Prior to yesterday’s ballgame, the New York Yankees announced that Nathan Eovaldi would be utilized out of the bullpen short-term.
Nathan Eovaldi has produced nothing but massive confusion, head scratches, and downright frustration for the New York Yankees thus far in 2016. In fact, his output has served as a direct resemblance of the team’s performance: inconsistent.
Following a brilliant second half last year, the 26-year-old seemed to be on the right track from the get-go.
A 5-0 record in May combined with a stellar 3.25 ERA presented hope that the success resulting from an improved splitter was no fluke. That hope produced speculation that he could be an asset for years to come.
On May 29 in Tampa, he showed grit and turned in another outstanding performance in an eventual 2-1 win. At that point his record was an exceptional 6-2 and his ERA a respectable 3.71. Expectations were at an all-time high.
However, all of the high hopes were put to bed with an absolutely dismal month of June in which he pitched to an 8.65 ERA and surrendered 10 homers in five starts.
It only took him one July start to find himself without a spot in the starting rotation.
The splitter transformed itself from an unbelievable addition to a liability. In the six starts after the calendar flipped to June, opponents slugged .556 off the pitch with a .355 BABIP.
An inability to get bite on a heavily relied upon pitch resulted in a .388 average and an absurd .816 slugging percentage off his heater. Simply put, it became painful to watch as Eovaldi served up batting practice to the opposition.
With Chad Green stepping in handily just two days after another blip from the 2015 acquisition, it was not hard for the Yankees to figure that a demotion was the best course of action.
Although Joe Girardi denied that it was a permanent move, the organization would certainly love if it was. Nathan Eovaldi proving to be a vital piece to the bullpen would only mean great things to the club and, quite frankly, he seems suited to be just that.
His emergence an unfamiliar role role would go hand in hand with the continued emergence of Green as a big league starter. The Yankees would be forced into rolling him out there every fifth day.
Moreover, he would give the bullpen, particularly the middle relief, a much needed jolt.
Sure, the Yanks have a big three that no other team can even remotely match. With that said, besides Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman, their bullpen basically amounts to a bunch of failed experiments.
When they get 5.1 innings from a starter, sometimes Eovaldi, they have no way of getting to the seventh without severe damage being done. When a game is knotted at two heading into extra frames and they have used their trio just to get there, they have no one reliable to run out.
Their current middle relief tandem of Richard Bleier, Anthony Swarzak, and Luis Cessa simply does not get it done. Their combined ERA is 4.19 and for guys who have to get outs in important spots, allowing an average of four runs per nine innings pitched is extremely detrimental.
Not only do middle relief woes cost games, but they tax the most vital arms in the bullpen at a high rate. When the Yankees are up 7-1 in the ninth inning, they should not have to dream of Larry Rothschild walking to the phone and uttering the words, “Get Chapman up.” Unfortunately, that has happened far too often.
For instance, an unneeded save situation was created in Sunday’s bounce back win in San Diego when Swarzak came on and promptly surrendered a two-run shot. An inability to pound the zone, get quick outs, and purely do the job has been the name of the game for the complementary pieces residing in right-center field.
With Eovaldi out there, and staying out there, he can be a guy who can give the Yankees more than one inning in a marathon game. In addition, he immediately rises above any other underperforming middle relief arm on the totem pole.
If he ends up proving himself in the role, he can be a force in the fifth and sixth innings when needed.
Just think about it. Eovaldi is a guy who consistently unleashes a 98-100 mph fastball throughout the duration of his starts, touching 101 and 102 in brief spurts.
Those spurts can become the innings Joe Girardi calls his name out of the ‘pen. Talk about the incredible variation the team can feature.
If an upper 90s fastball is not stressful to display, imagine the realms he can reach when he has no concerns about preserving himself for the remainder of a start. Imagine telling the youngster to, “Let it loose.”
Even if he did not take that mentality, the numbers back up that his current struggles would work wonders for him in one or two inning scenarios. In innings 1-3 of his starts he pitches to a respectable 3.94 ERA as opposed to a brutal 8.01 ERA in innings 4-6.
Pitches 1-25 of his outings yield a .245 opponent batting average and a .337 slugging as opposed to a .356 average and .712 slugging during pitches 76-100. Playing right along with those numbers is the ridiculous .409/.455/.774 slash opponents are able to manage their third time facing the right-hander.
Do not forget that he holds opposing batters to a .231 average the first time he sees them.
His sheer numbers in the starting rotation and the unraveling that transpires later in ballgames are all numbers the organization likely considered when making the move. Common logic would hint at a resolution that the serviceable early inning numbers will translate to even better bullpen numbers due to an aggressive mindset.
An uprise of Eovaldi in a new role would resemble what the Yankees did with Phil Hughes back in 2009. Struggling with a 5.45 ERA in the rotation, a shift to the bullpen sparked a 1.40 ERA in 40 appearances with 65 strikeouts over 51.1 innings.
He became arguably the most dominant setup man in baseball, giving management the bridge to Mariano Rivera that they were in desperate search of. All of it came from a guy who was not fit for the starting staff.
While Eovaldi will definitely not be the setup man on this particular roster, he can provide value of that sort. Value that the Yankees have been lacking from a bullpen which, believe it or not, ranks 16th in baseball with a 3.90 ERA. The middle innings, or any innings not including the trifecta, have been a true enigma.
Unable to sort things out in the rotation, perhaps he can sort things out in the bullpen while seizing an opportunity to remain an integral piece to a large 2016 puzzle. Long story short, the Yanks would be ecstatic if he made it a permanent home.
There is a reason why they selected Eovaldi to make the shift rather than the dreadful Ivan Nova. While Nova has occasional flashes of brilliance, his stuff is not tailor made for the bullpen. He does not possess one of the highest average fastball velocities in all of baseball nor does he possess a electric arm by any stretch.
Girardi along with Brian Cashman saw a creative approach in landing a new weapon in the Bronx. No external moves would need to be made, yet an internal transformation would prove to be the ultimate difference.
So while the Yankees had high expectations for Eovaldi as a starting pitcher, a demotion may have been the best thing that happened to both him and the team.
All of the recent woes will be forgotten when he prevents the team from having three elite yet deteriorating back-end arms in September.