After arriving from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels deal in August of 2015, Jerad Eickhoff was better than anyone could have expected. And through the end of 2016, he continued to impress, steadily and consistently.
He wasn’t flashy. He didn’t blow people away with a mid-90s fastball or have a wipe-out slider or anything like that. Instead, he used pinpoint fastball control and a plus-curveball to get hitters out with regularity.
He was, as I called him, the Human Metronome.
Last year, in my annual 10 Bold Predictions piece, I predicted Eickhoff would make the National League All-Star team (I was wrong about that and a TON of other things as you’ll see if you bang the link). After all, in 41 starts through 2016, Eickhoff had an ERA of 3.44, had pitched 248.1 innings, had an ERA+ of 120 and had struck out 216 batters while walking just 55.
Eickhoff was worth 5.3 WAR according to Baseball Reference, and that 3.44 ERA ranked 37th out of 145 qualified Major League starting pitchers during that time, just behind Jacob deGrom (3.41), Yu Darvish (3.41), Chris Sale (3.40) and Carlos Carrasco (3.38). He was better than Gerrit Cole (3.47), Johnny Cueto (3.49), Felix Hernandez (3.65), Zack Greinke (3.71) and David Price (3.73).
That’s pretty damn good, y’all.
Then, 2017 happened.
In 24 starts last season, his ERA ballooned to 4.71. He lasted just 128 innings (averaging 5.1 innings per start), down from 6.0 innings per start prior. His walk rate jumped from 5.2% in 2016 to 9.2%, and opponents batted .274 against him, up from .246 the year before. That lead to a ghastly WHIP of 1.52, drastically higher than his 1.16 in 2016.
As a result, his WAR in 2017 was -0.3. He went from being the Human Metronome to a broken coo-coo clock.
And that All-Star Game didn’t happen. So what was the deal?
At the start of the season, for whatever reason, his mechanics were messed up. Then, in late August, Eickhoff went on the disabled list with nerve irritation in his pitching hand. Perhaps he was battling an injury most of the season, as his fastball velocity had dropped from 91.5 mph in 2015-16 to 90.4 mph last year.
The injury, in a way, was good news, knowing his struggles could have been related to some outside force and not due to regression or the league catching up to him.
Of course, we don’t know that the injury was the reason Eickhoff struggled last year, but it’s enough to give Phillies fans hope that 2018 could be different. The 27-year-old was in Philadelphia this week and talked about his rehab which consisted, mainly, of rest.
Last week, Ethan Witte wrote that Vince Velasquez was the most important Phillie on the 2018 roster, and he may be right. If Velasquez establishes himself as a viable starting option, he could still turn into a dominant, top-of-the-rotation arm.
Eickhoff doesn’t have that kind of upside, but a return to form in 2018 would stabilize a rotation that doesn’t have any sure things in it other than Aaron Nola. And with the Phils dilly-dallying around the starting pitching market right now, an improved Eickhoff becomes even more important.
Folks, the Phillies may not add anyone with a better upside than Eickhoff. His return could be the most significant addition to the 2018 rotation.
All good teams need solid, mid-rotation guys. Jerad Eickhoff was one of those guys for parts of two seasons, and the Phillies will need him to be that guy once again if they have any hopes of being a wild card team this season.