Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will wrap up their season in a sentence, look at the positives of their 2018, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2019. Today, we discuss Nathan Eovaldi.
The Season in a Sentence
Nathan Eovaldi only spent a few months with the Red Sox, but he seems like a lifetime member of the team thanks to a straight-up heroic postseason run that followed a now-somewhat underrated end to the regular season
Obviously, I’m going to start with the postseason. Eovaldi was good for the Red Sox in the regular season after coming over from Tampa Bay in July, but he became a legitimate legend for a historic franchise because of what he did in October. The right-handed starting pitcher was, to put it simply, absurd. When the team traded for him, there was an expectation that he would pitch out of the bullpen in the postseason. He was not supposed to do that while also making his regularly scheduled starts, too. Eovaldi’s legendary postseason performance is well-known at this point.
He allowed one run over seven innings in his lone appearance in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in six innings in an ALCS start then tossed 1 1⁄3 scoreless innings in relief two days later. Then, the World Series took things to a different level. He tossed a scoreless inning in Game One, then another in Game Two. Then, in Game Three — remember, this is a starting pitcher pitching in his third straight game and the third time in four days — pitched six innings in the marathon game, eventually taking the loss but inspiring the locker room along the way. He then got up in the bullpen in the next two games, though he didn’t appear, because he is a mad man. If there was a postseason MVP award like there is in hockey, there’s little doubt in my mind that Eovaldi would have won.
The postseason certainly endeared the righty towards Red Sox fans, but that wasn’t all that made him such a fan favorite. You also have to look at his performance against the Yankees, because he always stepped up against his former team. Eovaldi’s second start with the Red Sox came in that huge August series in which Boston wrapped up the division, and the righty was electric. In the game, he tossed eight scoreless innings on just 93 pitches and probably could have finished off a complete game shutout. He then came out in September with six shutout inning in the Bronx before that aforementioned one-run start in the ALDS. Those kind of performances alone are reason enough to push hard for him to be back for the 2019 season.
Turning our focus more towards Eovaldi’s skillset rather than his individual performances, the biggest reason he was able to make this leap in 2018 was the reintroduction of his cutter to his repertoire. He moved away from the pitch with the Marlins and Yankees, but the Rays helped him bring it back and clearly it changed things. We all know about Eovaldi’s velocity, but hitters can succeed against velocity if you have nothing to go with it. Now, he does. His cutter is downright unfair when it’s working — and it was for most of his time in Boston — with sick movement and coming in around 96 mph. Bananas.
Finally, the control Eovaldi displayed with the Red Sox, and really all year, was a breath of fresh air. The Red Sox rotation didn’t have the same kind of control deficiencies as the bullpen, but there were real inefficiency issues with a lot of the rotation when he came over. The performances were mostly fine, but no one was getting deep to games because everyone was hitting full counts at every turn. Then, Eovaldi came in and showed what pounding the strike zone can look like. Obviously, there are ways it can go bad if you’re too hittable, but it largely worked out just fine for the righty.
To this point in the Review series, this is the hardest time I’ve had thinking of negatives. Largely because Eovaldi wasn’t here long enough to really have time to have big moments and small ones, and also because he was almost entirely good for the Red Sox. There are a couple of things I can point out, but they admittedly seem petty at this point.
One thing is that he didn’t really get deep into games with the Red Sox, at least in the regular season. This was likely at least in some way part of Alex Cora’s plan as he wanted Eovaldi to play a big role in the postseason (clearly) and the righty has had some major injury issues through his career. Pushing him too hard could have had some adverse effects on the season. Still, in 12 regular season starts with the Red Sox, Eovaldi recording 15 or fewer outs in seven of them and never reached a triple-digit pitch total.
On top of that, he hit a legitimate rough patch in the middle of August. It’s easy to forget at this point, but there was real concern about what Eovaldi was going to be able to provide for this team when he was pitching like this. After his first two starts were dominant, it seemed like the league had adjusted to his zone-pounding style and were jumping all over everything. Over his last five starts in August (after that outing against the Yankees), Eovaldi pitched to an 8.05 ERA and averaged fewer than four innings per start. Clearly, he turned things around.
The Big Question
The Year Ahead
Nathan Eovaldi might be the most interesting free agent on the market this year. We know guys like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are going to get paid, and starting pitchers like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel are more known quantities. Eovaldi, though, is an enigma. His stuff is tremendous, and the last we’ve seen of him is as good as we’ve seen from just about anyone in the sport. He was on another level. On the other hand, he has the aforementioned injury issues, and his track record suggests the postseason may have been a fluke. It’s a fascinating test on how much postseason performance can influence a contract. I suspect the Red Sox will push very hard to get him back, but ultimately I think he’s going to end up getting a bigger offer from elsewhere and he’ll take it. I just hope it’s not the Yankees.