After taking a look at eight American League East hitters hoping to bounce back from down seasons in 2020, we’ll do the same here with an octet of the division’s pitchers…
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Red Sox:
The flame-throwing Eovaldi was one of Boston’s many heroes during its World Series run in 2018, convincing the team to re-sign him to a four-year, $68M contract thereafter. But the first year of the pact was a disaster for both sides, as Eovaldi missed significant time with elbow problems and didn’t perform well when he was able to pitch. The 30-year-old wound up with career-worst numbers in ERA (5.99), FIP (5.90) and BB/9 (4.66), thereby offsetting a personal-high K/9 of 9.31. There’s optimism he’ll rebound this year, which would be a boon for a Red Sox team that just traded David Price and has seen elbow issues weigh down Chris Sale this spring.
Chris Sale, LHP, Red Sox:
Speaking of Sale, the longtime ace simply didn’t deliver the type of results we had grown accustomed to seeing last season. The 30-year-old was still awfully good, notching 13.32 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9, but turned in a bloated ERA (4.40) and FIP (3.39) in comparison to prior campaigns. He also saw his mean fastball velocity dip by over a mile an hour from the prior couple years, as he averaged 93.2 mph with the pitch. That’s not what the Red Sox wanted after signing Sale to a five-year, $145M extension last spring. Considering that deal won’t even take effect until this season, it’ll be all the worse for the Red Sox if his current elbow injury proves to be serious.
Blake Snell, LHP, Rays:
Like Sale, Snell turned in fine numbers last year. However, in terms of bottom-line production, he wasn’t the Cy Young winner we witnessed the previous season, owing in part to elbow troubles that required arthroscopic surgery in late July. Snell ultimately totaled 107 innings of 4.29 ERA/3.32 FIP ball after putting up 1.89 and 2.85 in those respective categories during the prior campaign. There was still plenty to like, however, including 12.36 K/9 against 3.36 BB/9, a fastball that stayed in the 95-96 mph range and swinging-strike rate (17.7) that climbed more than 2.5 percent from his superb 2018 effort. Once again, though, there are some health questions in play. Snell may miss the start of the regular season after undergoing a cortisone shot in his elbow last week.
Jose Alvarado, LHP, Rays:
He was somewhat quietly among the elite relievers in baseball in 2018, but last year didn’t go nearly as well for Alvarado. The 24-year-old did average a whopping 98.2 mph on his fastball and strike out 11.7 batters per nine, though an untenable walk rate (8.1 BB/9, up almost double from the previous season) led to a 4.80 ERA/4.18 FIP in 30 innings. To be fair to Alvarado, he wasn’t healthy all that often in 2019, missing time with oblique and elbow injuries. He also sat out for a while because of a family matter.
J.A. Happ, LHP, Yankees:
Happ had a career-best stretch with multiple teams from 2015-18, which persuaded the Yankees to re-sign him to a two-year, $34M contract heading into 2019. The decision doesn’t look great so far, though, as Happ stumbled to a 4.91 ERA/5.22 FIP in 161 2/3 innings last season. Along the way, his strikeouts per nine (7.81) dropped by almost two full batters from the previous season, while his home run-to-fly ball rate (18.3) jumped by about 5 percent. Now, it’s imperative for the Yankees that they get a bounce-back effort from Happ, considering the well-documented hardships they’re suddenly facing in their rotation. And there’s a lot at stake for the 37-year-old Happ, whose $17M option for 2021 will vest if he accumulates 165 innings or 27 starts this season.
Alex Cobb, RHP, Orioles:
Back and hip injuries limited Cobb to just three starts in 2019 (all in April), the second season of a four-year, $57M contract that has blown up in Baltimore’s face so far. Cobb had a horrific time in the 12 1/3 innings he did pitch last year, yielding 15 earned runs on 21 hits (including an eye-popping nine homers).
Mychal Givens, RHP, Orioles:
Givens was an oft-rumored trade candidate throughout last season, but the Orioles decided not to sell low on him during a career-worst year. Like many pitchers in 2019, the 29-year-old proved extremely susceptible to the home run, giving them up on 22.8 percent of fly balls en route to a 4.57 ERA/4.50 FIP with eight blown saves in 19 attempts; he also registered a below-average walk rate of 3.71 per nine. On the bright side, though, Givens fanned a career-high 12.29 batters per nine and continued to average better than 95 mph on his fastball. With this being his penultimate year of team control, Givens continues to look like a trade candidate for Baltimore, but the team won’t get a max return if he doesn’t revisit his old form.
Richard Bleier, LHP, Orioles:
Despite a dearth of strikeouts and a lack of velocity, Bleier offered lights-out results as a member of the Yankees’ and Orioles’ bullpens from 2016-18. Last year was more of the same in terms of strikeouts, walks and grounders (4.88 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 59.9 percent GB rate), but the run prevention wasn’t there. Bleier ended up with a horrid 5.37 ERA (with a more encouraging 4.19 FIP) over 55 1/3 innings. While Bleier continued to hold down same-handed hitters, who posted a weak .238 weighted on-base average off him, righties tattooed him for a .410 wOBA. In other words, the average righty hit like the 2019 version of Anthony Rendon against Bleier.