Jerad Eickhoff: Two Things to Watch For

Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff.

To start off this preview, I want to give you the story of Jerad Eickhoff, the Phillie. Eickhoff was considered something of a throw-in, quad-A type pitcher in the Cole Hamels trade. He had 8 strong starts to finish out the 2015 season, which generated tempered optimism for the 2016 season. The fact that he was essentially Hamels’ equal last year in fWAR is nothing short of amazing.

He posted a 3.65 ERA over nearly 200 innings last year on the strength of a league-average strikeout rate and the 8th-best walk rate among qualified starting pitchers. Offsetting his mediocre fastball is a spectacular curveball and a solid slider. He’s also thrown a change about 5% of the time, but it’s gotten rocked (opponents slugged .643 against it). One of his Spring Training goals is to improve that change into a respectable pitch. The idea is that having a fourth option in his arsenal will make him less predictable and also allow his fastball to play up.

So, for Eickhoff, there are two things I’ll be watching for this season, especially early. One, will he start using his changeup more (and consequently, will it continue to get rocked)? He’s already shown the ability to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but with an improved changeup, he could take a serious step forward.

The other thing I’d like to see Eickhoff do is throw his curveball more often. He threw it 24% of the time last year, with a contact rate of just 62%, allowing a .462 OPS. That is fantastic, and so he should feature his curveball more prominently in his repertoire. Consider that his curveball was the 10th most valuable in baseball last year among qualified starters on a rate basis, and we just saw Drew Pomeranz and Rich Hill transform from replacement level to averagish pitchers to two of the best in baseball because they ramped up their curveball usage to about 40% of the time.

We know the Phillies are willing to make this move, as last year Aaron Nola upped his curveball usage from 24% in 2015 to 34% in 2016. This coincided with him increasing his strikeout rate by 4 percentage points while maintaining his pristine 6% walk rate. Although Nola’s ERA ballooned by a run and a half, his FIP actually improved by about a run, and his HR/FB% decreased while his GB% increased. That’s a good sign. Some of his struggles could probably be related to his injury, his .334 BABIP (12th highest among starters with at least 100 innings in 2016), and/or his 60.6% strand rate (2nd lowest). Either way, we know it’s not the fault of his curveball, which allowed just a .501 OPS despite its increased usage.

So that’s what I’ll be looking for from Eickhoff this year: changeup improvement and increased curveball usage. I’ll be sure to update you on his progress this season, maybe even with gifs!

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