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2016 Phillies Exit Interview: Jerad Eickhoff

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Jerad Eickhoff has now thrown almost 250 innings in his Major League career, and, uh, if that whole Thompson and Alfaro thing doesn't work out...

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There will not be any Cole Hamels vs. Jerad Eickhoff charts or graphs in this article. There will not be any Cole Hamels vs. Jerad Eickhoff charts or graphs in this article. There will not be any Cole Hamels vs. Jerad Eickhoff charts or graphs in this article. There will not be any Cole Hamels vs. Jerad Eickhoff charts or graphs in this article.

OK, whew, glad we got that out of the way first. Alright, there's not anything wrong with those charts or graphs per se and it's hard to talk about Eickhoff without mentioning Hamels, but let's just sum things up in this way: Cole Hamels was a really great pitcher here for a long time, and despite a higher walk rate this season, he was pretty darn good for the Rangers until his last few starts. Jerad Eickhoff, meanwhile, put together a relatively impressive season that Phillies fans should be proud of.

If you were looking for such charts, well, you're probably not going to find them here. We've all gotten over the departure of Hamels and are fully enjoying Eickhoff, right? (Right?)

OK, Eickhoff has not exactly had the same type of impact here as Hamels did, and well, he probably never will, but his 2016 season can be seen as a success. Because, for the most part, Eickhoff proved in 2016 (and his trial run at the end of 2015) that he can be a stabilizing force in a Major League rotation.

Credit the old regime for being able to acquire Eickhoff in the deal that also brought Jorge Alfaro, Jake Thompson, Nick WilliamsAlec Asher, and Matt Harrison over (We'll never forget the Harrison era), because they seemed to see something in the right-hander that the Rangers may not have. When the Phillies acquired Eickhoff in the deal in the summer of 2015, he had gone 9-4 in AAA for the Rangers with a 4.25 ERA in 18 games (17 of them starts). Those aren't bad numbers, but Eickhoff looked very much like a #5 starter at best, perhaps a fringe mop-up guy at worst when the Phillies acquired him.

After a short audition with the Iron Pigs following the Hamels trade, Eickhoff was up with the big club. He pitched very well down the stretch for the Phillies in 2015, leaving the big question all off-season long: Is this guy for real? The answer seems to be yes. Should he remain healthy, Eickhoff appears to be a mid-rotation starter capable of logging 200 innings and a 3.80-4.00 ERA. Those guys can make a lot of money these days, or so we hear. Hello there, Jeremy Hellickson.

Eickhoff posted 51 innings to the tune of a 17.7 K-BB% rate in 2015, while his 2016 saw a slightly diminished, yet still solid 15.4 K-BB% number. He benefited from a .257 BABIP in that small sample size of 2015, a number that rose to .278 this season. He's been decently lucky so far in his Major League career, but even a BABIP normalizing to .295 wouldn't make Eickhoff a particularly poor option if his other numbers remained similar.

He finished 2016 with an 11-14 record and 3.65 ERA, with similar home and road splits. He seemed comfortable at Citizens Bank Park, which isn't always easy for a young pitcher. What this off-season will be about for Eickhoff is his arsenal, and expanding it to give him reliable off-speed stuff to turn to.

The fastball continues to sit around 91 MPH, and if he's able to locate that and not fall behind in the count, it can set up an above-average curveball. This may have been the secret weapon Eickhoff was hiding. Sure, it was Cole Hamels after all, but would the Rangers have been rushing to give this guy up if they knew his curveball looked like that? It's hard to imagine. The Phillies may have found a hidden gem with that 12-6 curve.

Eickhoff threw it 24.2% of the time in 2016, up 5% from 2015. Sure, it's a good pitch, but it won't mean much unless that third pitch is fully developed. That third pitch in the arsenal would appear to be the slider. The slider looked better than it did in 2015, but there's still room for improvement. This is what the off-season will be about for Eickhoff: Ensuring there is enough to turn to when you need a strikeout.

If you're looking for the positives with Eickhoff's season (and there are plenty), you can look to his late-season performance. He didn't wilt as the season went on. He didn't fade away as his workload increased. He never seemed to have struggles bouncing back from a poor effort.

In fact, he started six games in September and October and put up this line: 35.2 IP, 27 H, 4 BB, 33 K, 2.52 ERA, .678 OPS against. The only thing that prevented him from getting to 200 innings for the year (if you're into that kind of thing) was a rain delay in Atlanta on September 27. Yeah, not too shabby.

Best of all, the Phillies have a controllable young pitcher who won't be 27 until July. He won't be a free agent until after the 2021 season. There's plenty to like in terms of his pitchability and his demeanor on the mound.

When the Phillies traded Hamels back in 2015, you might have guessed that Jake Thompson would have more big league success at this point than Eickhoff. Heck, people would have thought you were crazy if you had said Eickhoff would have a better 2016 than Aaron Nola, at least based off of Nola's 2015. But, here we are.

Let's not take anything away from Eickhoff in talking about those other pitchers. Eickhoff was the stabilizing force in the Phillies' rotation in 2016. They can only hope he takes another step forward in 2017.