Nathan Eovaldi’s new old pitch

Changeup grip! (Presswire)
Changeup grip! (Presswire)

Late last week, the Yankees pulled off a surprising trade that bolstered their rotation but weakened their offense. It was surprising not because of what they received — we all knew the Yankees needed rotation help, and the free agent market lacks quality non-elites at this point — but because of what they gave up. Trading Martin Prado seemed unlikely because of his bat and versatility.

The Yankees received the hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi in the trade and by now you’ve heard that he’s a guy with great stuff and not the results to match. He throws very hard and has a sharp slider, but his strikeout rate is below the league average. The Yankees didn’t acquire a finished product. The 24-year-old Eovaldi is still a project. If he was a finished product, it would have cost a lot more to acquire him.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this post, here’s some background info: Eovaldi’s from Houston — he and Nolan Ryan are the only big leaguers to come out of Alvin High School — and was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round of the 2008 draft. He had Tommy John surgery as a high school junior, so scouts never really saw him at 100% as a senior. Los Angeles grabbed him, developed him, got him to MLB, then traded him to Miami for Hanley Ramirez. Two and a half years later, he’s a Yankee. That’s the Nate Eovaldi story.

Since the trade last week we’ve learned Eovaldi is basically a 2.5-pitch pitcher, relying heavily on his high-octane four-seamer and slider while mixing in a handful of curveballs. He’s toyed with a cutter, a sinker, and a changeup through the years. Here’s his pitch selection throughout his MLB career, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Nathan Eovaldi pitch selection

Eovaldi went back and forth between MLB and Triple-A a few times in 2011 and early in 2012 before being traded to Miami at the deadline. He had been in the Marlins rotation since the trade. As you can see in the graph, Eovaldi’s settled in as that fastball-slider with a few curveballs pitcher the last two seasons after some early-career tinkering. The cutter is completely gone and both the sinker and changeup rarely make an appearance these days.

Because of that, I thought this recent quote from Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was particularly interesting. Here’s what Saltalamacchia told Nick Cafardo after Eovaldi was dealt to New York:

“At the end of the year he figured out how to throw a new pitch that is really going to help him. He throws hard and all of his pitches are hard, so this new pitch will help that out because he’s got a fastball rotation with split action.”

A new pitch, huh? This is the time of year — it’s a little early, actually, but close enough — when we hear all about pitchers adding a new pitch and guys being in the best shape of their life and all that. The usual fodder that makes for fun optimistic stories heading into Spring Training. Very rarely do these changes mean anything — Jason Collette kept track of “new pitches” in Spring Training earlier this year, there were a lot of ‘em — but the stories are always out there.

It’s not often we hear about a pitcher adding a new pitch during the season though, and that’s what Saltalamacchia said happened. “At the end of the year (Eovaldi) figured out how to throw a new pitch,” according to his catcher. But, when you look at the pitch selection graph above, there’s no new pitch. That’s discouraging. But wait! Eovaldi spoke to Anthony McCarron after Friday’s trade and said this (emphasis mine):

Now, he says, “I want to throw first-pitch strikes with off-speed stuff, even use it on a 2-1 count or 1-and-2. I’m working on my changeup a lot more this offseason, just mixing it in to my repertoire. Last year, toward the end, it helped me out a lot. I want to keep locating the fastball, then use my slider and curve more and have a better mix.”

Saltalamacchia says it was a new pitch while Eovaldi says it was actually his changeup. Looking at the pitch selection graph above, Eovaldi did throw more changeups at the end of the 2014 season after more or less shelving the pitch during the summer months. In fact, he threw 19 changeups in his final four starts of the season after throwing 19 changeups in his previous 12 starts combined, including zero changeups total in the four starts prior to his final four starts. It seems like the new pitch Saltalamacchia was talking about was actually just an old pitch, the changeup. A new old pitch.

Okay, so great, Eovaldi threw a bunch more changeups late in the season. That doesn’t really mean anything in and of itself. The Marlins were basically out of contention in September and that’s when pitchers tend to tinker, when the games don’t matter. Let’s not focus on the number of changeups Eovaldi threw but instead look at the pitch itself. Here are the pitch details through the years, again courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

% Vel Whiff % GB% Hor. Mvmt Vert. Mvmt Hor. Loc Vert. Loc
2012 6.2% 85.6 9.9% 42.4% -6.86 6.60 0.88 -0.42
2013 1.7% 88.0 3.6% 0.0% -8.01 5.06 0.69 -1.17
2014 (starts 1-29) 2.8% 88.0 5.0% 52.9% -7.64 4.32 0.45 -0.57
2014 (starts 30-33) 6.0% 90.0 21.1% 100.0% -7.75 4.01 -0.90 -1.43
MLB AVG 10.1% 83.2 14.9% 47.8% -1.40 4.50 ? ?

Before we get into the data, I will again point out we are dealing with a very small number of pitches. Like I said, Eovaldi threw 19 total changeups in those last four starts. Anytime you deal with a sample this small, there can be some major weirdness. For example, if Eovaldi’s changeup is suddenly a true talent 21.1% whiff/100.0% ground ball pitch, it would be the best pitch in baseball history. At least one of the best. I’m guessing that’s not really the case.

Alright, so anyway Eovaldi has added a little velocity to his changeup over the years and the horizontal movement has more or less remained steady. (The negative number means it moves away from lefties and in to righties.) The vertical movement can be confusing — the smaller the number, the more the pitch moves downward. (Curveballs are well into the negatives, for example.) So Eovaldi’s changeup actually had about 2.5 more inches of downward movement at the end of 2014 than it did in 2012. He also did a better job of locating the pitch on the outer half to lefties (horizontal location) and down in the zone (vertical location).

I went through the archives hoping we’d be able to see the difference in Eovaldi’s changeups over the years, so here are two GIFs. The one on the left is from July 2012 (Eovaldi’s very first start with the Marlins) and the one on the right is from his second-to-last start of 2014 (his last was on the road and I wanted to use the same camera angle):

Nathan Eovaldi 2012 and 2014 changeups

First off, long live the dead center field camera. Isn’t it great? Secondly, those changeups look different! I mean, kinda. The 2012 changeup (86.5 mph/-6.58 horizontal movement/+7.86 vertical movement) doesn’t do much of anything. It just kind of floats in there. The 2014 changeup (89.7/-10.31/+1.61) has a little action on it. It actually moves down and away from the lefty hitter. The 2012 pitch almost looks like a cutter. These visuals are fun and somewhat useful, just keep in mind this is a totally random sample of two pitches.

Okay, so now what? Eovaldi and his former catcher both acknowledged something was different at the end of this past season, and it seems to be his changeup. PitchFX data confirms Eovaldi didn’t just throw his changeup more often this September, he also threw it harder*, with more downward movement, and with better location down-and-away from lefties. The swing-and-miss and ground ball rates were way, way better in the limited sample as well. That’s what we know.

* A 90 mph changeup is rare but remember Eovaldi throws very hard. His fastball averaged 95.5 mph this past season and routinely touched 97-98 mph. As hard as his changeup is, the pitch still has a lot of velocity separation from his fastball.

What we also know is that Eovaldi has gotten hammered by lefties throughout his career. They hit .293/.330/.438 (.336 wOBA) against him this past season and .288/.350/.421 (.338 wOBA) against him in his career. That can’t continue going forward, at least not if Eovaldi wants to be something more than a mid-rotation pitcher known more for his innings-eating than his effectiveness. Finding a way to combat hitters of the opposite hand is imperative.

Obviously the Yankees envision Eovaldi eventually becoming much more than what he is right now. It’s similar to the Michael Pineda trade — the Yankees are hoping he can stabilize the rotation in the short-term and front it in the long-term. An improved changeup can help Eovaldi neutralize left-handed batters and possibly allow him to take that next step towards the front of the rotation. What he showed in September is promising. We know there’s a good changeup in there somewhere. Turning it into a consistent and reliable weapon will be a point of emphasis going forward.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 22nd, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

The Yankees had themselves a pretty busy Friday today and I missed most of it because of some family stuff. I’ll chime in with some thoughts about the big Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade over the weekend, though my quick analysis is that this is a really fun but really risky trade for the Yankees. Fun because they got some serious pitching upside, risky because they gave up the two sure things in the deal in Prado and David Phelps.

Friday: Anyway, this is your open thread for the night. The Devils, Islanders, and Nets are all playing, plus there’s the usual slate of college basketball. Talk about anything and everything here.

Saturday: Once again, this if the nightly open thread. There are two NFL games today: Eagles-Redskins is wrapping up right now and Chargers-49ers will begin later tonight. All three local hockey teams are in action and there’s college football and basketball on as well. Enjoy.

Sunday: For the final time, here’s the open thread for the night. The late NFL game is the Seahawks and Cardinals, plus the Rangers and Nets are playing. Have at it.

Yankees did not place bid for Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang


The Yankees did not place a bid for Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang prior to Friday afternoon’s deadline, reports Bryan Hoch. That’s not too surprising. They were never really connected to him these last few weeks. The Nexen Heroes are expected to accept the high bid, which came in at approximately $5M, according to a Yonhap News report passed along by our own Sung-Min Kim.

Kang, 27, is said to be seeking a multi-year contract in the $5M to $6M range. It’s unclear which team placed the high bid, but, according to multiple reports, it was not the Mets, Padres, Dodgers, Orioles, Blue Jays, Braves, Giants, Athletics, Twins, Cardinals, or Rays. Or the Yankees, of course. A formal announcement of the high bid is expected sometime Monday.

After re-signing Chase Headley on Monday, it appeared New York’s infield was set, but then they surprisingly traded Martin Prado to the Marlins on Friday. Kang could have been a second base option after Prado was sent packing. Following Friday’s trade, Brian Cashman said he anticipates Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder will compete for the second base job in Spring Training.

Sunny told you everything you need to know about Kang in this post. He hit .356/.459/.739 with 40 homers in 117 games for Nexen this season, though there are questions about his defense and how his power will play in the big leagues. The track record of Asian infielders in MLB is pretty bad as well. The Yankees clearly had some questions if they didn’t place a bid.

Thoughts following the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The Yankees made perhaps their most significant move of the offseason yesterday, at least the most significant in terms of the number of players involved. I think you could argue the Didi Gregorius trade was their most significant move of the winter because getting a new young starting shortstop is kind of a big deal. Anyway, I have some thoughts about the big Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi (plus other stuff) trade, so let’s get to it.

1. Eovaldi will be a nice little project for pitching coach Larry Rothschild and pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. He’s got a big arm — he had the fourth fastest average fastball among qualified starters this past season at 95.5 mph — but so far the results haven’t matched the stuff. Both his fastball and slider generate only an average number of swings and misses and a slightly better than average number of grounders. Eovaldi’s curveball is the same way but he throws it less than 10% of the time. His changeup flat out stinks — opponents have a .200+ ISO against the pitch in his career — so much so that the best might simply be shelving the pitch entirely and emphasizing the curveball more. That can work — as Eno Sarris explained, Garrett Richards had a similar profile and he became an ace partly because he stopped throwing his worst pitch (the changeup) — as long as the fastball, slider, and curveball show some improvement, especially when it comes to missing bats. Perhaps Rothschild and Patterson will help him Eovaldi develop a cutter and that can serve as his fourth pitch, but, until then, getting better results from his already very good stuff will be the priority. How can they do that? Beats me. That’s why they’re the coaches and I’m the dumb blogger.

2. Eovaldi’s struggles against left-handed batters are very real and they make me nervous with his move into Yankee Stadium. Lefties hit .293/.330/.438 (.336 wOBA) against him last season and .288/.350/.421 (.338 wOBA) against him in his career. (Brett Gardner led Yankees’ regulars with a .331 wOBA in 2014, by the way. /sobs) Yankee Stadium is a great place to hit if you’re a left-handed hitter and unless Eovaldi can figure out a better way to attack them — cutter? more curveballs? somehow improving the changeup? — he could wind up a 30+ homer starter in the Bronx. Yes, his career homer rate is very good (0.65 HR/9 and 6.9 HR/FB%), though he’s spent his career in two big pitcher’s parks in the non-DH league. I think there’s some Phil Hughes-level gopher ball-itis potential here if Eovaldi can’t figure out a way to handle batters of the opposite hand, in which case his FIP (3.37 in 2014) will begin to approach his ERA (4.37) rather than the other way around. Rothschild and Patterson have their work cut out for them. The Marlins are legitimate excellent at developing pitchers. There might be a reason they were so willing to trade Eovaldi, and it could be his inability to consistently retire lefties.

3. On the bright side, Eovaldi is really young. He’ll turn 25 in February. He’s a year younger than Shane Greene. We’re not talking about a 27 or 28-year-old guy who needs to improve to reach his potential. Eovaldi’s still a kid and theoretically on the upswing of his career. The Yankees don’t have many guys like that on the roster. He’s already shown he’s a capable Major League starter and that’s (more than?) half the battle. Now he has to learn the nuances of pitching through experience and coaching. That’s something veterans like CC Sabathia and Chris Capuano can help with as well. Just look through Eovaldi’s video archive and you can see the potential. It’s exciting. The kid’s got a great arm and learning how to get more swings and misses — something Rothschild has a history of doing with his pitchers, mostly by emphasizing breaking balls — and combat lefties is a lot easier to do when you sit 95+ with a big breaking slider.

4. The Yankees traded reliability for upside with this deal. We know what Prado and David Phelps are at this point of their careers, and that’s a slightly better than average infielder and a swingman. I still think calling Phelps a back-of-the-rotation starter is pretty generous because he’s made only 40 starts across three MLB seasons and has had elbow problems in each of the last two second halves. That’s not to say Phelps is bad, he’s certainly a useful pitcher, but he’s three years older than Eovaldi and can be easily replaced. Bryan Mitchell, Jose DePaula, or even Manny Banuelos could fill his role next season. The Yankees shouldn’t and probably didn’t think twice about trading a guy like Phelps, especially now that he’s getting expensive through arbitration as a Super Two. This trade is all about upside for New York, both with Eovaldi and righty Domingo German. German’s essentially this trade’s Jose Campos, the Single-A guy with a big arm and promise. He’s a lottery ticket, Brian Cashman said as much in yesterday’s conference call, and the Yankees could use a lottery ticket arm like this in their position player-heavy farm system. Cashman traded the reliability of Prado and Phelps for the pure upside and impact potential of Eovaldi and German. It’s risky, but boy is it fun.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty)
(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

5. Garrett Jones is more or less a throw-in in my opinion. He’s a nice bench piece who fits the roster very well — he plays first base (Mark Teixeira is always hurt), right field (Carlos Beltran is always hurt), and can also slot in at DH (Alex Rodriguez is always hurt). I don’t consider him any kind of difference maker or core piece though. Eovaldi and German are the centerpieces, Jones the throw-in. Hopefully he hits a bunch of dingers over the short porch and does for the Yankees what Mike Carp did for the 2013 Red Sox, specifically mash in a limited role. The Yankees have been trying to get Jones for years — they first asked about him in A.J. Burnett trade talks with the Pirates four offseason ago — so I’m not surprised he was included in the trade. He’s a nice fit for the roster and bench. No need to make it anything more than that.

6. Aside from a potential reunion with Hiroki Kuroda and miscellaneous depth additions, I think the Yankees are done with their pitching this offseason. In fact, they could probably use another bat right now more than anything. Rob Refsnyder‘s really great, though as I said after the Chase Headley re-signing, I hate handing jobs to non-elite prospects. Prado was a great fit because he’s a solid right-handed hitter and versatile, so there were a ton of ways to keep him in the lineup. I don’t think the Yankees will pursue someone like Asdrubal Cabrera or Stephen Drew to play second, but, if they do, that same kind of flexibility isn’t there. I have no doubt Refsnyder will get a chance at some point next season. I just really hope the Yankees aren’t planning to hand him the second base job unchallenged in Spring Training. A Gregorius-Refsnyder double play combination makes me really nervous.

7. I mentioned this in my last thoughts post, but boy there have been a lot of big leaguer for big leaguer trades lately. The Yankees made one earlier this offseason with the Gregorius-Greene swap, and the Prado/Eovaldi trade is another one. The Yankees got younger with both trades and filled some rather critical areas of need. They also managed to save some money too. I do believe the Yankees got better with the two trades with the caveat that we have to see how they plan to proceed at second base. Prado isn’t a franchise savior or anything like that, but he’s a solid player who was slated to fill an important position. This is more or less the Yankees’ version of rebuilding — they’re never going to tear it all down and frankly I’m very happy that’s the case. I am very much anti-sucking on purpose. Rather than tear it down, they’re making smaller moves to get younger and specific spots. Last offseason the rebuilding piece was 25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, and this year it’s Gregorius, Eovaldi, and replacing Frankie Cervelli with presumably John Ryan Murphy behind the plate. Soon it’ll be time for Refsnyder, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and other homegrown guys to be phased onto the roster.

Yankees acquire righty Gonzalez Germen from Mets

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The Yankees have acquired right-hander Gonzalez Germen from the Mets for cash considerations, the team announced. It’s first trade between the two clubs since the Mike Stanton-Felix Heredia swap in December 2004. Preston Claiborne was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot.

Germen, 27, has a 4.31 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 64.2 relief innings for the Mets over the past two seasons. He walks a few too many (4.18 BB/9 and 10.6 BB%) is both fly ball (36.8% grounders) and homer (1.11 HR/9 and 10.1 HR/FB%) prone, though he does get strikeouts (8.91 K/9 and 22.7 K%). Germen is a low-to-mid-90s fastball, mid-80s changeup, mid-80 slider pitcher.

As far as the depth chart goes, this is basically a straight Germen for Claiborne swap. They’re the same age (Germen’s four months older) and they both have one minor league option remaining (I think). Germen misses a few more bats while Claiborne has slightly better walk and grounder rates. This is a tiny little move that marginally upgrades something like the 35th man on the 40-man roster.

Yankees trade Martin Prado and David Phelps for Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones

According to Jack Curry, the Yankees have traded Martin Prado the Marlins for RHP Nathan Eovaldi. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that the deal will also send David Phelps to the Marlins and 1B/OF Garrett Jones to the Yankees. The Yankees will also get RHP prospect Domingo German. The 40-man roster is now full.

The trade comes as something of a surprise. With the re-signing of Chase Headley, it appeared that the Yankees had a solid infield of Headley, Prado, Didi Gregorius, and Mark Teixeira. Moving Prado opens up a spot for Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder, or perhaps another second baseman in a trade. Would the Phillies make Chase Utley available?


The main return in the trade, Eovaldi is a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who turns 25 in February. Yet he’s already arbitration eligible this year, so the Yankees will have his rights through the 2017 season.

Although Eovaldi has three years’ service time, he’s thrown only 460 MLB innings. Last season was the first in which he made more than 30 starts. His injury history isn’t long, but it certainly concerning. In 2013 he missed the first 69 games of the season with shoulder inflammation, although it didn’t seem to affect him for the rest of the season or in 2014. His only other major injury is Tommy John surgery in 2007.

While he throws very hard, averaging 95.5 mph with his fastball in 2014, Eovaldi doesn’t strike out many hitters. Even as his fastball increased in velocity with his move from LA to Miami, he still stuck around 6.5 K/9, which is far below average right now. The idea, it seems, is to get him with Larry Rothschild and Gil Patterson, hoping that they can turn his plus-velocity into swings and misses.

Eovaldi will presumably take Phelps’s spot in the rotation, giving the Yankees their starting five. They could still make a move, given the injury risk, but that would necessarily bump one of the guys they just brought in. It’s no big loss to move Capuano to the bullpen, but why do that after spending $5 million on him?

German is at least interesting, a hard-thrower who performed well in the Sally league last year. Mike should have more on him later.

Garrett Jones is a prototypical platoon player, though he’s on the strong side. For the past two years he’s been a .250/.300/.400 guy, but .267/.333/.479 career against right-handers. He can back up Mark Teixeira at first base and Carlos Beltran in right field, while also taking reps at DH. In other words, he’s more reason to believe the Yankees have absolutely no plans for Alex Rodriguez.

At first I wasn’t thrilled with the trade, but if the Yankees can help Eovaldi harness his stuff they could make out well. Prado provided them with flexibility, but it’s easy to unfairly weigh his performance in the second half last year. He’s had a rough couple of years. Additionally, if the Yankees can get 75 percent of Prado’s performance from Refsnyder or Pirela, with the potential for improvement in the future, that might be a worthwhile bet. I still feel that they could be better served starting in AAA, but it’s not as though it’s going to make a huge difference.

My only problem is that Eovaldi hasn’t been very good. It’s a big bet for the Yankees to make that they can turn him around.