Why didn’t the Astros pursue Nathan Eovaldi?

Eovaldi was a top Free Agent Starting Pitcher in the 2018 Offseason

With Eovaldi’s recent comments, we explore what may have caused the Astros to not pursue Eovaldi.

If you haven’t seen it, there are a bunch of articles from different sources such as Yahoo , WEEI Radio, where Nathan Eovaldi was “a little surprised” that the Astros displayed no interest in signing him. This comes as a surprise to a number of writers with the losses of Keuchel, Morton, and McCullers for the 2019 season.

Eovaldi, a Houston native, told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford “I would have had more talks with the Astros but they just didn’t want any part of it so they were out of the question.” And further stated “I was a little surprised it didn’t go any further (with the Astros). Really there were no talks. I was a little surprised by that. But I understand it’s a business and there are no hard feelings or anything like that.”


ABC13
Eovaldi came from Alvin High School

To hear that Eovaldi narrowed his choices strictly to the Astros or the Red Sox, is a great sign. But the fact that the Astros basically wrote him off, I think would be surprising to most. As I think back to the offseason, Eovaldi was a common name as a proposed signing to fill the gap in the rotation, with quite a few advocating for him as one of the prime candidates. This made me take a step back and wonder why the Astros according to Eovaldi “didn’t want any part of it”.

Obvious Reasons


So there are two obvious reasons that come to mind, which don’t require a much analysis and many would agree as the easy reasons for not signing Eovaldi. The first? Injuries. He’s had quite a few injuries in his career. His surgeries included a repair of a torn flexor tendon, and a second Tommy John surgery (his first when he was 17 in High School), and another last year to remove loose pieces of cartilage in his elbow (2018). None of this screams of a player who you want to sign to a long term deal. There is a good article on the Process Report which I took this quote from: (highly recommend this article for those who want to take a read – very Crawfish-esque writing)

“Although a second surgery may not be career-ending, it appears to be career-limiting by virtue of a decreased workload and pitching productivity,” senior study author Dr. Vasilios Moutzouros, an orthopedic surgeon, said in a Henry Ford Health System news release.

“And for those who return to the major league level, they experience a mixed bag of performance levels. In several categories, their performance declines significantly,”

Actual performance: Eovaldi made a name for himself in the play-offs with some dominant overpowering stuff and delivering memorable results. We are talking about a career 4.16 ERA pitcher, who has pitched a total of 815 innings across his 6 full years in the major (134 IP/year). Even his break-out year last year was a 6-7, 3.81 ERA across 111 innings is not a stellar endorsement for a nearly $70 million dollar deal.

Lastly, the Astros didn’t have a need for a top-end starter, and the funds could be better utilized in an extension for Cole or Verlander. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Starting Pitching prospects including the #1 SP prospect in baseball. To read more about some of our thoughts on this, you can check out our article The Astros’ Rotation is going to be just fine. Nay, Amazing.

Less Obvious reasons


Quality of Pitch
Quality of Pitch found Eovaldi’s pitches to be near-average despite the eye popping velocity

Less obvious may be the wrong title on this, I guess truthfully, these are my assumptions based on my analysis of the Astros decision making and success in the past. CRPerry highlighted in his article yesterday, even industry experts are giving somewhat best guesses at what the Astros approach is.

With that said, the Astros have been notorious for looking at pitchers who have under-performed expectations in advanced analytics, and for pitchers with High Spin rates, particularly high spinning 4-seam fastballs and curveballs.

On the quick look, Eovaldi has not drastically under-performed in ERA compared to xFIP for last year (3.81 vs 3.67) or WOBA vs xWOBA (.293 vs .286) or his career (4.16 vs 4.03 and .314 vs .313).

Eovaldi is known for his fastball, with his 97.5 mph average on his fastball being one of the top for a starter in major league baseball (83rd percentile of all pitchers).


Statcast / AWS
Despite the almost 101 mph fastball, Altuve crushed it

Unfortunately, his spin rate clocks in at 2,135 rpm. Now I know this is a newer concept to a lot of people, so I wanted to put it into context. Of pitchers that threw 100 pitches, he ranks #506 in the MLB. Here are some of the Astros comparatively: Verlander #8 (2,618), Pressly #13 (2,568), Harris #26 (2,720), Osuna #94 (2,403), Cole #118 (2,379), Josh James #146 (2,362), Peacock #212 (2,315), McHugh #228 (2,304), Morton #338 (2,244). The Astros only had 2 players that threw a single pitch for the Astros in 2018 that had lower spin rates, Hector Rondon (2,049) and …. JD DAVIS (2,094)!!

On his curveball, Eovaldi does not fair much better, coming in at #377 with 2,079 rpm. For similar comparison: Verlander #20 (2,894), Pressly #2 (3,225), Harris #70 (2,720), James #190 (2,481), McHugh #41 (2,799), Morton #13 (2,923). Of pitchers who throw curveballs, Josh James was the lowest in the group, and still outpaced Eovaldi by over 400 rpm.

Obviously the Fastball/Curveball combination and spin rates is not the only combination that leads to effective pitchers, but when you think of the pitchers that the Astros were able to work their “magic” on, nearly every pitcher who you can say that about is on that list.

Summary

So why didn’t they pursue him? Well he is historically injury prone pitcher, with limited success in the majors over the course of his career. His repertoire does not specifically align with where the Astros have had the most success in pitchers. Even his “career” year so far this year, did not scream ACE or even a high level pitcher other than his performance in the playoffs.

Eovaldi also benefited in 2018, as his teams limited his exposure by all but eliminating him from going through the order a third time. Here was fangraphs note on it:

“They didn’t let him face a lineup a third time. Because of his limited repertoire, he struggled the third time through the order as his career ERA went from 3.38 to 3.81 to 6.06. Historically, 24% of his innings were thrown after the first two times through the order but only 19% this past season even though he still struggled the third time (1st: 2.91 ERA, 2nd: 3.73 ERA, 3rd: 4.58). Boston limited his exposure last season and they should again. While some possible regression should be expected, his 2019 season should be closer to his 2018 results than his pre-Tommy John results.”


Process Report
Process Report also noted a similar trend in their analysis

Overall, I know some fans were disappointed that the Astros did not sign Eovaldi, and his recent statements only further magnifies that, but I think it only makes logical sense that it was not pursued.

I wish Eovaldi all the best in every game other than when he’s pitching against Houston.

Read more at Crawfish Boxes.

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