Red Sox Starter Study: Nathan Eovaldi

For those who know me or listen to me on the Around the Diamond Podcast, it’s no surprise to see that my writing debut at CGS pertains to pitchers. I can’t get enough of ‘em, and the Red Sox have had shocking amounts of success with what was a heavily scrutinized rotation before the season. Through this series I hope to let everyone in on what’s behind each of our starters’ results, as well as give my thoughts on what to expect for the rest of 2021. Starting off with Nathan Eovaldi!

Nathan Eovaldi’s 2021

I can confidently say no other Red Sox starter has pitched as well as Nasty Nate Eovaldi this season.  Through 16 starts and 90.2 innings, he sports a 3.67 ERA, 2.63 FIP, and 3.55 xFIP. He is striking out 22% of batters while only walking 5%. Nate also ranks well in several Statcast categories such as xERA, barrel %, xSLG, hard hit %, xwOBA, average exit velocity, and fastball velocity. It’s clear Eovaldi is pitching even better than his ERA and 1.24 WHIP show, so why are these the results?

Nasty, Not Lucky

Two statistics I often turn to when asking if a pitcher’s been unlucky are HR/FB and BABIP. On one hand, Nate’s been blessed with a 5.2% homer per fly ball rate.  That’s down 5.3% from his career average and a whopping 14.8% from his 2020 season.  This is likely a combo of Nathan limiting hard contact, this year’s de-juiced balls, and, sure, some good fortune.  On the other hand, Nathan Eovaldi is suffering from one of the highest BABIPs of his career with a .330 (.310 being his career average) and hasn’t been able to strand baserunners as often as usual. If his BABIP returns to the norm, we’ll definitely see some more dominant starts from Nate. Even if the HR/FB also returns to its normal rate, it should be limited to mostly solo shots.

Cutting the Cutter

Now comes my favorite topic: the pitch repertoire and its results.  While many of the contact and discipline numbers against Nate are similar to ​most years, it’s worth noting that his 2021 CSW% (Called Strikes + Whiffs) is currently a career best 29%.  A big part of why has got to be the reintroduction of his slider, which has gone from 0% usage in 2020 to 12.8% in 2021 with a 36.5% whiff rate. We have also seen slight upticks in fastball and curve usage.  The cutter (worst pitch by xwOBA in 2018, 2019, and 2020) is down 16.6%, taking more of a back seat.  As a result, the pitch has improved dramatically in BA, SLG, and wOBA allowed. This is a really positive change and I look forward to what the Sox do with Nate’s repertoire going forward.

Final Thoughts

He may not look like it based on surface stats, but Nathan Eovaldi is pitching like an ace right now. This is a guy I’m very confident in going forward, hopefully as an eventual playoff starter. I see the ERA finishing around a 3.60 or so, which would certainly make it another awesome season for Nathan Eovaldi.

Featured image courtesy of The Boston Globe

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