During last night’s chat, I got the usual “Rank these five pitchers….” questions. Similar names kept popping up and I felt I was using dated information. I decided to dive into a couple pitchers to see if my previous valuations should be adjusted.
The 28-year-old righty has always been a disappointment with a mid-90s fastball and a sub-7 K/9 strikeout rate. After missing the 2017 season for Tommy John surgery, the Rays starter is putting up his best season ever with a 3.35 ERA with matching ERA estimators.
The reasons for the turnaround can be inferred from this simple graph.
Posting a career-high in strikeouts and a career-low in walks will improve any pitcher’s results. As for actual changes, he’s done the following:
1. Throwing an above average fastball. He’s kept his fastball velocity near 97 mph which was his pre-surgery velocity. Just maintaining the velocity doesn’t completely explain the increase from a career 6.6% SwStr% to 10.6% SwStr%.
He’s also raised the average pitch location up in the zone. Here’s a comparison of his 2016 and 2018 pitch locations.
2. Limited third time exposure. While Eovaldi arsenal isn’t just two pitches but he’s struggled the third time through the lineup. His wOBA against jumps from .290 the first time through the order to .298 for the second time and .388 the third time. His against wOBAs are similar this season going from .192 to .229 to .430.
The Rays understand this limitation and have limited his exposure to the third time through the lineup. Before this season, the total batters faced after the second time was 25.3%. This season, the value is down to 18.6%.
3. New pitch mix. The amount of each pitch (four-seamer, cutter, splitter, and slider) thrown has changed with more cutters and fewer sliders being thrown. The results are mixed.
The cutter was more effective in 2016 with a 12% SwStr% and the slider at 10%. This season, the cutter is down to 8% SwStr% and the slider up to 14%.
Overall, I’ve been too far down on Eovaldi and should have been recommending him more. Of the starters with 40 IP, his 21.0% K%-BB% is above Kershaw, Ohtani, and Carrasco. Going against my gut, I recommend owning Eovaldi in all leagues. Owners will need to see if he can keep the strikeout and walk rates going. If he can, he’s a must start at this point.
The 25-year-old lefty is putting up similar numbers to Eovaldi (3.92 ERA, 8.3 K/9, and 1.7 BB/9). While the strikeout rate is within the expected range of outcomes (9.5 K/9 in AA and 8.6 in AAA), he’s not posted such a low walk rate since A-ball.
Besides the good control, he’s posting a decent 52% GB%. With Suarez being an unknown, here is how his pitches have performed this season.
As a group, they’re acceptable but it’d be interesting to see if he dropped the 92-mph four-seamer, which below average in every way, and just used the sinker and it’s near 60% GB%. He could be a worm-killing god.
Looking through old scouting reports, a couple items have changed. First, Eric Longenhagen put his fastball at “89-91” mph. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook had him at 90-93 mph and MLB.com at 89-93 mph. His fast has either taken a step forward or is the same. All sources note that his slider is his best breaking ball with his curve and change as iffy.
Being a lefty with just two pitches, he has dominated lefty hitters with a .206 wOBA against while righties are posting a .355 wOBA. This isn’t likely to change until he can develop a change.
With righties just using him for batting practice, he’s going to post high home run (1.2 HR/9) and hit rates (.323 BABIP). Both will help inflate his ERA over his ERA estimators.
I think Suarez is a matchup-only pitcher who might be best started when at home. He needs to find out a way to get out lefties before taking a step forward
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.