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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  1. JustBob

    March 07, 2017 12:45 PM

    Good piece. The other thing to watch for is his durability and stamina. Almost every start he hits a brick wall in terms of the 6th inning or around 85-90 pitches.

    Not expecting him to suddenly become a guy who goes 7 innings every start because almost no MLB starter does that anymore. He does need to improve his numbers though in the 6th inning become more of a frontline starter though.

    • Michael Schickling

      March 07, 2017 01:20 PM

      That’s definitely true. His OPS allowed through 5 innings is just .651, or roughly Alcides Escobar’s output last year.

      His OPS allowed from the 6th inning on is 1.070, which would have led all qualified hitters last year.

      • Chris S

        March 07, 2017 02:02 PM

        I would think adding another decent pitch should help him get deeper into games.

      • Pete

        March 08, 2017 12:17 AM

        Trying to figure out why this information was down voted, but I got nothing.

  2. Romus

    March 07, 2017 03:36 PM

    Good article.
    I would hope Eickhoff can have a similar production level to Cub’s Kyle Hendricks, who was a 88/90 velo guy with a CB in the 76/78 range, but only thrown 8%.
    The difference however is that Eickhoff will need to get a handle on his CU whereas Hendricks threw it 28% of the time, and at a above average efficiency..

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