You’ve heard me go on and on about Jerad Eickhoff before. Just last month, I wrote about why he, not Jeremy Hellickson, should be the Phillies Opening Day starter, and I stand by that outstanding piece of journalism.
Full disclosure, I’m an Eickhoff fan-boy.
He isn’t flashy. He doesn’t have the upper 90s fastball and he doesn’t strike a million guys out. What he does have is a knee-buckling curveball and pretty good control, both of which he uses to get guys out.
And he hardly ever has two bad starts in a row. In fact, last season, he never did.
He gave up more than four runs just three times in 33 starts. His 3.65 ERA and 197 1⁄3 innings were the most on the team, and his fWAR of 2.9 was second-best, behind only Hellickson. He wasn’t the most ballyhooed prospect in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, but he may end up being the best Major Leaguer out of the bunch (obviously Nick Williams, Jake Thompson and Jorge Alfaro still have something to say about that).
Aside from his curveball, Eickhoff’s best quality is his control. He walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings last season, which was 8th-best among qualified starters. And among those seven other pitchers, Eickhoff’s strikeout rate of 7.62 trailed only Chris Sale (9.25), Johnny Cueto (8.11), and Rick Porcello (7.63).
Eickhoff was also really good against right-handed hitters, allowing just a .220/.259/.386 slash line against him, good for an OPS of .645 and an OPS+ of 74. He was also very good the first two times through the order, allowing a .650 OPS the first time through and a .669 OPS the second time.
His ability to avoid walks helped keep runners off the basepaths, which was important because he averaged 1.37 HR/9, the 14th-highest rate among qualified starting pitchers in 2016. His 30 dingers allowed were tied for 9th-worst in baseball, but that’s manageable if most of them are solo shots.
But Eickhoff does have other negatives, too. He is not as good against lefties, allowing a .278/.324/.498 slash line last season. That amounts to an .822 OPS and an OPS+ of 119. He also really struggled the third time through the order, allowing an OPS of .943 and an OPS+ of 136.
It’s true most pitchers struggle more the third time through the order, and many right-handed starters have trouble with left-handers. That’s why he’s been focusing on perfecting his change-up this spring.
Last year, he threw his changeup just 5.2% of the time, according to Fangraphs. Improving that offering and increasing its usage would give batters another pitch to think about the third time through the order, and should help him with lefties too.
One of the things you have to love about Eickhoff is the work ethic. He’s a guy who is Roy Halladay-like in his devotion to working out and perfecting his craft, often spending an hour after games working out to keep him strong through the end of the long, hot summer.
Many don’t think there is any more upside to Eickhoff, and if there isn’t, that’s fine. He’s a bona fide No. 3 starter, an extremely valuable commodity that will one day allow him to make a lot of money. But perhaps he can be even better.
As a final reminder, Eickhoff and Hamels were traded for each other. Once again, here are their stats since the trade, starting in August of 2015.
Eickhoff vs. Hamels
Eickhoff is not Cole Hamels.
But he ain’t too far off, either.