Jerad Eickhoff Closes Strong for Phillies

Dividends from the Cole Hamels trade weren’t supposed to start paying off for either team until 2016. But then the Rangers stormed the West to clinch a playoff berth with a 3-game lead on the Astros for the division, though the Phillies haven’t really missed a beat production-wise as Jerad Eickhoff has essentially matched Hamels (yes, I realize that Alec Asher has been a negative for Philly while Jake Diekman has also been a boon for the Rangers tilting the balance back in their favor rather sharply, but this is about Eickhoff).

The read on Eickhoff both before the season and at the time of the trade was a #4 or #5 starter who could find success in a bullpen role if he didn’t quite pan out as a starter. Through eight starts in his big league career, he looks more like a solid mid-rotation option by the numbers, but has he shown enough to be considered such for 2016? Of course, all of the necessary small sample size caveats are in effect at the 51-inning mark, but he is showing improvements on his early season scouting report.

Eickhoff’s foundation is a 90-92 MPH rising four-seamer that he throws 48% of the time. Sometimes (10%) he sinks his fastball in that same velocity band. The results for his fastballs have been essentially average, allowing a .760 OPS in 116 PA. League average has been .756 on the year and .800 since Eickhoff was called up (August 21st). There are some danger signs, though.

It hasn’t been hit often (.231 BABIP), but the times it has been have gone for power (.224 ISO), accounting for all five of the homers he’s allowed. He is 64th among 84 qualified starters since his call up in fastball ISO. It doesn’t miss many bats with just a 10% K rate and 5% Swinging Strike rate compared to 17% and 8% averages for the league. He needs weak contact to succeed and so far he’s been getting enough of it. I think the fastball has played at the 55-grade level that Kiley McDaniel gave it earlier this year more often than not.

The curveball has been insane. McDaniel graded it as a 50-present/55-future earlier this year, but it’s played as a 65-grade pitch. It’s a true hammer curve that buckles knees for called strikes and generates plenty of whiffs sitting in the mid-70s and occasionally touching 78-79 MPH. It has yielded a .102/.154/.122 line in 52 PA with a 56% K rate, 6% BB rate, and 17% SwStr rate. He uses it 19% of the time (lefties see it at a 22% clip compared to 17% for righties).

His .276 OPS ranks 2nd among the 109 pitchers with at least 50 PA ending on a curve. This is where the small sample size caveats come into play. Obviously we’d value Clayton Kershaw’s .299 OPS more given that it has come in 187 PA. It’s only eight starts for Eickhoff, but the pitch has been amazing. Even MVPs are frustrated with it:

The slider has also served him well. It has some nice snap, though nowhere the break of the curve. It’s a low-80s offering that he’s used 16% of the time this year with righties getting the overwhelming share (89% of his sliders thrown) which makes sense. Only four PA against lefties have ended with the pitch compared to 20 for right-handers. Focusing on those PA against righties, he’s allowed just a .105/.150/.105 line with a 35% K rate, 5% BB rate, and 27% SwStr rate.

Eickhoff has had one of the best sliders in the league versus righties this year, albeit in his small 20 PA sample. There have been 148 pitchers with at least 20 PA ending on a slider v. righties (yes, we’re parsing hard here) and Eickhoff’s .255 OPS is fourth-best. Small samples, aren’t they great? Even if we just cut it to when Eickhoff arrived (Aug. 21st in case you forgot) so the PA samples aren’t so disparate top to bottom (Colby Lewis leads w/71 PA in that timeframe), the field gets cut to 56 pitchers with 20+ PA and he still ranks sixth.

His slider has certainly looked better than a 40-grade pitch thus far and it’s even surpassing the 45+ that McDaniel gave it for a future grade. Righties can barely make contact with it, let alone square it up for any sort of damage. He got both J.T. Realmuto and Miguel Rojas with it in his debut:

The changeup has been a show-me offering at best. It looks like a 40-grade pitch, but thankfully it hasn’t really hurt him since the curve has neutralized lefties. He has just 10 PA ending with a changeup to lefties. It has gotten an average whiff rate (16% SwStr), but he’s allowed five hits in those 10 PA with 0 K or BB.  This isn’t danger-zone concerning yet because of the curve and lefties have been unable to derail him this small sample of eight starts, but he needs to improve against them if he expects to continue any semblance of this into 2016.

Lefties had a healthy .830 OPS against Eickhoff altogether with just an 8% K-BB% rate in 91 PA while righties sputtered to a paltry .458 OPS in 112 PA with a stellar 25% K-BB% rate in 112 PA. Fastball-slider-curve to righties has worked well and there’s no reason to believe it can’t continue at an above average clip. It likely won’t can’t stay .458 OPS-good over a full season, but it gives him a nice base to work from, unless teams start lefty-stacking against him.

His fastball against lefties needs more work than the changeup. Righty-to-lefty fastballs aren’t terribly successful to begin with, sporting an .808 OPS (worst of any handedness combo of fastballs*) this year. But Eickhoff was much worse at .969 in 56 PA with a 5% K rate and 11% BB rate. Only teammate Aaron Nola (4%) has a worse K% with his fastball v. lefties since Eickhoff arrived (looking at the full season w/min 50 PA, Nola is dead-last, 135th at 2% while Eickhoff 125th).

*pitcher L-batter R: .755; pitcher R-batter R: .716; pitcher L- batter L: .715

This is an intriguing profile for 2016. His best two pitches coming up through the minors have jumped a grade in this eight-start run and don’t show any reason to believe they will just fade, especially the curveball. He does have a glaring weakness against lefties that is more likely to be fixed via the fastball over the changeup. He should consider working in with the fastball to lefties more often. They obliterated the heater middle-out while he found some success inside.

Development of the changeup would certainly help, but it’s not essential to his success. I’d say this run has bumped up the ceiling of what he can be, giving him a #3-starter upside, but what we’ve seen to date is the best run of a #4 starter. Rubby de la Rosa had a 13-start run of 2.95 ERA. Tom Koehler had an eight-start run of 2.22 ERA, including six road starts. You need at least one of those runs each year to even be a #4 starter in this league. Eickhoff’s just happens to be his first eight starts ever.

Over a full season, the lefty troubles would catch up to him and require him to stay elite against righties. Remember that .458 OPS against righties for Eickhoff? It would qualify as the best full-season righty-on-righty OPS if he had nearly enough PA. He has just a quarter of the PA that actual leader Zack Greinke has against righties this year, allowing a .476 OPS in 440 PA. Let’s go back to de la Rosa for a minute since he shares the lefty issue with Eickhoff.

He had a .602 OPS against righties in 389 PA this year for the Diamondbacks, good enough for 12th-best among the 53 qualified right-handers. He wound up with a 4.56 ERA and 1.33 WHIP because lefties bludgeoned him for a .937 OPS and 6% K-BB rate. Remember, Eickhoff was at 8% with his K-BB rate against lefties. And while the OPS was “only” at .830 (which doesn’t look as bad compared to Rubby), the .232 ISO suggests trouble ahead if he continues like this. De la Rosa allowed a .253 ISO.

Keep Eickhoff on your radar for deeper leagues, but don’t go chasing him in offseason trades for your keeper leagues. There is a path to becoming a #3 starter, but it still requires plenty of work which is fine as he’ll be just 25 next year.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Cat Latos
Cat Latos

I was saying on Twitter that the Phillies must really know the Texas system very well. The virtually stole Herrera and knew he could handle centerfield. Eickhoff was not going to come up for Texas this season. Right now, he would be the second most talented arm on that staff. The change up needs work to keep lefties from killing him. But righties, no question are not going to dominate him. He was almost the throw in of the deal. Him and Herrera combined for 4 fWAR this season. Makes you wonder what could turn out for the rest of the players in the Hamels deal.