Eovaldi plans to work on his curveball in Spring Training, but it may not be worth the effort

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2015 season was something of a developmental year for Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees acquired him from the Marlins expecting him to hold down a regular rotation spot, and he did that, but they also wanted pitching coach Larry Rothschild to tinker with some things in hope of getting Eovaldi to the next level. His natural gifts are obvious. The results did not match though.

Last season’s big project was the split-finger fastball. Eovaldi came over from Miami with a huge fastball — he threw the six fastest pitches in baseball among non-Aroldis Chapman pitchers in 2015 — and iffy secondary stuff, so the Yankees wanted to give him a swing-and-miss pitch. Rothschild had Eovaldi begin the season with a forkball just so he could get accustomed to the grip before shortening him up to a traditional splitter grip.

Once he switched to the splitter, the results improved greatly. The date of the switch is fairly obvious when looking at Eovaldi’s velocity. In the middle of June the splitter/forkball (splorkball?) went from averaging 85.5 mph to 89.8 mph. The pitch added roughly 4 mph from one start to the next.

Nathan Eovaldi splitter velocityWith the forkball grip Eovaldi had a 4.95 ERA (3.95 FIP) with a 15.8% strikeout rate and a 49.0% ground ball rate in 76.1 innings. With the splitter grip he had a 3.46 ERA (2.90 FIP) with a 20.2% strikeout rate and a 55.8% ground ball rate in 78 innings. The splitter changed everything. Eovaldi was comfortable throwing the pitch — he threw the forkball 10.9% of the time and the splitter 29.7% of the time — and his results improved considerably.

Having a full season of splitter grip Nathan Eovaldi in 2016 is pretty exciting. The development is not going to stop there through. Last week Eovaldi told Chad Jennings he intends to focus on his curveball this spring in an effort to add another reliable secondary pitch.

“Towards the end of the season last year I really developed pretty good control of my split,” he said. “This offseason it’s been great. I’m going to be using that more, of course. The fastball, too. Then, working on the curveball a little bit more, as well.”

The splitter was a new pitch for Eovaldi. The curveball is not. He threw one as an amateur, he threw one in the minors, and he’s thrown out throughout his big league career. Over the last four seasons Eovaldi has thrown the curve anywhere between 8.8% of the time to 9.4% of the time per PitchFX. He got one (1) strikeout on a curveball last season and it wasn’t even that good of a pitch:

Nathan Eovaldi curveball

Chris Davis was looking for something else and Eovaldi froze him with a not great bender up in the zone. It’s loopy and just sorta rolls in there. Hooray for the element of surprise.

Anyway, the curveball was clearly Eovaldi’s fourth best pitch last season behind his fastball, splitter, and slider. It was his third best pitch until the split-finger knocked it down a peg on the depth chart. Given the results over the years, de-emphasizing the curveball is a smart move:

Velo Whiff% GB% Opp. AVG Opp. ISO
2012 75.3 4.8% 36.7% .278 .222
2013 78.3 6.6% 68.2% .310 .138
2014 76.8 10.9% 53.3% .246 .098
2015 76.2 6.8% 50.0% .286 .107
MLB AVG 77.8 11.1% 48.7% .208 .116

Eovaldi’s curveball has not been an effective pitch at all. He’s been able to get some ground balls with it, but the lack of swings and misses is a problem, as evidenced by the opponent’s batting average against the pitch. The curveball used to be Eovaldi’s third best pitch. Now it’s his fourth. That’s where it belongs.

Spring Training is the best time to toy with pitches and Eovaldi’s smart to work on his curveball this spring. I do wonder whether the pitch is worth the effort, however. This is a pitch he’s been throwing his entire career — we’re talking hundreds of innings here — and Eovaldi has not yet been able to refine it to the point of reliability. Perhaps Rothschild can help. I guess we’ll find out this spring.

The addition of the splitter was huge for Eovaldi last year because it gave him the swing-and-miss offering he desperately needed. It also knocked his slider down a peg, which is good, because his slider isn’t great either. The split gave Eovaldi a legitimate put-away pitch. Here is what Eovaldi was worked with once he switched from the forkball grip to the splitter grip. League averages are in parentheses.

% Thrown Velo. Whiff% GB% Opp. AVG Opp. ISO
FB 44.0% 98.2 (92.4) 7.3% (6.9%) 44.1% (37.9%) .262 (.271) .094 (.180)
SPL 28.7% 89.7 (84.3) 16.8% (14.9%) 69.9% (47.8%) .211 (.223) .023 (.132)
SL 19.6% 85.4 (84.2) 11.7% (15.2%) 50.9% (43.9%) .278 (.223) .058 (.136)
CB 7.8% 76.9 (77.8) 4.5% (11.1%) 40.0% (48.7%) .273 (.208) .000 (.116)

The splitter gave Eovaldi a bonafide above-average pitch. It got whiffs and grounders, and he threw it a lot. Perfect. His fastball was also a tick above average as well. Both his slider and curveball were below-average though, with the slider showing some more promise thanks to the ground ball ability.

Eovaldi’s curveball wasn’t good at anything. Didn’t get grounders, didn’t get whiffs, nothing. He didn’t throw it much at all and for good reason. It’s not a good pitch. I wonder if Eovaldi is best off scrapping his curveball entirely — or using it even less, maybe as nothing more than a surprise pitch he throws once or twice a game early in the count when hitters sit fastball — and focusing his efforts on his slider this spring.

The way I see, Eovaldi will primarily be a fastball/splitter pitcher going forward. Those are his top two weapons for pretty obvious reasons. He needs a third pitch, definitely, and his slider is ahead of his curveball. It is right now and has been his entire career. Remember, we’re talking about a third pitch here. It doesn’t need to be great, just something hitters respect. The slider is much closer to that right now than the curve.

There’s nothing wrong with playing around with different pitches in Spring Training. It’s the perfect time to do it. And who knows, maybe Rothschild will tweak Eovaldi’s curveball grip and the pitch turns into a hammer. It’s unlikely but stranger things have happened. Unless the curve does take a step forward these next few weeks, it’s not a pitch worth emphasizing in the regular season. Stick with the fastball, splitter, and some sliders. The curve is trouble.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 22nd, 2016

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

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 Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Yankees sign Chris Parmelee, apparently

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

The Yankees have apparently signed first baseman Chris Parmelee, according to his Instagram. I’ve mentioned him a few times as a possible Triple-A first base candidate in the wake of Greg Bird‘s injury. I assume it’s a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. We’ll find out soon enough.

Parmelee, 27, spent last season with the Orioles, hitting .216/.255/.433 (82 wRC+) in 32 big league games and .314/.386/.444 (142 wRC+) in 63 Triple-A games. He’s a career .245/.311/.396 (95 wRC+) hitter with 28 home runs, a 7.9% walk rate, and a 23.5% strikeout rate in just over 1,000 MLB plate appearances. Parmelee and Aaron Hicks were teammates with the Twins in 2013 and 2014.

Bird is going to miss the entire 2016 season due to shoulder surgery and the Yankees did not have an obvious first base fill-in at Triple-A. They had interest in Ike Davis before he signed with the Rangers. Parmelee figures to head to Triple-A Scranton once the season begins, and hopefully we don’t see him at the MLB level because Mark Teixeira stays healthy.

Fun Fact: Parmelee struck out for the final out of Mariano Rivera‘s 602nd career save, giving Mo the all-time record. Here’s the video.

Open Thread: February 21st Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It was a pretty slow day down in Tampa — the pitchers are throwing every third day right now, so not much happened on the third day of workouts — though things will pick back up tomorrow, and again when position players report Wednesday. Here are today’s photos and here are today’s notes from Spring Training:

  • Recent non-roster adds Mark Montgomery and Kyle Haynes were the only guys to throw today. They faced hitters in live batting practice, so they’re ahead of everyone else. The catchers hit and the other pitchers went through conditioning drills, including running up that new hill the team installed. Apparently Michael Pineda dominated the hill. [Chad Jennings]
  • Carlos Corporan confirmed he has a late-March opt-out in his contract. That’s kind of a big deal. If the Yankees go with Gary Sanchez as their backup catcher, they figure to lose both Corporan (opt-out) and Austin Romine (out of options). I still think they should send Sanchez to Triple-A for the requisite 35 days to delay his free agency. [Jennings]

Here is the nightly open thread. The (hockey) Rangers and Nets are both playing tonight, and that’s about it. Talk about whatever right here.

The Middle

Good seats behind the dugout still available. (Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week, I wrote about how the Yankees’ lineup won’t be dominated by any one position group, but that only applies to the hitters as they appear on the field. As they appear in the lineup, there is certainly a group that will carry the Yankees on offense: the middle of the order.

This guy is good at baseball. (Jeff Haynes/AP Photo)
This guy is good at baseball. (Jeff Haynes/AP Photo)

While the league has mostly moved away from take-and-rake as an offensive philosophy, power and patience still dominate the middle of the Yankee order, which will be populated by some combination of Brian McCann, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran. These stars don’t shine as brightly as they once did, but all four put up–at the very least–respectable seasons in 2015, despite battling their own ages and their own bodies for portions thereof. Given their ages and the shift in offenses across MLB, it’s not likely that we’re going to see these guys put up the monster numbers they were capable of in the past. However, even as more senior players, their skillsets position them well for success. Just as importantly, those skills and their general levels of talent make it possible that they can be distributed in any number of ways that would help the team.

Carlos Beltran-001

All four hitters are capable of hitting in any of the all important middle spots in the lineup and for different reasons. If you want to go by the traditional book that says to put your best overall hitter third, you could slot Beltran in there, since he’s likely to have best combination of average, power, and patience among the three. If you want to go by the other Book, your three hitter can be a lowish-OBP/high-power guy. Of the three non-Beltran hitters, that best fits McCann; he may not be the most powerful, but he doesn’t have the on-base skills of Tex or A-Rod and can definitely knock some extra bases to extend rallies or start them, even with two out and none on.

(Steven Ryan/Getty)
(Steven Ryan/Getty)

Platooning these players in the lineup won’t be difficult either. Two of them–Tex and Beltran–are switch hitters and the other two–McCann and A-Rod–hit with the opposite hands. Rare will be the time when an opposing manager can call on a pitcher who will have the platoon advantage all the way through the middle of the Yankees’ lineup.

Ironically enough, these players are the ones with which the Yankees seem to have the least flexibility. All four of them will need time at DH quite frequently and all four of them are likely to miss time due to injury thanks to their advanced ages. Despite that, though, when healthy and in the lineup, they provide flexibility for manager Joe Girardi, who likes to tinker with lineups to get his team any advantage possible. When we look at these four hitters, we see guys who definitely need things to break right. But we also see four players who can easily carry a lineup. Like I’ve said in the past, I’m optimistic about this team, despite its warts. The middle of the lineup is one part of this team where I think we can count on production if health is a given. With an offseason of rest for these players, let’s hope everything (everything) will be alright in 2016.

Open Thread: February 20th Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The big story from Day Three of Spring Training today was Aroldis Chapman‘s first bullpen session of the spring. He drew quite a crowd, apparently. “I’ve never seen anyone like that,” said baseball lifer Gene Michael to Jack Curry after watching Chapman throw in the bullpen. Here are the day’s photos and here are the day’s notes:

  • In addition to Chapman, bullpen-mates Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller also threw their first bullpens of the spring. “You go to the mound and you feel like you’re tiny,” said Joe Girardi afterward. CC Sabathia, Chasen Shreve, and Vinnie Pestano also threw. Everyone in camp has thrown at least one bullpen except Mark Montgomery and Kyle Haynes, who were added the non-roster list yesterday. [Chad Jennings, Bryan Hoch]
  • “We have a lot of things in place. I’ve learned from the Joba Rules that when you’re very honest and direct about what you do and how you do it, which wasn’t even dissimilar from most organizations, then it can take on a life of its own,” said Brian Cashman when asked about Luis Severino‘s workload this year. Severino, by the way, turned 22 today. (Brian McCann turned 32.) [Anthony McCarron]
  • Girardi indicated he may only use two of his big three relievers per game this season as a way preserving them. That way one of them is always fresh and available the next day. I like the idea as long as there’s some flexibility. There should be games when all three are available (prior to an off-day, etc.). [Jack Curry]
  • The Yankees have given Donovan Solano permission to leave camp so he can play for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic qualifying round next month. The six-game qualifying round will be played in Panama from March 17th to 20th. [Jose Luis Martinez]
  • As expected, the Yankees will face Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day. Astros manager A.J. Hinch confirmed Keuchel will get the ball in Game One today. No surprise. Dude won the Cy Young last year. [Evan Drellich]

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Devils are playing and there’s a ton of college basketball on the schedule too. MLB Network is showing some college baseball tonight, if you’re interested. Talk about whatever here.

Minor League Notes: Kaprielian, Acevedo, Sanchez, Mateo, Refsnyder, Florial

Spring Training has begun and we are only eleven days away from the first Grapefruit League game. The Yankees tend to start someone other than one of their five projected starters in the first spring game, so I’m curious to see who gets the ball this year. Watch it be a journeyman like Anthony Swarzak or Tyler Cloyd, not an interesting prospect. Anyway, I have some minor league links and notes to pass along.

Kaprielian already turning heads in Spring Training

I guess this is more of a Spring Training update than a minor league update, but whatever. RHP James Kaprielian is already getting some very high praise in camp even though pitchers and catchers officially reported only a few days ago. He’s been in Tampa for several weeks now and recently took part in Captain’s Camp.

“He’s shown some leadership ability among the players. He’s been a big part of things (in Captain’s Camp) and he’s another guy we think that, over the long term, has an excellent chance to be part of our Major League rotation,” said farm system head Gary Denbo to Brendan Kuty. “He’s shown the ability to locate his fastball. His breaking ball has the chance to be a plus pitch for him. The changeup also has improved the more he’s pitched and will as he develops. He’s shown improvement in velocity in the course of last season.”

Kaprielian, 21, threw his first official bullpen session of the spring yesterday and Joe Girardi came away impressed. “Thought he had good command today,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “You know, the focus early on in Spring Training is the command of that fastball, and I thought he had good command. I thought he was not overwhelmed by his surroundings. He was comfortable. That’s always a concern of mine for kids their first year in camp. He was talkative, and it was good to see.”

Kaprielian among Baseball America’s top 100 just misses

A week ago Baseball America published their annual top 100 prospects list, which included three Yankees. Kaprielian was not one of them, but he was one of six players who just missed the top 100, says Josh Norris. Here’s the blurb:

Kaprielian, the Yankees’ 2015 first-rounder from UCLA, was one of the last few players in consideration for the final spot on the list. His fastball bumped 96-97 mph in pro ball with short-season Staten Island and in fall instructional league. Each of his other three pitches—curveball, slider and changeup—grades as at least average. He should start this year at high Class A Tampa and could zoom through the minor leagues.

J.J. Cooper says RHP Domingo Acevedo, 2B Rob Refsnyder, and SS Wilkerman Garcia all received top 100 votes in addition to Kaprielian when the Baseball America team was compiling their top 100 list. A total of 208 players received at least one top 100 vote, so that’s not that exclusive of a club, but I’d be pretty happy to get a vote. Being a top 208 prospect would be pretty cool.

Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)
Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)

Prospect position rankings

Last week both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Baseball America released their prospect position rankings. Well, Baseball America is in the process of releasing their rankings. They’ve only published a few so far. MLB.com published their prospect position rankings a few weeks ago (catcher, second base, shortstop, outfield).

Law ranked C Gary Sanchez second among catchers, SS Jorge Mateo 15th among shortstops, OF Aaron Judge ninth among outfielders, and LHP Jacob Lindgren seventh among relievers. Kaprielian did make Law’s annual top 100 list but he was not among the top 20 starting pitching prospects only because so many pitchers were ahead of him on the top 100. Refsnyder did not rank among his top 10 second base prospects.

As for Baseball America, they ranked Sanchez as the best catching prospect in the game, Kaprielian and Acevedo as the 35th and 55th best right-handed pitching prospects, respectively, and Lindgren as the 22nd best left-handed pitching prospect. None of the other positions have been released yet. Those are coming next week. Good to see Sanchez so high among catchers.

Florial a deep sleeper

I don’t pay much attention to the Dominican Summer League because there is so much misinformation about those kids out there, and also because they’re just so very far away from MLB. Most don’t even make it stateside. Ben Badler is one of the best international baseball reporters in the game though, and he says OF Estevan Florial is a deep sleeper to keep an eye on.

Florial, 17, was part of the Yankees’ big 2014-15 international spending spree, but I can’t find any bonus information, which usually indicates he didn’t get a ton of money. Florial hit .313/.394/.527 (154 wRC+) with seven homers, 15 steals, an 11.3% walk rate, and a 22.9% strikeout rate in 57 DSL games last year. I can’t find anything else on him and I don’t trust DSL stats at all, but if Badler says he’s a sleeper, then he’s a sleeper. File his name under players to remember.

Misc. Links & Notes

Here are some links and notes not worth a full write-up but are worth checking out:

  • Jeff Zimmerman used WAR-to-scouting grade equivalencies and Baseball America’s 2016 Prospect Handbook to calculate farm system surplus values. The Yankees rank 18th at +23.5 WAR after ranking 17th in Baseball America’s farm system rankings.
  • As part of their top 100 list, Baseball America is running a series called “Split Decisions” where they compare two prospects at the same position who ranked close together. Mateo was paired up with Royals SS Raul Mondesi Jr. Seems like the consensus is Mondesi has more ceiling but Mateo is a safer bet.
  • Baseball America posted updated team top ten prospect lists a few days ago to reflect all the offseason activity. RHP Rookie Davis went from No. 6 in New York’s system to No. 9 in the Reds system, and that’s pretty much it. 3B Eric Jagielo did not make Cincinnati’s top ten. RHP Bryan Mitchell jumped into the top ten with Davis gone.
  • Longtime Florida area scout Jeff Deardorff has been promoted and will now focus on analyzing amateur hitters for the draft, reports George King (subs. req’d). I could have sworn Deardorff played with the Yankees at some point, but no. He appeared in 122 games with Triple-A Columbus in 2004. That’s all.

Just a heads up, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.