Analysis

In Seventh Inning, Eickhoff Showed Elite Pitching Skill

082715_jerad-eickhoff_600.jpgYet again, Jerad Eickhoff showed impressive guile – and great stuff – Monday night in the Phillies’ 5-2 loss to the Mets. He threw 100 pitches – 63 of them strikes – en route to a nine-strikeout, three-walk performance.

Eickhoff now has 21 strikeouts on the season, tied for ninth in baseball (teammates Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola are fourth and tied-fifth in the game, respectively). In the seventh inning Monday, Eickhoff registered three of those Ks, showing off both his guile and stuff in a great display of pitching to keep his team in the game.

Asdrubal Cabrera, batting left, started the inning, and Eickhoff started him with arguably his poorest curve of the night, a wildly high and outside pitch far out of the strike zone. His second pitch was a 91 mph slider that started outside but cut too far in (a 7 inch break toward Cabrera), allowing Cabrera to put enough of his bat on it for a nice single. In this case Cabrera was looking for a pitch in the zone, and Eickhoff put his slider in too much of the zone.

Kevin Plawecki came next, and Eickhoff started him with a slider that cut just far enough outside. His second pitch was another high curve, this time inside on the righty Plawecki, but dropping just at the corner of the strike zone. Eickhoff kept pitching Plawecki high, and on 2-0, spot a fastball on the outside corner. Cabrera was running, and Plawecki fouled it off, thinking hit-and-run. Now on 2-1, Eickhoff went back to the slider, this time tossing one up and away but getting Plawecki to chase. Finally, he ended Plawecki’s appearance with a high curve, but this one catching enough of the plate for a called third strike.

In the Plawecki appearance, Eickhoff wasn’t afraid to start out of the strike zone, relying on smart positioning (and a little chasing from Plawecki) to get it done.

Despite getting Noah Syndergaard to strike out earlier in the game, Eickhoff began him with a curve. It was a good one, landing just south of the strike zone, but inside. Syndergaard was probably looking for a pitch on the outside corner to lace the opposite way, which is why he swung on the 1-0 slider that, like for Cabrera, didn’t break in enough on the lefty pitcher. Syndergaard fouled it off.

Eickhoff smartly went outside with a curve, but Syndergaard laid off and took the ball. The fourth pitch was a slider that broke in and high, nowhere close to a strike. At this point Eickhoff’s slider wasn’t quite working. His fifth pitch, which was a fastball called a ball, landed just below the zone. Now there were two on and one out, a crucial moment in the game.

At this point Pete Mackanin could’ve removed Eickhoff. His slider wasn’t working to lefty hitters, and he wasn’t trusting his changeup. The curve wasn’t generating misses. But Mackanin left Eickhoff in, trusting him against Curtis Granderson, another lefty, in a big spot. This is where we see Eickhoff turn into a money pitcher.

Eickhoff relied heavily on his curve, starting Granderson with a perfectly-placed charlie that landed on the southern end of the strike zone, slightly inside. One strike. His second pitch was a fastball way in on Granderson, maybe to establish his territory. Smart move. Ball one. Then Eickhoff doubled down, tossing another perfect curve on the low-inside corner for a swinging strike and finishing Granderson with a sweeping curve, even more low and inside, that banged the dirt and caused a big swing and miss. That curve had the most horizontal and vertical movement of all his curves in the at bat, as Eickhoff bet on Granderson to be overly aggressive. He was.

Finally came David Wright, who hit a home run off an Eickhoff fastball in the first. This time Eickhoff wasn’t looking to throw fastballs, instead deciding to bet the house on his elite curve. And he’d throw Wright off by tossing a couple sliders; at the very least, he could change eye level.

The first pitch was a slider, up at the letters and over the plate. Wright smartly took it for a ball. He may have been thinking Eickhoff wouldn’t throw consecutive sliders, which is why Eickhoff went right back to the slider, tossing this one up but in the strike zone. Called strike one.

Eickhoff had now defined the appearance with two high sliders. Wright had to figure the changeup wasn’t an option, and the fastball could be snuck into the sequence, but really this was about high sliders and the curve, likely low and out of the strike zone. So pitch three – an important pitch – was probably going to profile near the middle of the zone, at least at first.

In it came … a high curveball with an 11-inch drop that landed just below the letters and inside. A beautiful called strike. It must’ve flabbergasted Wright; it was a wonderful choice.

Eickhoff’s fourth pitch was the curve, but this time well low and outside. It was also at 78.5 mph, well faster than previous curves (Eickhoff was likely fired up now). Wright didn’t bite. Ball two.

For the fifth pitch Eickhoff had myriad options: another high slider or curve (though Wright may expect something up now, and a curve around at the letters might be knocked into the outfield); a slider outside at the numbers; or, hell, give him the big low curve again. Maybe he thinks 2-2 means time to slip in the fastball.

Eickhoff unfurled another big curve, at 78 mph, that fell just shy of the strike zone. Should’ve been taken, but way too hard not to bite. Wright bit. Swinging strike three. Inning over. Outing over.

We can see Jerad Eickhoff has an elite-level curveball. And when the chips are down, he relies on it heavily to get through difficult situations. So far it has worked, but it’s not as if he’s simply tossing sweeping curves all day to get swings and misses. Eickhoff’s pitch location and decision making – along with smart catching by Cameron Rupp – are helping to make him a much more effective and feared starter, one who may even be more than a typical No. 3.

(Thanks to Brooks Baseball for the PITCHf/x data)

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