2012 Dodgers in Review #31: SP Nathan Eovaldi

(w/ LA) 56.1IP 4.15 ERA 4.11 FIP 5.43 K/9 3.20 BB/9 0.5 WAR C+

2012 in brief: Flashed talent in 10 starts while replacing injured Ted Lilly before being shipped to Miami in July for Hanley Ramirez.

2013 status: Expected to hold a spot in the Marlins rotation.

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At the start of the season, we knew we’d see Nathan Eovaldi at some point. We just didn’t know when. Despite making six decent starts for the Dodgers in 2011, he had no shot to make an Opening Day rotation which was already full, but he had moved ahead of John Ely and others to become the clear next in line, and with 60% of the rotation being older and prone to injury, his chance would come soon enough.

That chance came in late May, when Ted Lilly‘s shoulder sent him to the disabled list. (I’m ignoring here a brief callup in April in which Eovaldi was in uniform but did not pitch.) I liked Eovaldi just fine, but I know not everyone agreed with me when I said that I didn’t see him as any kind of a future star:

As for Eovaldi, I like him well enough, but I’ve never been as high on him as others, and if Lilly is expected to be out for a long period of time I do think it makes sense to find a more permanent replacement than to rely on Eovaldi to be a savior. There’s been a few updated scouting reports on Eovaldi recently – here’s a good one – and most paint him as a two-pitch pitcher who may have trouble succeeding as a starter unless he can make improvements on at least one other pitch. That, plus his less-than-dominant strikeout numbers against Double-A competition, have lead many to figure that his future may be in the bullpen.

We thought Eovaldi’s stay would be short, but as Lilly’s shoulder trouble proved far more serious than anticipated and rumored interest in Roy Oswalt & John Lannan never materialized, Eovaldi stayed in the rotation for nearly two months. As you’d expect, he was up-and-down, though effective more often than not. His first game doesn’t look like anything special, though it’s worth noting that after allowing a two-run Ryan Braun dinger in the first inning, he pitched 6.2 scoreless. In his third start, he was very good, pitching six scoreless innings in Seattle, but it barely mattered: the Dodgers were no-hit by Kevin Millwood and friends.

Actually, that was a recurring theme of Eovaldi’s season, since he had the misfortune to spend most of his time as a Dodger in the midst of that awful June malaise. The Dodgers lost each of his first seven starts, scoring a total of four runs in that time, so it was hard to blame him when he ended the month at 0-5.

Still, Eovaldi wasn’t entirely blameless. On June 25, he went into San Francisco:

Entering tonight’s game, Nathan Eovaldi‘s sparking 2.35 ERA was backed up by only a 3.77 FIP and a 4.24 xFIP, so it shouldn’t be that surprising there was a clunker coming. Still, I don’t think any of us saw that being a mess like “eight runs and ten hits in five innings”, especially against a Giants offense with little more firepower than what the Dodgers have. I suppose Eovaldi should be commended for even making it through five after giving up seven of those runs in the first two innings; then again, when your team offers no run support whatsoever, against Barry Zito no less, how much does it matter if you’re allowing one run or eight?

A week later, he went into New York and gave up five earned runs in 5.1 innings, not generating a single strikeout. He rebounded somewhat in three July starts, even striking out seven Mets in 4.1 innings on July 22 in what would be in his final start. Three days later, he was gone:

This is in no way a trade without a substantial amount of risk, which we’ll get to in a second, but my first impression is that I really, really like taking the chance here. We’ve been over so many times how impossible it was going to be to find a bat in this market, particularly one who can play third base and isn’t able to walk at the end of the season, and to be able to do that and get a decent lefty bullpen arm without having to give up your top prospects is just phenomenal.

That’s not to say that I dislike Eovaldi, of course, because I don’t. Obviously, forget his useless 2-8 career record, because he’s been an able fill-in at age 22, mixing in some good games along with some disasters, as you’d expect a non-elite pitcher of his age to do. Overall, he’s been about league-average, and there’s absolutely value in that, more than it sounds like; the Dodgers will miss him. But as you probably know, I’ve often felt his future lies in the bullpen due to concerns over his out pitches and strikeout ability, and the Dodgers have a ton of depth in the “decent-to-good young starter” department, from Zach Lee to Allen Webster to Chris Reed and on and on and on. I’ll miss Eovaldi, but if you’re trading a young player, trading from depth is absolutely the right way to do it.

Eovaldi made 12 starts for Miami and basically pitched exactly the same way as he had for the Dodgers, mixing great outings (eight shutout innings against Atlanta on September 18) with disasters (six earned runs in two innings in Atlanta on August 2), but generally still not missing enough bats. As I said when the trade was made, he was an adequate fill-in while needed, but not at all someone I’m going to cry over trading.

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Next up! Josh Beckett escapes Boston!

Back End of Bench Helps Beats Mets & Umpires For Dodger Sweep

Come on, who among us didn’t think that today’s game was going to end with Matt Treanor, Luis Cruz, & Adam Kennedy driving in five runs in the twelfth inning, with Josh Wall getting the win by pitching the eleventh in his major league debut before certainly getting demoted? No one? Really? Come on, people. Open your minds a little.

That, believe it or not, is just the kind of day it was on a Sunday afternoon in Queens, as some shaky bullpen work on both sides and absolutely horrific umpiring turned what was a relatively quiet game into an extra-inning slopfest that ended with the first Dodger sweep of the Mets on the road since 2002.

Before we get to the fun, let’s remember what no one will remember: in some ways, today was the best start of Nathan Eovaldi‘s short career, tying his career-high in strikeouts with seven while allowing just one walk and one run, though he did give up seven hits. Considering that just three starts ago he allowed five earned runs without a single strikeout against this same Mets team, it was an encouraging step forward. Still, Eovaldi had already thrown 96 pitches after allowing Jordany Valdespin & David Wright to reach with one out in the fifth, and I have to give a lot of credit to Don Mattingly for lifting his young starter after 4 1/3 with two lefties coming up, rather than being beholden to the silly ‘win’ statistic as so many other managers would. Rather than allowing Eovaldi to labor on a warm day with runners on the corners, Scott Elbert entered to strike out Ike Davis and induce a Daniel Murphy flyball, and one of the the largest New York threats of the day was over.

Elbert, Shawn Tolleson, & Jamey Wright combined to throw 3.1 innings of one-run ball – and more on that run in a second – which allowed Mattingly to hand the ball in the ninth to Javy Guerra, getting his first save opportunity since May 6 with Kenley Jansen unavailable. It didn’t go well; Guerra wasn’t exactly hit hard, since one of the two hits he gave up in the ninth was an infield single and his walk was intentional, but he never looked comfortable from the start and the combination of two hits, a sacrifice bunt, and an infield groundout led to the Mets tying the game.

Guerra made it through the tenth unscathed, though it’s hard to say that it was encouraging that he allowed a leadoff double to Kirk Nieuwenhuis and a walk to Scott Hairston in doing so. Wall then made it through the heart of the New York order in the eleventh, allowing only a Wright single. That set the stage for the LOL-fest in the top of the twelfth against Ramon Ramirez, as ten Dodgers batted and five of them – James Loney, Tony Gwynn, Treanor, Cruz, & Kennedy – got hits, leading to the very odd extra-inning final of 8-3, the first two of which came on Juan Rivera‘s blast in the fourth inning. Matt Kemp had his fourth consecutive two-hit game; both Ellises joined him with multiple hits. Josh Lindblom finished in a non-save situation, and the Dodgers take their sweep and head to St. Louis, where the Cardinals are finishing up a sweep of their own against the Cubs today.

But the main story of the day, as it always seems to be, was the umpiring, where there were at least five calls that were either clearly incorrect or very questionable, and that’s not even counting balls and strikes. In the fourth, Murphy doubled down the right field line, a ball that clearly seemed to land foul. That didn’t hurt the Dodgers, but a call by home plate umpire Jim Joyce in the seventh loomed large. Tolleson had seemingly struck out Ike Davis to complete a 1-2-3 inning, but home plate umpire Jim Joyce argued that Davis had tipped the ball as the Dodgers ran off the field.

Uh, you tell me:

Given a second chance, Davis doubled to right and came home on a Murphy single, and I think we’ve all seen enough baseball to know that given a gift like that, the chances of Davis turning it into something were approximately 10000%. Someone really ought to set up a real-time sports book that allows me to bet on things like that happening.

The umpiring miscues didn’t stop there. On the infield grounder which tied the game in the ninth, Loney bobbled the ball, preventing a play at the plate which he may not have had anyway, and threw to first to get Davis, who was clearly safe. The following inning, Mike Nickeas bunted into what looked like a pitcher-to-third-to-first double play, but first base umpire Mike DiMuro ruled that Mark Ellis had pulled his foot off first base, a ruling which was admittedly inconclusive on replay but that even the Mets broadcasters were saying didn’t look right, even though it had gone in their favor. Then in the twelfth, Gwynn’s bunt single looked for all the world that he was actually out at first, which was a big play because it gave the Dodgers two on and none out as opposed to one out and Loney on second.

I don’t know if I can think of an uglier game this year, but a sweep is a sweep, so I’ll gladly take it. On to St. Louis!

“And That’s Why We Need a Pitcher,” Says Ned Colletti

Entering tonight’s game, Nathan Eovaldi‘s sparking 2.35 ERA was backed up by only a 3.77 FIP and a 4.24 xFIP, so it shouldn’t be that surprising there was a clunker coming. Still, I don’t think any of us saw that being a mess like “eight runs and ten hits in five innings”, especially against a Giants offense with little more firepower than what the Dodgers have. I suppose Eovaldi should be commended for even making it through five after giving up seven of those runs in the first two innings; then again, when your team offers no run support whatsoever, against Barry Zito no less, how much does it matter if you’re allowing one run or eight?

The Least Depressing No-Hitter Ever

I’d like to say that I’m bummed out that the Dodgers got no-hit by a combination of the corpse of Kevin Millwood, Brandon League – AKA, “oops, I can’t believe we traded Brandon Morrow for this guy” – and four relievers you never heard of, but I really can’t. You know all those games where all those hits landed in exactly the right place, how all those bounces kept seeming to go the Dodger way? This is the other side of that; if there’s any surprise here, it’s that it all happened at once.

Embarrassing as it may be, it’s just a loss, and seemingly not as rare as it once was – this is the 12th no-hitter since the start of 2010. So a loss is a loss, and once again interleague play can’t end soon enough. Besides, we shouldn’t allow the lack of offense to totally overshadow six scoreless innings from Nathan Eovaldi, who struck out six in one of the best outings of his young career. He’s allowed just four earned runs in 18.2 innings across three starts this year, and while people may be turned off by his 0-2 record, he’s done a fantastic job filling in for Ted Lilly. (Which raises, again, the question of what sort of starting pitching the Dodgers are checking into.)

If history holds, the Dodgers will split the next two games and leave Seattle having lost two of three. On the bright side, they’ll miss Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, who has been pushed back to Tuesday against San Diego.

Dodger Offense Offensive as Eovaldi Receives Little Support

The good news is that Nathan Eovaldi was once again effective, better than his line of “five hits, four walks, and three runs (two earned) in 5.2 innings” would indicate. Through five innings, Eovaldi had allowed just one run on two singles and three walks, looking every bit as impressive as he had in his first start last week. Unfortunately, the wheels came off in the sixth inning, where a leadoff walk to Dexter Fowler, a single by Jordan Pacheco, & a double by Todd Helton – all around a Carlos Gonzalez infield single where James Loney made a great play to knock it down and a somewhat less-great play to attempt to get back to the bag to receive the throw – conspired to allow the Rockies to score two more to go up 3-0.

Still, taking a one-run game into the sixth for a young pitcher in Colorado is generally more than you can ask for, except that the bad news is that the near-chronic inability of the Dodgers to generate offense doomed Eovaldi to defeat. Facing Alex White, coming off the worst start of his young career, the Dodgers could manage just three hits – singles by Jerry Hairston & Dee Gordon, and a two-run blast by A.J. Ellis. (Who you really should be voting for for All-Star right now, because initial results are expected out any day.) Ellis did his best to tie the game in the ninth by taking a Rafael Betancourt pitch to the left field warning track, and Alex Castellanos hit a rocket up the middle with one on that was saved by a great play from second baseman DJ LeMahieu, and that was basically it.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to fix the offense before Matt Kemp returns, barring an unexpected trade. The current group just isn’t getting it done, and any hope that Loney or Adam Kennedy or Gordon is going to be a sudden hero seems far-fetched. Letting Ellis hit higher than Kennedy might be a good start, though.

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By the way, just a brutal day for Steve Lyons, and considering how awful he usually is, that’s really saying something.

More than once, he expressed surprise at Andre Ethier‘s league-leading RBI total, noting (I’m paraphrasing here) “that it’s surprising he has so many RBI hitting behind Kemp, since Kemp was driving them all in.” This is, of course, ludicrous, since Kemp’s .444 OBP meant that Ethier had the good fortune of hitting behind a man who got on base more often than nearly anyone else in the league. In fact, only four hitters in all of baseball have had more runners on base for them to drive in than Ethier has. While Kemp has of course missed time due to injury, he hit with men on base fewer times than Gordon has – in no small part because Gordon has been all but unable to get on base.

In the sixth, he noted that Gordon had not had a successful bunt hit so far this year. I found that surprising, so I tweeted it, and soon found that trusting Lyons to be correct on anything without independent verification is just asking for trouble; the reason it seemed so surprising that Gordon hadn’t had a bunt hit is because it’s in no way true – he’s actually had four.