So, Jerad Eickhoff Had Himself A Game
The Cubs are 40-17 with a +142 run differential so massive that the Cubs are actually underperforming their Pythagorean record — by four games! Their 44-13 Pythag record indicates they’re scoring and preventing runs at a rate in line with a 125-win full season pace. Or, more simply, the Cubs are a really stinkin’ good baseball team right now. And, yet, check out Jerad Eickhoff‘s line against those dastardly Cubs last night:
7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8K
Yeah, that’ll do. In the previous four games the Phillies played against the Cubs, their starters (Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Morgan twice) combined to give up 33 (!) hits and 20 earned runs over the span of just 20.2 innings. The Cubs were absolutely destroying Phillies pitching and then Jerad Eickhoff took the mound last night.
It had been a rather pedestrian season for Eickhoff so far. Outside of one disastrous seven-run outing in Milwaukee at the end of April, he hasn’t really had particularly awful outings. In fact, the four runs he allowed in his first outing against the Cubs was the only other time in which he allowed more than three runs. That’s pretty good! But outside of a couple strong outings against the inept Padres and Braves offenses, Eickhoff hadn’t been particularly dominant either. His season line entering last night’s start:
11 GS, 66.1 IP, 3.93 ERA, 19.6 K%, 4.7 BB%
That’s a perfectly fine and largely unremarkable line, and it certainly fills the role the Phillies need out of the back end of their rotation at the moment. But it was hard to say Eickhoff was doing anything to build on the excitement he garnered at the end of the 2015 season when he posted a 2.65 ERA and 24.1 K% through eight starts and looked like the surprise steal of the Cole Hamels trade.
But then, last night, he made the Cubs look silly — the 2016 world-beatin’ Chicago Cubs. Is the dominant Jerad Eickhoff we met a year ago back?
One of the first notable changes for Eickhoff has been an uptick in velocity as the season has progressed. This is pretty typical for a pitcher as a season wears on, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Most of his pitches have added about one mph in velocity and his slider has added closer to two miles.
And it’s that slider that we need to talk about. Eickhoff spent much of the beginning of the season as a two-pitch pitcher — fastball, curveball. It was a baffling trend given that Eickhoff’s slider induced a ridiculous 55.6% whiff/swing rate in 2015 — the highest rate of any starting pitcher (min. 100 sliders thrown).
Earlier this season, Spencer Bingol opined that part of the effectiveness of Eickhoff’s slider is derived from limiting the usage of the pitch because the pitch works best when it’s playing off the fastball and curveball. That makes sense. It’s technically his third best pitch, but when it’s well-located, it’s a legitimate weapon. However, there’s a crucial difference between using a pitch judiciously and abandoning it, and for the first part of the season, the slider remained in Eickhoff’s back pocket more often than not.
But then, beginning in May, he began going to the slider upwards of 20 percent of the time at times and in each of his last three starts he’s maintained that trend. [Note: the chart above does not include last night’s game during which Eickhoff used his slider a season high 28.6 percent of the time.]
Jerad Eickhoff is not working with an elite arsenal — it’s a good arsenal, a major-league arsenal even, but it’s not elite. His curveball is excellent while his fastball and slider are good-to-very-good depending on the day and his changeup remains a work in progress. It’s a pitch mix that works, but it’s not enough to thrive on its own merit. It relies on Eickhoff’s ability to locate and to employ smart pitch usage. In order to keep hitters off balance, he needs to be able to go to any of the pitches in his arsenal at any time, which is why it’s so encouraging to see him using his full repertoire in recent starts.
When he was a two-pitch pitcher in April and May, Eickhoff looked like a future reliever with little shot at sticking in the rotation because his game plan simply wasn’t enough to keep major league hitters in check multiple times through the lineup. But now that his other strong offspeed pitch is reliably in the mix, he suddenly looks like a guy that can keep the 2016 Chicago Cubs off balance.
Is 2015 Jerad Eickhoff back? At least for the moment, yes.