Phillies: What should we think of Zach Eflin so far in 2018?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 30: Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 30: Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches in the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Zach Eflin’s 2018 season with the Phillies has been a mixed bag of results so far. What should we think of his performance this year?

Zach Eflin has been a maddeningly frustrating pitcher with the Phillies. He will piece together a solid string of starts then completely fall off the wagon. Injuries only further complicate things as each of his first two major-league seasons were cut short due to injury. This year has been more of the same with Eflin.

Eflin’s first two starts this year were great. He went five perfect innings in his 2018 debut before finishing with six innings pitched, three hits, no walks, and one run allowed. He then pitched 6.2 shutout innings against the Giants in his next start, striking out nine batters.

Things have been quite the opposite in Eflin’s last three starts. He hasn’t gotten past the fifth inning in any of them, allowing 15 runs combined. Eflin has an 8.10 ERA and 4.77 fielding-independent pitching in this span.

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Wednesday night was not a good night for Eflin. He allowed five runs on seven hits and one walk, including two home runs. The start rose his season ERA to 4.50 and WHIP to 1.31.

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler said Eflin’s issue was falling behind to Los Angeles’s dangerous hitters: [quote via Todd Zolecki of MLB.com]

"“Ef had stuff. He just was having a hard time locating. He fell behind.“You have to have tremendous stuff to fall behind really good hitters and dig yourself back out of it. Ef does have good stuff. We have a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability to navigate lineups. But falling behind this lineup, swinging the bat the way they’re swinging the bat, is a dangerous proposition.”"

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Kapler said the team is “constantly evaluating” their players when asked if the team is thinking about going with another starter in Eflin’s place. Ben Lively, who Eflin replaced, has a 2.74 ERA in Triple-A. Top prospects Enyel De Los Santos and Cole Irvin are both options as they have been pitching well with Lehigh Valley.

When looking at Eflin’s overall numbers this season, it’s hard to get a grasp on where he stands. On one hand, his strikeout rate has doubled compared to last year and his FIP is a career-low 3.81. He already has more wins above replacement this year than he did the previous two combined.

On the other, Eflin’s walk rate is at a career-high and he is inducing ground balls just 28.8 percent of the time. He is giving up a lot of line drives and fly balls, which is dangerous for a pitcher.

Next: How will Dylan Cozens fare in major-league debut?

So far this year, Eflin is what he always has been: inconsistent. At times, he will look like a more than capable MLB starter. At others, it seems like he should be back in Triple-A. The rotation has been strong enough otherwise, but it needs to be firing on all cylinders if this team makes a playoff push.