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Don't underestimate Jerad Eickhoff's value to Phillies' rebuild
by Scott Butler 10/22/16

Jerad Eickhoff

Bulldog. Workhouse. Those are two words Pete Mackanin used to describe Jerad Eickhoff.

Everyone wants an ace. We want Madison Bumgarner, who will absolutely shut down the opposition for two or more starts in a postseason series. We want Roy Halladay, who won't even allow the opponent to earn a hit. We want Cliff Lee, who will brush off the spectacle of the World Series and treat his start as no more stressful than taking out the garbage.

That's what we want. But what we need is a Jerad Eickhoff.

Nobody has described Eickhoff as an ace and they likely never will. He lacks the type of dominating stuff required of an elite pitcher - his 7.62 strikeouts per nine innings certainly don't wow you.

But here are two more words. Consistent. Reliable.

Eickhoff made 33 starts last season. Only two Phillies pitchers have reached 33 or more starts in the last five years. It's a pretty big number.

Eickhoff pitched at least five innings in all but two of his 33 starts and one of those was cut short due to rain.

He pitched six or more innings in 24 of 33 starts (73%).

Aaron Nola, who should be the same type of workhorse as Eickhoff, pitched six or more innings in 8 of 12 starts (66%). Pretty close, right? But that's before he failed to get out of the sixth in 6 of his next 8 starts.

Vince Velasquez had 10 of 24 six-plus inning starts (42%).

Jeremy Hellickson, who will get some decent contract offers after his 2016 season, only went six or more innings in 17 of 32 starts (53%).

Eickhoff pitched seven or more innings in 7 of 33 starts (21%), tying him with Nola for the team lead. Hellickson had 6 and Velasquez had 2.

He also made 20 quality starts in 2016 (61%). Hellickson's rate was 53%, Velasquez was 38%, and Nola was 55%.

A quality start is one in which the starter pitches 6 or more innings and allows 3 or fewer earned runs. Many in the old school camp scoff at the term, but quality starts are a nice measure of how many times a pitcher gave his team a chance to win. In almost two-thirds of Eickhoff's games, his teammates had a more than decent chance for a victory.

A high quality start rate demonstrates the value of consistency, which in my mind is one of the most underrated skills of a ballplayer.

Here's a hypothetical case as an example:

Think of a pitcher with the exact minimum for a quality start (6 innings, 3 ER) in two outings, which would give him a 4.50 ERA and a total of 12 innings and 6 ER over those two starts (Eickhoff's 3.65 ERA was much lower, by the way).

Then compare him to another pitcher who also pitched 12 innings and allowed 6 ER over two starts, but this starter tossed a complete game shutout in one start and allowed 6 runs in 3 innings in the next.

I can speak for myself to say that I want the first guy. The complete game is nice, but 6 runs in 3 innings nearly guarantees a loss in one of those games.

In other words, at this point in their careers, Eickhoff is more valuable than Velasquez.

Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak preached from Day 1 their plan to raise the floor of their starting pitching. Eickhoff is the type of player they had in mind. Develop a solid base of starting pitching and then pounce on a big free agent like Max Scherzer when the time is right.

The Phillies finished the 2016 season with more questions than answers. Of all of the players on the Phillies roster, Jerad Eickhoff is the only name in which I can fairly confidently say we know what we are getting next year.

I've always felt one of the best measures of the success of a team is the number of question marks and "ifs" on the team. The 2017 Phillies can win the World Series if Franco improves, if Nola and Eflin are healthy, if Velasquez, Thompson, and Asher continue to grow, if some of their prospects are for real...

Perhaps the only player on the Phillies roster with no ifs attached to his name is Jerad Eickhoff. He's your workhorse, your bulldog, your rock. Start your rebuild from there.

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