The Cubs first rumor has surfaced for the summer. This article, among others, links the Chicago Cubs to pitcher Nate Eovaldi from the Yankees. Everything is pure speculation at this point, but lets take a look anyway.
How good is Eovaldi?
Eovaldi has been one of the hardest throwing starting pitchers in baseball since he came up in 2011. He routinely sits in the upper 90's and occasionally hits triple digits. For starting pitchers, only Syndergaard has had a faster average velocity so far this year. The concern with Eovaldi in the past is that for all his velocity, he hasn't missed many bats. He has also had a tendency to dramatically underperform his fielding independent pitching (FIP) numbers on a yearly basis.
The good news? Neither of those are the case in 2016.
So far this year, he has increased his strikeout rate from 18% to 22.9% (7.06 -> 8.46 K/9). The primary reason for the improvement appears to be the addition of a split finger fastball that he is throwing around 12% of the time. The pitch gives him another plus pitch that he can use to put away hitters.
The bad news? He still struggles against lefties. Even with the addition of the split, lefties still carry a .354 wOBA against Eovaldi.
When you put it all together, Eovaldi has been a valuable pitcher to begin 2016. He ranks 27th in pitching fWAR (more on this later). He has a wonderful arm for Bosio to work with. He is under team control for another year after this one, so he helps plug a hole beyond just this year. He would be a solid addition to the team, though not as exciting as other starting pitching options that may surface.
What is the cost?
According to the article referenced earlier, the price would start with Javy Baez. Depending on your point of view, this could be seen as our last opportunity to sell high on Baez or not being patient enough to let him fully develop. There is rightfully a lot of room for disagreement on his future.
Javy has done a remarkable job reducing his strikeout rate from 2014 through last year and to today. He has taken an unusual path to that improvement in 2016, though. While his contact % is up (the percentage of the time he makes contact when he swings), his contact % in the zone is actually down. What is driving the improvement in his overall conact rate is that he has improved his contact on pitches out of the zone from 48.6% to 67.8%.
In addition to his improved contact rate, the other reason Javy is striking out less is because he is swinging more often. He is actually swinging more often at both pitches in the zone and balls out of the zone. Because he is swinging more often and making contact more often, it has led to a reduction in both his strikeout rate and his walk rate. He simply isn't allowing himself to get into as many deep counts.
All of this had led to a reduction in the quality of his contact. He simply isn't hitting for the kind of power that he was a couple years ago. The potential is still there for Javy to put it all together - if he can become more "selectively aggressive" on pitches in the fat part of the zone, he could still be a monster. He has shown an ability to make adjustments to his game to address a glaring weakness. He may yet have the potential to break through.
However, the most probable outcome is likely to be a quality defender with a mediocre batting line that will always tease with the occasional 475 foot dong.
Do we even need a starting pitcher?
Remember when I mentioned that Eovaldi has had a solid season and ranks 27th overall in MLB in pitching fWAR? That would also rank fifth on the Cubs, slightly ahead of Jason Hammel at 31st overall. If the team could count on getting 30+ starts from each of the members of the rotation, it would be foolish to invest any resources in adding another starter to the team. However, it is exceedingly rare for a team to get that many starts from each of five starters.
It would certainly be awkward while everyone is healthy. The team could go to a six man rotation. They could potentially piggyback Hammel & Hendricks. They could take turns resting one starter each time through the rotation while using the sixth man in those different slots. Whatever they do, chances are they will need another starter at some point during the year.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on the message board!