The 2016 playoffs showed us the dire value of pitching depth, especially on a team constructed like the Cleveland Indians. As strong as that rotation was, it took a pair of freak accidents to dismantle it. As great as the back end of the bullpen was, another arm or two could have kept the Cubs even more on their heels, maybe resulting in a title. What I’m saying is, you can never have too many arms. That’s why, when news came out that the New York Yankees waived injured pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, all I could think was that the Indians should snap him up.
On its face, it’s a rather odd idea. You might call it downright dumb. He got Tommy John surgery in August and will likely be out until at least next July. Most people would as soon let him rehab on his own without paying him, then let him showcase himself or something. But we’ve come to a point where UCL surgery is just a matter of course for pitchers, something that knocks you out for a year and you come back no worse for wear. If the Tribe waits and tries later, they’d be outbid. By next July he’d be a probable live arm, suddenly available at the trade deadline. We’ve seen what that can get back in prospects, just think what the money would be. The Indians do not have money, or not much anyway. Certainly not enough to get caught in a bidding war. They need to plug a few other holes and give out some raises, too. I think the Indians should try to sign Eovaldi to a two-year deal at a discounted rate. This helps both sides because it could give the Tribe a good young arm for cheap, and give him some security as well as a chance to show his true value on a playoff caliber team. He’s only 26 and has a whole career ahead of him.
If you look at his numbers, you might wonder why the Indians would even bother with Eovaldi. Over the last two years with the Yankees he pitched 279 innings with a 4.45 ERA, 4.11 FIP and struck out only 18% of batters faced. I say only because this is a guy who throws 97 mph with ease and has a mid-90’s cutter that’s quite nasty as well. He has a few offspeed pitches, but they’re terrible, or mediocre at best. And his four-seam being the straightest pitch in history. He just doesn’t have the right pitch to get him out of problems. The Indians could be the place to help him with that. We’ve seen the work that Mickey Callaway has done with raw material in the past, and we know the incredible arms they have in their rotation. Perhaps helping him to hide the ball better, or some other small thing, that could be the difference. With that velocity you want to try anything. He could see and understand what they did to go from Mr. Mediocre in Corey Kluber's case to Cy Young. Having Eovaldi in the fold for his rehab could help further his growth as a pitcher simply by being around greatness. Or in Trevor Bauer’s case, mad science.
Bauer did create the number known as Bauer Units, which is spin rate divided by velocity. Spin helps with pitch break and reduces hittability of a pitch, so does velocity. The higher the Bauer Unit, the better. Presumably anyway. Despite his incredible velocity, Eovaldi had basically a league average spin rate on his four-seam last year. That’s likely why he got pounded, or part of it at any rate. This is something that he could work on and even if it knocks off his velo a tick it could make him much harder to hit. Perhaps TJ recovery is a poor time to make drastic changes, but it could just be the time off and the restart he needs. If his fastball gets better, so does every other pitch. He just needs to accidentally get caught in a physics of baseball conversation with Bauer.
Twenty-six is so young for a pitcher. Randy Johnson was mediocre as a 26-year old. I wrote about Jim Perry a couple weeks back, who didn’t emerge until he was 28 or so. There’s risk to signing a pitcher on the mend from arm surgery, but not as much as there was ten or even five years ago. Even if he can’t cut it as a starter, the Indians could plug Eovaldi into the bullpen. His numbers the first time through the order are amazing. In his first 25 pitches batters logged a .594 OPS. Facing him the first time batters logged a .669 OPS when he started, and .403 OPS as a reliever. At his worst, he’d profile like a better Zach McAllister, who wasn’t so bad in 2016 in his own right. Not great, but nobody saw him suddenly being able to throw 98.
The Indians are the type of team that has to take these calculated risks. Is it possible to make a calculated reckless risk? Perhaps, and the Indians need to corner the market on those. Less wild signings gave them the Scott Kazmir reclamation, resulted in three months of good Ubaldo Jimenez and pulled 34 home runs out of Mike Napoil. Signing a 26-year old who just got routine surgery to a short-term deal could be huge for them down the line. I’d prefer moves like that over the inevitable aging slugger signing they’ll make in the next few months. Not every winter signing has to benefit the team right away, even if we want it to. It never hurts to think a few months, even a year down the road. He could be a fine starter if he figures it out, or an amazing reliever even if he doesn’t.