2017 Phillies Report Card: Jerad Eickhoff
Since his strong rookie season, Jerad Eickhoff’s stats are basically all trending down. His share of “automatic outs”, or strikeouts plus infield fly balls, has gone from 36.6% in 2015 to 33.3% in 2016 to 28.1% in 2017. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that his BABIP has increased every year as well. His walk rate is up, his swinging strike rate is down. There’s no other way to slice it; he just didn’t look good this season.
Consider the following trend:
Also consider this trend:
This is a good time to point something out that’s not necessarily related to Eickhoff. Note that his K% between 2016 and 2017 is essentially unchanged. However, his K/9 increased a bit from 7.62 to 8.30. K/9 poses as a rate stat, but if you think about it innings is not really a great denominator for strikeouts. This shows that while he didn’t strike out fewer hitters, his BABIP was lower last year, so his strikeouts look lower due to a higher out-efficiency. In this case having a lower K/9 might actually be a positive thing. Don’t use K/9; it’s misleading. Now back to your regularly scheduled Jerad Eickhoff season in review.
In the beginning of the season, I outlined two things we’d need to see from Eickhoff to take the next step forward: a useful changeup to mitigate platoon splits and increased usage of his wonderful curveball. I’ll give you the good news first: he used his curveball 32.63% of the time, up from 24.14% last year, and it continued to be great. Batters whiffed at it over 13% of the time, down from last year but still a healthy number of whiffs considering the increased usage. Opponents produced a 39 wRC+ against Eickhoff’s calling card, compared to a 30 wRC+ last year.
The bad news: he only threw 17 changeups all season, less than 1% of his total pitches. As such, lefties continued to rock him to the tune of a .375 wOBA. Eickhoff made lefties look like Jose Abreu or George Springer. He continued to handle righties, as they produced a Galvisian .295 wOBA, but if he’s going to be the mid-rotation starter we all envisioned after his excellent 2015 and promising 2016, he’s going to need to get better against lefties.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the injury that cost Eickhoff the end of his season. After an August 30 start in which he pitched just two innings, Eickhoff hit the DL with a nerve issue in his throwing hand. I’m no doctor, but a nerve issue seems like it could cause a player to struggle with control and velocity. We saw Eickhoff’s walk rate spike, and well, take a look:
It’s possible Eickhoff avoided his change because of the hand issue. It’s possible his struggles this year were related to the hand issue. I’m somewhat skeptical because his monthly splits didn’t show much difference as the season went on, but also, a month is a pretty small sample size. Perhaps this really was the problem. Or perhaps Eickhoff just took a step back. Either way, he’ll be given a chance to redeem himself in the rotation last year and re-establish himself as a building block for this team.
As Pete Mackanin said, Eickhoff, like Aaron Nola this year, could return from injury “in a blaze of glory” next season. Unless he adds a changeup to keep hitters off his pedestrian fastball and sinker, color me skeptical.