Playoff Risers: Nathan Eovaldi

Playoff Risers: Nathan Eovaldi

This article is part of our Offseason Deep Dives series.

Shortly after the conclusion of the World Series (congrats, Rangers), my homie Chris Crawford and I got together on the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Podcast to discuss players who might have seen their stocks rise as a result of their postseason performance. You can check that out in audio form here, but I thought it would be worthwhile to write about some of those guys more in-depth, so that's what this series will be exploring.

There's always some danger in trying to glean anything out of small samples, and playoff samples all qualify as relatively small. For example, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager led the way with 82 plate appearances among this year's postseason participants and only Nathan Eovaldi (36.2), Zac Gallen (33.2) and Jordan Montgomery (31) threw 30-plus innings. 

While that's not a ton of data to go on, it's not nothing. Additionally, perhaps even more important than the numbers themselves is how a good showing in the playoffs can enhance an organization's outlook on a player, which can act as a springboard heading into 2024. Let's take a look at one guy who is trending up since the Fall Classic.

Nathan Eovaldi

I picked the Rangers to lose in the Wild Card Series to the Rays (nice work, Boyer). My primary reason for that was not having any idea what Texas was going to get out of their rotation. If you injected manager Bruce Bochy with some truth serum before the playoffs, I suspect he would've told you

Shortly after the conclusion of the World Series (congrats, Rangers), my homie Chris Crawford and I got together on the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Podcast to discuss players who might have seen their stocks rise as a result of their postseason performance. You can check that out in audio form here, but I thought it would be worthwhile to write about some of those guys more in-depth, so that's what this series will be exploring.

There's always some danger in trying to glean anything out of small samples, and playoff samples all qualify as relatively small. For example, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager led the way with 82 plate appearances among this year's postseason participants and only Nathan Eovaldi (36.2), Zac Gallen (33.2) and Jordan Montgomery (31) threw 30-plus innings. 

While that's not a ton of data to go on, it's not nothing. Additionally, perhaps even more important than the numbers themselves is how a good showing in the playoffs can enhance an organization's outlook on a player, which can act as a springboard heading into 2024. Let's take a look at one guy who is trending up since the Fall Classic.

Nathan Eovaldi

I picked the Rangers to lose in the Wild Card Series to the Rays (nice work, Boyer). My primary reason for that was not having any idea what Texas was going to get out of their rotation. If you injected manager Bruce Bochy with some truth serum before the playoffs, I suspect he would've told you something similar.

Eovaldi looked like a major question mark heading into postseason play. He missed a large chunk of the second half with a forearm injury, and in six September starts after returning he held a 9.30 ERA, 1.92 WHIP and 21:13 K:BB over 20.1 frames. He went 3.1 innings or less in four of those six outings and averaged 94.1 mph with his fastball, down from 95.4 mph prior to that point.

Perhaps I shouldn't have underestimated the possibility that he could flip a switch and immediately turn into Playoff Eovaldi. It seemed clear in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series that he was going to be an asset for as long as the Rangers survived in the playoffs. Eovaldi tossed 6.2 frames of one-run ball in that start, striking out eight, walking zero and inducing 16 whiffs on 98 pitches. He "only" averaged 94.9 mph with his heater in that outing, but that wound up being the low-water mark for his velocity during the playoffs. It kicked off a tremendous postseason run for the righty, as he collected a 2.95 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 41:10 K:BB over 36.2 innings. Eovaldi became the first pitcher in history to win five games as a starter in a single postseason.

🥶Eovaldi in September🥶

ERAWHIPIPKBB
9.301.9220.12113

🔥Eovaldi in the playoffs🔥

ERAWHIPIPKBB
2.951.1236.24110

Eovaldi was having an excellent season prior to the forearm problem, which cropped up shortly after the All-Star break, having held a 2.69 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 111:34 K:BB over 123.2 innings in his first 19 starts. In that light, his playoff performance was basically just him picking up where he left off before getting hurt, albeit with some more swing-and-miss juice.

Durability has often been an issue for the right-hander, though. Only once in six seasons since he missed the 2017 campaign following his second Tommy John surgery has Eovaldi made more than 25 starts in a season. He had an additional surgery on his elbow in 2019 to remove loose bodies and has also dealt with shoulder and back problems along with this year's forearm issue.

This was the second straight regular season which ended with questions about Eovaldi's health and viability. He struggled with a shoulder injury down the stretch in 2022 which coincided with a velocity drop and poor results. It's no doubt the main reason why he wound up settling for a relatively modest two-year, $34 million deal from the Rangers last winter. Unlike last year, he will be heading into next season with some momentum following his stellar playoff run.

Of concern with Eovaldi, as you can see below, is that his fastball velocity has steadily been trending in the wrong direction year over year.

Baseball Savant gave Eovaldi's four-seamer a plus-5 run value in 2023 even as the pitch tumbled to its lowest-ever velocity. That said, considering the pitch came in at a negative-1 in 2022, I'm not sure the righty can lean on his heater too heavily in 2024. The good news is Eovaldi seems to know this, which is why he's been upping the usage of his splitter, his best pitch.

Eovaldi reached a career-high 27.7 percent usage of his split-finger this season. Only once in six postseason outings did its usage fall below 28 percent, and he used it as his primary offering in one start. The splitter scored a plus-3 run value in 2023 after coming in at plus-8 in 2022. It's a legitimate weapon which should help mitigate the loss of the zip on Eovaldi's fastball.

I'm interested to see where Eovali's ADP eventually settles. In early NFBC drafts he's been the 197th player off the board on average. However, if you condense it to drafts that have taken place this month the number jumps to 173, which is no doubt the result of Eovaldi's postseason performance bump. We can't ignore the durability concerns or the dip in velocity, but Eovaldi looks like a fairly safe high-floor play who will have an excellent team context in 2024.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Boyer
Ryan has been writing about fantasy baseball since 2005 for Fanball, Rotoworld, Baseball Prospectus and RotoWire.
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