When it comes to drafting intelligently, avoiding the mistake of mixing up real-life potential with fantasy potential is important. Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi has plenty of the former, some of which will translate into the latter, but first it’s important to consider some points of caution.
The most obvious issue is that Eovaldi plays for the Miami Marlins, one of the most offensively-challenged teams in the majors. The young right-hander’s major league career has reflected as much: Eovaldi has nine career wins in 46 starts, despite putting up a respectable 3.84 ERA over that span. (For some perspective, veteran Mark Buehrle also has a 3.84 career ERA, but with 186 wins in 429 starts, or one every 2.31 outings—Eovaldi is at one win per 5.11 starts.)
Bottom line: Don’t expect Eovaldi to give you a ton of wins in 2014. Even so, despite the lack of offensive support, one advantage of playing for the Marlins is that Eovaldi gets to be the No. 2 starter in the rotation—in other words, his role is safe, and he’ll receive plenty of starts.
Another concern is Eovaldi’s career WHIP: 1.41. In 2013, he posted a 1.32 WHIP, a career low but still an alarmingly high total, and he walks a few too many batters (3.7 per 9 in his career). He did a decent job of limiting the number of hits allowed last year, but improving the walk rate is something that Eovaldi has to consider a top priority going forward.
Eovaldi is a fire-baller, there’s no question about it. He threw harder than any other pitcher with over 100 innings in 2013, averaging a scorching 96.1 MPH. Unfortunately, the heat hasn’t translated into elite strikeout totals, as Eovaldi posted a disappointing 6.6 K/9 total last year, which actually marked a career high.
Nevertheless, there’s reason to believe Eovaldi’s strikeout rate could continue to rise in 2014. After throwing off-speed pitches around just 30 percent of the time in 2013, the right-hander has worked on improving his curveball, a pitch he’s stated he’s more comfortable with lately, and he’ll likely continue to mix in his slider relatively often as well, a pitch he used 18.8 percent of the time last year.
As Eovaldi continues to hone his repertoire, he’ll likely produce more favorable strikeout numbers, especially if he can learn to command his fastball better. Getting that mix of pitches, combined with better location in the zone, would do wonders for the young right-hander.
For one last point of consideration let's take a look at Eovaldi's BABIP in 2013, when he posted career-best numbers. With a .286 BABIP, Eovaldi's total dropped by 31 points from 2012, and is a relatively significant 12 points below his career average. Granted, BABIP isn't necessarily an all-revealing statistic, but it's still probably unrealistic to expect a return to 2013 success for Eovaldi; an ERA in the high threes is a bit more reasonable.
As far as his 2014 outlook is concerned, Eovaldi doesn’t quite have that breakout potential that you’re often looking for among the potential "sleepers." He’s held back primarily by his team, which won’t garner him a respectable win total, and his still-developing repertoire. 2015 and beyond might be a different story, but for now, Eovaldi isn’t worth more than a late-round consideration, at best. There are gems to be found among the lower-ranked pitchers, but as far as 2014 is concerned, Eovaldi isn’t one of them.