The hot stove season has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but rumors about our Milwaukee Brewers have finally started to trickle out over the past few days. The early reports have David Stearns and company in pursuit of pitching help, with Anibal Sanchez and Sonny Gray among their supposed targets. And now this morning we can add one more notable name to the bunch, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe - right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.
Per Cafardo’s report, Eovaldi would “love to stay in Boston” and the belief is that the Red Sox will make a strong effort to retain him. But at this point nearly a third of the league is said to have expressed interest in the postseason hero: the Phillies, Braves, Angels, Red Sox, White Sox, Blue Jays, Padres, Giants, and the Brew Crew.
Eovaldi has been a bit of a perplexing case throughout most of his career; his stuff has long drawn high praise from scouts, but early on he struggled to miss bats and prevent runs at better than a league-average rate, pitching to a 4.21 ERA across 739.0 innings during the first six seasons of his career. He suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow during the summer of 2016 and was forced to sit out all of 2017 while recovering from Tommy John surgery (the second such procedure he’s had in his life; he also needed surgery after blowing out his elbow in high school).
Eovaldi signed a one-year, $2 mil deal with the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2016-17 offseason that included a $2 mil option for 2018, which the Rays exercised after helping the right-hander through his rehabilitation process. Eovaldi looked a new pitcher when he finally returned to the big league mound in late May this year, having not only adopted a new cut fastball, but making it his second-most utilized pitch while scaling back the use of his splitter and slider. That, along with a new approach that unleashed his 97.5 MPH fastball in the upper part of the zone with far greater frequency, helped Eovaldi produce the finest season of his career at age 28.
Eovaldi made a total of 22 appearances (21 starts) for the Rays and Red Sox in 2018, and he posted a 3.81 ERA across 111.0 innings. Both his strikeout rate (8.19 K/9) and walk rate (1.62 BB/9) were the best totals of his career, as was his 10.7% swinging strike rate. The hard-thrower’s 89 ERA- was useful enough, but according to run estimator Deserved Run Average, Eovaldi’s work this season was an ace-like 28% more effective than that of a league-average hurler (72 DRA-).
Eovaldi was nails in the postseason on the way to winning a ring with the Red Sox, piling up 22.1 innings during six appearances (two starts) with a sterling 1.61 ERA. That he thrived on the game’s grandest stage only further bolsters his case for free agent riches, although Eovaldi’s projected contract is nowhere near what Dallas Keuchel or Patrick Corbin are expected to receive. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that the widespread interest in Eovaldi’s services will push his market to the point where he lands a four-year, $60 mil deal. He isn’t weighed down by a Qualifying Offer, either.
Eovaldi isn’t a workhorse, but he comes with tremendous upside as someone that the Brewers could plug into their “27-outs” run prevention system. He finally started to scratch the surface of his potential last year, and there’s little doubt that Milwaukee’s front office scouting and analytics departments have already formulated plenty of ideas to feed Eovaldi in an effort to help take his game to the next level. Now think about how good he could be if he’s asked simply to go out and “let it eat” for four, five, or maybe six innings every few days. Fun, right?
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs