Jerad Eickhoff's Surprising Start Could Be for Real

Since being called up late last year, few pitchers have been as dominant as Jerad Eickhoff. He could be the real deal.

During the offseason, ESPN's Keith Law declared that the Philadelphia Phillies trade of Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers could be their "Herschel Walker moment."

In that deal, the Phils dealt Hamels and relief pitcher Jake Diekmann in exchange for five players: prospects Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, injured starter Matt Harrison and, the least heralded of the youngsters coming over in the deal, Jerad Eickhoff.

Eickhoff was not considered a top prospect in a stacked Rangers minor league system, and his statistics, while decent in the minors, were never eye-opening. 

But something happened when he joined the Phillies last season, when he went 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA, 3.25 fielding independent pitching (FIP) and an fWAR of 1.2 in just eight starts. Eickhoff struck out 8.65 batters per nine innings, showing a decent fastball that he located well and a knee-bending 12-to-6 curveball that seemed to terrorize hitters.

The big question heading into 2016 about Eickhoff was whether he could repeat that success or if it was all a mirage.

Two starts into the season, we're getting our answer.

In his second start of the season against the San Diego Padres Wednesday night, Eickhoff went seven innings and gave up just four hits and no runs with nine strikeouts and no walks. That followed up a five-inning performance against the Mets in his first start of the season in which he struck out three and walked two, giving him a 1.50 ERA and 1.92 FIP on the young season, striking out nine batters per nine innings.

And two starts into 2016, Eickhoff's 0.7 fWAR was second only to Noah Syndergaard among MLB starters. Not bad for the guy most thought was the fourth-best prospect in the Hamels deal.

In 10 career starts, Eickhoff has a 2.42 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He's struck out 61 batters in 63 innings and has twirled 18 straight scoreless innings at home. He particularly likes pitching at Citizens Bank Park, having given up runs in only three of his 27 career innings there.

And if you go back to his MLB debut last August 21, only nine starters have posted an ERA of 2.75 or lower and a 1.10 WHIP: Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw, J.A. Happy, Stephen Strasburg, Felix Hernandez, Marco Estrada, Jon Lester, Noah Syndergaard and Eickhoff. Not a bad list.

Seven of Eickhoff's nine strikeouts against San Diego came via his curve, which is quickly becoming one of the most dominant pitches in baseball. And in all, Padres hitters swung and missed 15 times at Eickhoff offerings.

Here he was in his final appearance of 2015, dominating the New York Mets with that Uncle Charlie.

While Eickhoff has made just 10 career starts, it is encouraging to see that he has carried over his surprising success from last year into this year. Teams had plenty of time over the winter to scout and watch video of Eickhoff and his killer curveball and still haven't been able to touch it.

And while he doesn't have a dominant, swing-and-miss fastball, he got out of a tough jam against San Diego on Wednesday night by ramping up his heater to 95 miles per hour, generating one of two strikeouts not on his curve.

Eickhoff should certainly be owned in most fantasy baseball leagues. He's proving to be a strikeout pitcher who doesn't walk anyone and has emerged as part of a Phillies rotation that has gotten off to a surprising start in 2016, leading all MLB rotations in fWAR (1.8) and ranking second in FIP (2.67) and fifth in K/9 (9.83).

There's reason to believe both the Phils' rotation and Eickhoff will continue their success in 2016.