Legends On Deck

Analyzing Pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Rubby De La Rosa

nathan e

Nathan Eovaldi (now with the Yankees) and Rubby De La Rosa

Nathan Eovaldi and Rubby De La Rosa, even though they play on different teams, and in different conferences, have a few elements that make them similar. First, they both throw very hard. Last year Eovaldi’s average fastball velocity was 96.7, topping out at 100.96. De La Rosa’s average fastball was at 94.82, and he topped out at 100.47. Seeing that these pitchers throw so hard, one can often make the assumption that they strikeout a lot of hitters.

This, however, is not the case, Eovaldi’s K/9 was only at 6.4 and De La Rosa’s was at 6.55. A reason for this is both pitchers don’t get a lot of swing and misses. De La Rosa ranked 130th in whiff% (20.65%) and Eovaldi was even worse finishing 157th (19.48), among starting pitchers in 2014. This at first glance can seem rather odd as people commonly associate velocity with strikeouts. The idea is that the harder one throws the more he is likely to be a high strikeout pitcher. This as most conceptions in baseball is a common misnomer, just because one throws hard, doesn’t mean that he will have a high strikeout rate or even miss a lot of bats.

What is rather more conducive to creating a lot of swing and misses is having a good off-speed pitch. In fact the only pitch, according to Baseball Prospectus Pitchf/x tool that has a lower whiff% rate than a fourseam fastball is a sinker.

Whiff/Swing Fourseam fastball Sinker Cutter Curve Slider Changeup Splitter
1. 28.43 22.88 34.78 50.36 46.43 46.42 49.28
2. 27.69 21.74 33.7 45.59 45.64 46.02 46.01
3. 27.17 18.97 33.33 43.88 45.42 45.83 45.03
4. 26.40 18.72 33.06 42.62 45.12 45.53 44.92
5. 26.03 18.67 32.64 41.82 44.68 44.63 44.56
6. 25.84 18.62 31.45 41.58 44.38 44.27 37.74
7. 25.69 18.15 30.14 39.92 44.29 43.42 35.8
8. 25.55 17.65 30 39.64 44.2 43.17 33.22
9. 25 17.35 28.21 39.5 44.06 41.6 32.95
10. 24.77 16.33 27.53 39.47 43.16 40.93 32.82

 

As you can tell from the table above, the off-speed pitches have a much higher swing and miss rate than hard pitches and especially fastballs. This is not to mean that a pitcher should not use a fourseam fastball. A lot of whiff% is a result of sequencing and fooling the hitter. The fourseam fastball is actually a good tool to throw early in the count so that one can later put the hitter away with an off-speed pitch, or a pitch with movement. This is rather to display, that a pitcher, in order to have a high strikeout rate needs at least one or two above average swing and miss pitches.

So how does this relate to De La Rosa and Eovaldi? Well let’s examine their pitch mix in 2014, provided by Brooks Baseball.

Nathan Eovaldi:

Year Fourseam Sinker Curve Slider Change
2014    61.61 1.15 9.35 24.75 3.15

Rubby De La Rosa:

Year Fourseam Sinker Cutter Slider Change
2014    56.01 5.15 1.15 12.37 25.32

As you can see both pitchers are predominately throwing their fastballs. Eovaldi is actually throwing his fastball more than 60% of the time. This is an extremely high usage of his fourseam fastball. The only other pitch that Eovaldi predominantly features is his slider. De La Rosa on the other hand is a little bit better balanced that being said he is still primarily featuring his fastball.

So now lets look at which pitch for both pitchers creates the most swing and misses.

Nathan Eovaldi:

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Slider Curve
2014   13.33 0.00 20.00 32.35 29.36

Rubby De La Rosa:

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Slider Cutter
2014   12.50 31.03 30.86 23.60 33.33

The dominant theme presented here is that both pitchers just don’t get a lot of swing and misses, on their fourseam fastball. This is probably due to the fact that they are simply featuring it too much. It can also be an example of how both of these starters just don’t have the confidence, in their off-speed pitches to throw them regularly.

What is definitely clear is that they’re both missing a third viable pitch. They both obviously have serious gas and have confidence in their fastballs, as they should, correctly used a 95+ mph fastball is an extremely effective pitch. The problem is that one can’t just feature a fourseam fastball and expect to put away a major league hitter. Major league hitters are just too good for that, they’ll simply sit on it and then when you miss your location they’re going to crush it. That’s why you need a secondary pitch, or multiple secondary pitches, in order to keep the hitters off balance and keep him guessing.

Eovaldi has a good slider, not great but good. His whiff% ranked 48th in the majors last year, which is not great but it’s definitely something he can work on improving. Eovaldi’s curveball was also around the same area, at 54th in the majors in whiff%. Eovaldi, however, barely uses his curveball, which I think is a mistake. If I were Eovaldi I would start featuring more curveballs and diminish the usage of my fastball. If Eovaldi does this in 2015 I think he’ll see a rise in his strikeout rate and his overall numbers.

De La Rosa is a rather different case. His changeup ranks 38th in whiff%, which is above average. He also mixes his pitches somewhat better than Eovaldi. The other pitch that De La Rosa primarily throws as you can see, is his slider, which is not very effective. In fact De La Rosa’s slider ranked 82nd in whiff% out of 95 qualified sliders. It seems that De La Rosa is either going to have to come up with a new pitch or perhaps make significant adjustments to his slider because until now it just hasn’t been a very productive pitch when it comes to getting swing and misses.

(Photo Credits: Marc Serota/Getty Images and Steven Senne/AP)

(Featured Photo: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

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