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Tomase: Is Eovaldi capable of improvement and better health in 2021?

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* Throughout this month, we'll put a member of the 2020 Red Sox and one of their most notable statistics under the microscope while assessing their season and what lies ahead. Today's installment: Nathan Eovaldi.

7.43

Here's a number that suggests Eovaldi is finally evolving into a pitcher who actually equals the sum of his parts. It's his strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2020, and it's by far a career high. Eovaldi didn't even record twice as many strikeouts as walks until his fourth season in the big leagues, and the problem, believe it or not, wasn't necessarily walks.

For someone who effortlessly throws 100 mph, Eovaldi struggles to record strikeouts. Over the first eight seasons of his career, not once did Eovaldi average seven strikeouts per nine innings, a ludicrously low number for a power pitcher in this age of Ks.

He finally topped a strikeout an inning in 2019, and in 2020 reached a career-best mark of 9.7, vs. a career-low walk rate of 1.3.

What went right for Eovaldi in 2020

It's hard to call nine starts a "season," but this was actually Eovaldi's best campaign. He went 4-2 with a 3.72 ERA and the aforementioned power numbers. The Red Sox needed him to be their ace with Chris Sale sidelined by elbow surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez on the shelf battling the effects of COVID.

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Eovaldi did not shrink from the challenge. The Red Sox owned a winning record for exactly one day all season, and it was after Eovaldi beat the Orioles on opening night.

What went wrong for Eovaldi in 2020

Even in a shortened season, he couldn't stay healthy. He ended up skipping three starts with a calf strain, one of a litany of injuries that have caused him to miss starts by the handful over the years.

 

When the Red Sox decided to sign him to a four-year, $68 million extension after his heroic work in the 2018 postseason, they gambled that he would stay healthy. He then made just 12 starts in 2019 and the equivalent of about 24 if 2020 were a full season.

Eovaldi's strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 4 seasons

2016
2.43
2018
5.05
2019
2.00
2020
7.43

Early outlook for 2021

I mean, more of the same, right? Eovaldi turns 31 in February, and banking on him to suddenly figure out how to stay healthy over a full season feels like a fool's errand. He has spent nine years in the big leagues and made 30 starts exactly once.

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One potentially intriguing scenario is if he can be dealt this winter. Pitching once again projects to be at a premium, and only a handful of arms are expected to be made available outside of free agency. Perhaps someone will be willing to gamble on the final two years of Eovaldi's contract, especially now that his strikeouts and walks are more in line with a pitcher possessing his pure stuff.