60 FIP. As a member of the Red Sox, Eovaldi finished his half-season with a 3.33 ERA and a 2.88 FIP. This doesn’t include his postseason numbers, which would only lower his final line. The money would likely be the same, as Porcello is currently making $21.125 million per season. He probably won’t earn a payday quite that large in 2020, but it would likely fall around what Eovaldi’s making at the moment.

Unfiltered Thoughts on the Nathan Eovaldi Contract

At the end of the day, Nathan Eovaldi contract is a good move for both the Red Sox and Eovaldi himself. By signing this deal, the RedSox ensure that their postseason hero stays in Boston for the foreseeable future. While some may worry about his injury history and his career ERA, these issues are overblown and actually aren’t worth worrying about.

Eovaldi’s career 4.16 ERA and other peripherals aren’t reflective of the pitcher he’s become. After never using a cutter in his professional career, Eovaldi has started using the pitch as his primary offering in 2018. Said pitch has done wonders for his production and his overall effectiveness, so he should be better than his career average moving forward.

Additionally, the Tommy John surgeries shouldn’t have a lasting effect on his career. No starting pitcher is without injury risk, but medical professionals have gone on record to say that his elbow is as good as new. If anything, missing all that time with the Tommy John injury should help his overall body last longer as he gets older and older.This move likely means Rick Porcello is in his last year with the Red Sox, which is obviously unfortunate. However, Eovaldi is the player with the brighter future. Porcello has tossed over 1,000 more innings than Eovaldi, which makes him more likely to be near the end of his career. Additionally, Porcello only has one season as a Red Sox where he finished with an ERA or FIP below 4.00. Eovaldi also has one season with those numbers, but he’s only pitched one year with the Red Sox. The Red Sox could only really keep one of Porcello and Eovaldi, and Eovaldi is clearly the better choice.

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com 
(Oct. 25, 2018 – Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America)

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