Nathan Eovaldi Needs to be a Yankee…Again
Much as I would like to pretend it’s a dream, credit must be given when it’s due: the Red Sox had one of the best seasons any team has had in the modern era, and they deserve congratulations for winning the World Series in decisive fashion. When any team wins the World Series, the media and even some baseball front offices create narratives about why that team won the World Series over every other team, as though the team in question discovered a formula that other teams should follow. These narratives are often not based on any statistical trends, and the truths unearthed about the construction of championship teams in the post-World Series offseason are often debunked over time – case and point, the 2015 Kansas City Royals. Very few teams are constructing rosters with “grit” and an undisciplined, high-contact, but low-power lineup while batting their worst hitter lead-off. Surely, an imagined trend will emerge during the autopsy of this World Series, but one aspect of the Red Sox’s championship season cannot be denied: the Red Sox utilized their financial might to their advantage over the last couple of years, even despite some flops. The Red Sox would have struggled to win this year without JD Martinez, David Price, Eduardo Nunez (in the playoffs, at least), and Mitch Moreland. What is important to note about this list of players is that it isn’t just filled with the players at the top of the free agent market, like Price and Martinez. The Red Sox were also able to use the free agent market to grab solid role players like Moreland and Nunez to fill out the roster. I think that the Yankees need to thread the needle between these two types of players this winter, and use their spending power to grab Nathan Eovaldi to help fill out the pitching staff.
It may seem like I am riding the wave generated by Eovaldi’s extra inning heroics in Game 4 of the World Series, but even beyond that Eovaldi has turned into a solidly above average pitcher despite his injury setbacks. In 111.0 innings pitched this year, Eovaldi was worth 1.5 bWAR (or 2.2 fWAR if that’s more your flavor). More importantly, he improved on all of his peripheral statistics as compared to his performance prior to blowing out his elbow for the 2nd time in 2016. Prior to this season, Eovaldi generally allowed between 9.5 and 10 hits per 9 innings (H/9), 3 walks per 9 innings (BB/9), and only 6-7 strikeouts per 9 innings). This season, Eovaldi dropped his H/9 to 8.5, only walked 1.6 batters per 9 innings, and struck out a career high 8.2 batters per 9 innings. Considering the statistics that Eovaldi could most directly control (walks and strikeouts), Eovaldi had an excellent first season back from Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi has always been a tantalizing talent, but prior to this season, he was never able to fully realize the promise signaled by his near 100 MPH heat.
Joel Sherman in the New York Post yesterday noted that Eovaldi’s former manager, Joe Girardi, thought that Eovaldi was getting close to realizing his potential prior to blowing out his elbow, telling Sherman, “He already had developed a splitter and the cutter then really helped. Larry gave him that split and it helped. He was evolving into a really good pitcher.” This season’s results bear that out, as Eovaldi used the cutter in particular to shut down opposing lineups and allowed his four seam fastball to play up. As a result of the improvements, Eovaldi was able to attack the strike zone better while keeping hitters more off-balance, leading to more strikeouts.
Will Eovaldi’s performance continue to improve? I would bet on it. For one, pitchers typically continue to see improvement the further away they get from Tommy John surgery. Additionally, per the quotes provided to Joel Sherman in yesterday’s article in the New York Post, Girardi said that, “He’s just a really good person. He was as hard a worker as anyone in our clubhouse.” Eovaldi has recovered from two serious elbow surgeries to become a solid major league pitcher and has the backing of those with whom he has shared a clubhouse. That is someone that deserves a chance. And if Eovaldi proves unable to take on a starter’s workload all the time? In addition to starting in the rotation, he has proven this postseason that he can be highly effective in a periodic bullpen role.
What will Eovaldi cost? Last year’s strange free agent market and Eovaldi’s injury history makes that tough to gauge. Based on his likely performance, and using Fangraph’s rough $8 million per Win Above Replacement guideline, Eovaldi is probably worth $16 million per year in a vacuum. Given all of the other mitigating factors, and the fact that Eovaldi is on the right side of 30, I think something on the order of 4 years at $14 million per year could get the job done. And if the market goes higher? The Yankees should once again use their spending power to make a splash. As much as teams require a superstar or two, guys like Eovaldi are just as important, and the Yankees have an advantage over every other team in baseball in the free agent market.