Perhaps the biggest hero to emerge from the 2018 postseason was right-handed do-everything pitcher Nathan Eovaldi. Initially acquired in exchange for Jalen Beeks, Eovaldi performed well in the regular season and earned a spot in the Red Sox postseason rotation. From there he was borderline unhittable pitcher as both a starter and a reliever. Eovaldi hit free agency at the end of the year but returned to the Red Sox on a four-year, $67.5 million contract. Will Eovaldi live up to that big payday in 2019?
Boston Red Sox 2019 Preview: Nathan Eovaldi
Eovaldi pitched 54 regular season innings in Boston, posting an impressive 3.33 ERA and a 2.88 FIP with the Red Sox. He backed this up by striking out eight batters per nine innings while walking just two batters per nine. Not all of his starts were gems, but overall he gave the Red Sox enough confidence to make him their third arm in the postseason rotation. Eovaldi was especially good against the New York Yankees, only allowing one unearned run in 16 innings of work.
Eovaldi found another gear when the calendar flipped to October. Pitching in six games while making two starts, Eovaldi posted an impressive 1.61 ERA and a 2.71 FIP in his 22.1 postseason innings. When he didn’t start, he was typically used as the setup man for Craig Kimbrel. Despite being a key reason for winning most of his appearances, his most impressive work actually came in a loss.
During Game Three of the World Series, Evoaldi came on in relief and pitched six innings out of the bullpen. He did this despite pitching in each of the previous two games, and he pitched masterfully. Even though he gave up the game-losing home run on his 97th pitch, this gutsy performance inspired all of his teammates and was one of the most astonishing performances in recent memory. The Red Sox may have been able to win the World Series without Eovaldi, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as easy.
What To Work On
There’s a lot to like when looking at Eovaldi’s 2018 numbers with the Red Sox. While his dominant postseason was assisted by some batted ball luck, his FIP is in the two’s. The purpose of FIP is to try to take batted ball luck out of the equation and see what a pitcher’s ERA would be based on their strikeouts, walks, and type of contact allowed. By this measure, Eovaldi pitched like a true ace throughout his Red Sox tenure.
The biggest thing for Eovaldi will be proving he can do it again. He’s been a different pitcher since incorporating his cutter, but he’ll need to prove he can stay on the field. Eovaldi underwent Tommy John surgery on two separate occasions, with the most recent coming back in 2016.
This is obviously concerning on the surface, as Tommy John is one of the hardest injuries for a pitcher to undergo. However, a deeper look shows that Eovaldi probably won’t have to deal with the injury a third time. Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the man who performed Eovaldi’s latest Tommy John surgery, said that X-Rays showed no structural damage and Eovaldi isn’t at any advanced risk of re-injury. All pitchers are inherent injury risks, but Eovaldi is no susceptible to injury than anyone else right now.
Steamer Projections expects Nathan Eovaldi to take a step back following his 2018 dominance. The projection website says that Eovaldi will finish his 2019 season with a 3.90 ERA and a 3.80 FIP. His K/9 is projected to drop to 7.96 and his BB/9 is projected to rise to 2.34.
These aren’t bad numbers by any means, as these numbers line up with a typical number three arm. That’s what Eovaldi is paid to be, and the Red Sox would be happy if he finishes with this type of a season. However, Eovaldi should be even better than that.
He won’t repeat his postseason heroics, as nobody can be THAT good over the course of a full season. However, he should be able to sustain his regular season success. 2018 was the first year Eovaldi started using his cutter and it’s developed into his best offering. Because of this, he’s now a four-pitch pitcher capable of fooling every batter he faces. He doesn’t have the potential of a Chris Sale or a David Price, but he should be one of the better number three starters in baseball. Look for Eovaldi to finish his season with an ERA in the mid-to-low three’s.
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com
(Oct. 27, 2018 – Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America)
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