There’s Something Wrong with Jerad Eickhoff

Jerad Eickhoff has a problem: he is completely ineffective against left handed hitters. To this point, he’s been able to hide the extent of the issue by maintaining a respectable overall stat line, and he’s done this by keeping right handed batters in check. As bad as Eickhoff has been against lefties, he’s dominated righties to a similar extent.

Batter K-BB% OPS wOBA FIP
Lefty 10% .878 .371 4.76
Righty 25% .502 .218 2.25

The difference is drastic, and the problem is that he’s unlikely to improve on that extreme level of dominance against right handed batters. So if you’re looking for consistency or improvement out of Eickhoff, he’s going to need to resolve the issue against lefties.

There have been a number of solutions presented to solve this problem. The most common among them is the need for Eickhoff to improve his changeup, a classic platoon busting pitch. But while it wouldn’t hurt to have a decent changeup in his back pocket, it’s missing the mark on what’s causing Eickhoff’s platoon issues.

Instead of focusing on improving a weak pitch, Eickhoff would be better off playing to his strengths. He has two pitches that can be effective against left handers, he just needs a tweak or two to get the most out of those offerings. So while everyone is calling for an improved changeup, Eickhoff should simply…

Embrace the Curveball

Eickhoff’s curveball is a dominant pitch. He’s thrown 190 curveballs to left handed batters, and they have amassed a total of three hits against the pitch. Even as the game progresses, and he increases his usage of the pitch, it doesn’t lose its effectiveness.

Times through Order Thrown% Whiff%
1 21% 15.5%
2 27% 11.8%
3+ 32% 17.2%

And when it comes to putting a batter away with two strikes, his curveball has drawn a swinging strike 23.5% of the time it’s thrown. Eickhoff’s issues are not due to an inability to put lefties away when he has them on the ropes. The problem resides in getting them on the ropes to begin with, and that is why he needs to…

Scrap the Two-Seamer

Eickhoff throws his two seam fastball almost exclusively to left handed batters. And this year he increased his usage of the pitch, to the point of favoring it over his four seam fastball.

Year 4-Seam% 2-Seam%
2015 40% 20%
2016 26% 33%

The intent was likely to coax more ground balls, and to that end he has succeeded. The problem is the total amount of contact and lack of strikes he obtains with the pitch. You can see it in the side by side comparison of his two fastball offerings to lefties spanning his time in the majors.

Pitch Ball% Strike% Foul% Ball-in-Play% Whiff%
4-Seamer 37% 21% 23% 20% 4.9%
2-Seamer 36% 14% 15% 35% 4.4%

The two seamer is put in play an incredible 75% more often than his four seamer. And while the sample isn’t large enough to come to any sweeping conclusions on the results of that contact, the sheer volume alone raises a huge red flag. The problem likely comes from the lack of movement, as he doesn’t get much sink or horizontal run on the pitch. Lefties are seeing it well enough that they’re swinging often when the pitch is in the strike zone, and they’re rarely missing.

With so much contact and an inability to draw strikes, the two seamer really needs to be shelved completely in favor of his other fastball, a four seamer that he should…

Throw Up in the Zone

Conventional baseball wisdom says to keep the fastball down in the zone. But Eickhoff’s four seamer has above average “rise” that plays better in the upper portion of the zone. Most of his four seam strikes against lefties, both of the called and swinging variety, have come in that upper half.

But this is not the area Eickhoff targets with his fastball, or even intends to target. He generally throws to the outer edge of the plate, but in the middle to lower half of the zone. And this wouldn’t be a terrible area to pitch to if he could repeatedly hit that location. But pitchers don’t always hit their spots, and when Eickhoff misses with his four seam fastball, he tends to miss to his glove side. That leaves the pitch right in the path of the left hander’s power zone.

LeftyonRightyISOheat

Image from Fangraphs.com

When pitching to the outside corner, but at the top of the zone, a missed pitch is a much less vulnerable offering, and the glove side miss puts the pitch into more frequent pop up territory as it gets closer to the batter.  The pop up may not be as glamorous as the strike out, but the outcome is essentially the same. It’s converted into an out almost 100% of the time, and runners do not advance on the play. Eickhoff has shown a propensity for inducing the pop up at a rate that would put him towards the top of the league in the category.  But most of these automatic outs have come off the bats of right handed hitters. He would do well to also get his rising fastball underneath the bats of their left handed counterparts.

It would only take a few more strikeouts and weakly hit balls to cut into Eickhoff’s drastic platoon split, and he already has the two pitches he needs to do it. Perhaps he’ll eventually develop that third pitch, whether it be the aforementioned changeup or a cut fastball he can use to get in on the hands of the batter. A pitch like that might turn out to be a useful addition to his arsenal.

But in the meantime…

Embrace a great pitch. Eliminate a bad one. Throw to an area where strikes are more frequent, where misses are going to lead to more pop ups and fewer extra bases. Get a lefty or two out in the process.

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6 comments

  1. Romus

    May 18, 2016 05:03 PM

    Grip wise…I would ask him to forsake the two-seamer for the cutter grip, and see what happens.
    His 2S is not breaking down and into the lefty, perhaps a cutter would.
    Modify the grip…keep the middle finger on the seam and the index between the seams and butt up to the middle finger. Reposition the thumb ever so slightly underneath.
    He needs to make some change vs the lefty batters or he could be facing what Aaron Blair of the Braves just did….being sent down to AAA.

  2. Gil

    May 18, 2016 07:18 PM

    Very interesting piece – thanks you!

    Eickoff’s command of his two seam fastball also hasn’t been particularly good, and pitching behind in the count isn’t good for any pitchers’ numbers. His reason for seeking to induce lefties into hitting grounders seems self-explanatory and smart given that ground balls don’t disappear over outfield fences. Eickoff will give up some bombs throwing his four seam fastball to lefties when he misses his spots by even just a little bit.

    Eickoff’s curve is a beautiful thing – my favorite thing to see is a hitter swinging and missing his curve – and it’s super effective against all hitters when he’s doing a good job setting it up with his other pitches. Seems to me that hitters started adjusting to his curve and no major league starting pitcher in today’s game can expect to keep hitters missing with just two pitches unless both pitches are above average to elite. Since Eickoff isn’t Kershaw, simply put, he needs to mix up and better locate all of his pitches more consistently and avoid falling into patterns.

    He also seems like a pretty intelligent young pitcher who knows his stuff, knows how to pitch, and wants to win, but he will need to demonstrate growth from his experiences as the season progresses if he is to be more than an interesting story of another young Phillies pitcher who briefly dazzled and gave us cause to dream all winter only to fizzle out by June.

    Eickoff can hold his own as a 4-5 starter as is , yet I do hope very much he is able to keep making adjustments because his ceiling, ever more tantalizingly, could go through the proverbial roof if he develops and executes sustained superb command of all of his pitches. A good comparison is the adjustment Cole Hamels made in 2010 when he developed and gained excellent command of his curve and cutter to complement his wipeout change and very good fastball. I don’t see Eickoff in the same category to be honest, but Hamels provides a good comparison.

    Another similarly good but not meant to be literal in all ways comparison is Curt Schilling in 1993. He went through a self-professed (big surprise there) dead arm in late May/June that saw other teams hit him all over the place, but he rebounded nicely by season’s end and became a great pitcher during that thrilling postseason. Eickoff is young, and while we all want to see him pitch like the post 1993 Schilling every time out, that’s not particularly fair given his experience level and considering how far above their heads this year’s team has performed to date. He’s probably going to come back down to earth along with the rest of the team. How great would it be if they prove everyone wrong and never come back to earth? Ah dreams. Adjustments must be made (and perhaps a player or two added) to see them come true.

    Interestingly, Eickoff looks like he is trying to adjust – most of the team does – but struggling to consistently make good pitches in good locations. I applaud him and the whole team. His mechanics seemed different in his last start – not sure exactly how but he seemed to be torquing his upper body more than usual and rushing through the rest. A little more velocity, a lot less command. Might have been my imagination, but it makes me worry about potential injury if he puts excess strain on his shoulder or elbow over throwing his fastball and curve a lot. Might be my imagination entirely, but regardless, let’s accept that the league has adjusted to some extent and also accept that Eickoff’s problem isn’t his velocity or reluctance to throw his curveball and four seam fastball a lot and good bit of the time respectively. His challenge is commanding all of his pitches most of the time.

    Most hitters can hit a four seam fastball like Eickoff’s better than any other pitch, and pitching up in the zone is dangerous business. Increasing the frequency of his curve will ultimately reduce its effectiveness because hitters who sit on his curve will eventually hit it – they are professionals after all. Unless one has two top flight pitches, today’s starting pitcher requires good to elite command of four average or better pitches to sustain success. It is not how frequently a pitcher uses all of his pitches, but his effectiveness each time. Eickoff needs (and is hopefully able) to develop consistent command of four average or better pitches to be more than what he’s so far been as a major league starting pitcher.

    With apologies for the long post – hopefully it isn’t terribly repetitive. It’s exciting that the Phillies are in first place. Given that they were projected to be about as successful and interesting to watch as the Braves, I hope Middleton, MacPhail, Klentak, Pete and all his boys all feel good this evening with a win in the books. After a few seasons that reminded me dreadfully of those dead from the neck down late ’80s Phillies teams, today deserves a little dream that Eickoff and the rest of the team just keep rolling further away from becoming the team they were projected to be in 2016.

    Screw the projections and the supposed experts with their stupid persistence dishonestly referring to nonexistent baseball insiders to lure people into clicking their link in the dead of winter to read that the Phillies were tanking when everyone who pays attention could see this wasn’t the case.

  3. Bubba0101

    May 19, 2016 10:57 AM

    Wait a second. Michael just said that there was nothing wrong with eickhoff and now you’re saying there’s something wrong. This changes my whole opinion on the topic of what’s wrong with Eickhoff. Nothing is good but something is bad.

    • Romus

      May 19, 2016 02:18 PM

      Bubba…don’t complicate things! 🙂

      • Gil

        May 19, 2016 06:55 PM

        I’m so confused…

  4. Dubee

    May 20, 2016 03:22 PM

    Give Eflin a shot – Eflin’s got much more movement on all his offerings not to mention better velocity.

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