Zach Eflin flashed potential early in the season but stumbled down the stretch as did the rest of the Phillies. Can that potential become something real?
Zach Eflin opened the year as the odd man out in the Phillies rotation. The signing of Jake Arrieta left one spot open in the major-league rotation, which was taken by Ben Lively. That didn’t last long as Lively hit the disabled list at the end of April. Eflin was called up to take his place in the rotation, which he kept the rest of the season.
Eflin flashed some potential in his rookie season back in 2016, but he could never sustain it. He threw two complete games with a 1.93 ERA in a stretch of six starts. However, injuries cut his season short both in 2016 and 2017.
This year, Eflin actually took a notable step forward in his development. Exactly how much of a step forward did Eflin take? Let’s discuss.
As a whole, this year was a significant improvement compared to Eflin’s previous seasons. He doubled his career starts and innings totals, making 24 starts and pitching 128.0 innings this season. Eflin finished the season with a 4.36 ERA, 3.80 fielding-independent pitching, 3.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 22.5% strikeout rate, and 1.30 WHIP. All of these were career bests for him.
Eflin was especially strong to start out the year. Before the All-Star Break, he had a 3.15 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 24% strikeout rate, and 5% walk rate. He was pitching so well that he was labeled an untouchable in Manny Machado trade talks. Eflin’s strong performance was a key reason that the team started the season off so well.
One of the keys to Eflin’s success was the development of his slider and fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, Eflin’s fastball velocity increased from 93.68 to 95.28 mph. His slider had 2.87 inches of horizontal movement this year compared to 0.78 last year. Opposing hitters batted just .255 against his fastball and 0.215 against his slider, both of which were sharp decreases compared to last season.
As soon as I brought up that Eflin started off the year strong, you should have realized that his numbers were going to decline in the second half. They certainly did.
After the All-Star Break, Eflin’s ERA rose to 5.76. Opposing hitters had an .847 OPS against him. His strikeout-to-walk ratio fell from 4.79 to 2.43. After allowing six home runs in 68.2 innings in the first half, he allowed 10 home runs in 59.1 innings in the second half.
Eflin struggled to retire lefties altogether this season. As pointed out by Ben Harris of the Athletic, lefties had an .842 OPS while righties had a .667 OPS against Eflin. This contrast existed both when he was succeeding in the first half and struggling in the second half. It is one of the bigger issues he needs to fix for next season.
ZACH EFLINStarting Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies
As a whole, this season was a step forward for Eflin. He had a great first half but faltered, like the rest of the team, at the end of the season. He had a longer period of success than ever before, which could be a sign of something more next season.
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Will he return?
Next year, it will be interesting to see how the bottom of the rotation pans out. The main reason that Eflin was able to stay in the rotation all year long was that Jerad Eickhoff missed almost the entire season due to injury. Otherwise, that fifth rotation spot wouldn’t have even been available for Eflin barring injury. Eflin, Eickhoff, and potentially Cole Irvin, Enyel De Los Santos, and Ranger Suarez will all be gunning for a spot in the major-league rotation.
Eflin should be one of the front-runners in the rotation competition along with Eickhoff. The team will be hard-pressed to figure out which one makes the rotation this year.
How they perform in spring training will go a long way to sorting out this battle.
The wild-card in this equation is any potential trade that could occur during the offseason. Eflin was an attractive trade target this season and could very well be again this winter. If the Phillies decide to make a trade, Eflin could be one of the players traded away.