Phillies 2020 Season Player Grades: Zach Eflin
Zach Eflin was excellent for the Phillies in 2020; here’s why his success is sustainable.
When Zach Eflin came in to pitch in relief during the Phillies’ final game of 2020, it signaled disaster. Joe Girardi had such little faith in any of his relievers that he sent a starting pitcher into the game on short rest.
However, there was a silver lining to the situation. Eflin pitched 2 2/3 shutout innings to close out his superb season. He finished 2020 with career-bests in ERA, FIP, and xFIP.
Earlier this week, my colleague Bryce Turner published an excellent piece about how Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler were bright spots in the 2020 season. However, to me, the bright spot of 2020 was Eflin’s emergence as a true No. 3 starter.
No, he wasn’t as good as Wheeler or Aaron Nola. But he doesn’t have to be.
Eflin gave the Phillies a legitimate chance to win every time he pitched. He never allowed more than four earned runs in a game, and the Phillies went 8-2 in his starts — a record better than both Nola’s and Wheeler’s.
More importantly, Eflin backed up these results with solid peripheral numbers to suggest that his success is sustainable.
In previous seasons, Eflin had stretches that appeared similarly strong. In 2019, he pitched to a 2.88 ERA over the first 60 games of the season. However, behind that ERA was a 4.49 FIP and 4.99 xFIP.
Eflin’s BAPIP allowed over that stretch was 29 ticks below his career average, his HR/FB ratio was 2.6 points below his career average, and his left-on-base percentage was 15 points higher than his career average.
All this goes to show that his success over that stretch was founded in luck and not true talent. He was due to regress, and he did, finishing the season with a 4.13 ERA.
However, in 2020, his strikeout rate rose from 7.13 K/9 to 10.68, while his walk rate stayed the same and his home run rate went down. These numbers suggest that his success in 2020 was real. Eflin wasn’t benefitting from luck–he genuinely improved.
Not only that, but there is reason to believe that Eflin pitched even better than his ERA suggests. His FIP and xFIP were much lower than his ERA, and his BABIP allowed was a shocking 46 points above his career average. This means he could be even better in 2021.
To grade his 2020 season, I would give Eflin an A- for having the best season of his career, playing better than we could have expected, and giving the team a chance to win in every game he pitched.
Eflin demonstrated significant improvement this season, and at only 26 years old, he has plenty of room to improve even more going forward. He’s under team control for the next two seasons, and I hope he sticks around for much longer.