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What to look for from Nathan Eovaldi against the Yankees

Eovaldi will take the ball with the season on the line tonight.

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox will look to defeat the Yankees tonight behind the arm of Nathan Eovaldi. Nasty Nate has put together his best overall season, going 11-9 with a 3.75 ERA, 1.190 WHIP, and 182.1 IP in 32 games started. Eovaldi has a 9.6 K/9 and a 1.7 BB/9, which was the best walk rate in the American League. The righty also had a 5.6 fWAR on the season, leading all American League pitchers (minus Shohei Otani, who is a two-way player). For comparison's sake, Gerrit Cole has a 5.3 fWAR. He probably won’t win, but Eovaldi will get some Cy Young votes next month.

Against the Yankees

Eovaldi’s 2021 regular season numbers against the Yankees are quite comparable to his season totals. However, his last start against the Yankees really nuked his previously impressive numbers against them. On September 24th, Eovaldi allowed seven earned runs in just 2.2 innings. The Yankees did not have any special game plan, he was just noticeably off, specifically with his secondary offerings. Before that outing, Eovaldi had a 2.01 ERA in five starts against the Yankees this season. During that 31 13 innings span, the veteran recorded 34 strikeouts to just two walks. The Yankees hit .256 with a lackluster .280 on-base percentage. We’re going to need to see that version of Eovaldi to beat Gerrit Cole and the Bronx Bombers tonight.

Pitch Mix

Nathan Eovaldi has an impressive five-pitch mix that has stifled opposing batters all season. Eovaldi’s fastball comes in at 96.8 MPH on average and has been hit at a .312 clip. He throws his fastball 42.3 percent of the time and when he’s at his best he’s able to hit the upper part of the zone. It doesn’t get the whiffs at a rate you might expect given the velocity, but in combination with the rest of the offerings it’s an effective weapon.

Eovaldi’s curveball has been his most effective pitch all season, and his lack of feel in his last start against the Yankees was a major reason for his issues. He throws his curveball 18.8 percent of the time and opponents are only hitting .171 with a 39.9 percent whiff rate. Eovaldi frequently changes opponents' eye level by pairing high cheese with a low curveball, and it’s worked wonders. If we were to choose one most important offering for him in this game, it’s the curveball.

His third pitch is a slider, which he uses 13.7 percent of the time with a .269 batting average against. Eovaldi typically throws his slider glove side (away to righties) below the zone to create swings and misses. The consistent command of this pitch this season has been a big reason for his success. Even in his last outing against New York, this was the one secondary for which he did have a feel.

The fourth pitch in Eovaldi’s arsenal is a splitter, which has been extremely effective for the most part this season but was the other major pain point in his previous outing against New York. Opponents hitting a mere .183 against his splitter, which he typically throws just below the strike zone. Not only does Eovaldi’s splitter have a 32.1 percent whiff rate, but he also uses this pitch to induce ground balls. Its eight degree launch angle is the lowest among his pitches/ He throws his splitter 12.7 percent of the time.

The fifth and final pitch in Eovaldi’s repertoire is his cutter. His cutter has a .254 batting average against and is almost exclusively thrown to his glove side. He uses his cutter 12.5% of the time, which is quite high for a fifth pitch, though it is down from the last few years when it was his clear second pitch. The overall numbers are solid against the cutter, though we should note he’s allowed more homers off this pitch than any of his others. It’s almost impossible to accurately anticipate what Eovaldi will throw due to his balanced mix.

Catching Situation

I would expect Alex Cora to start Kevin Plawecki behind the dish in tonight’s Wild Card game due to his apparent rapport with Eovaldi. This season Eovaldi has a 3.28 ERA in 17 games with Plawecki catching. During his 13 games with Christain Vázquez, his ERA jumps to 4.77.

Nathan Eovaldi will have the entire city of Boston relying on him as he takes the mound at Fenway Park tonight (8:00 EST). Eovaldi has been the Red Sox most reliable pitcher all season and will have a chance to take his team into the ALDS with a win.