Phillies: Zach Eflin on pace for best season of career

Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

Right now, Eflin can afford to give up more hits than the average starter because he’s walking so few batters. But, if he starts gifting baserunners to opponents with walks, especially early in innings, the hits and hard contact with more men on base will become a glaring issue because they’ll produce more runs.

Trends are important to look at when analyzing numbers in any small sample size. The good news is Eflin’s expected statistics, courtesy of Statcast, aren’t too far off from his actual numbers. Take a look.

Zach Eflin, 2021 Actual vs. Expected Statistics

.279 BA → .288 xBA
.422 SLG → .458 xSLG
.300 wOBA → .351 xwOBA
3.49 ERA → 3.78 xERA

Eflin’s expected numbers are slightly worse than his actual numbers in all four categories, but the differences aren’t staggering. The expected batting average against Eflin is only nine points higher and the expected ERA is barely a quarter of a run higher. There aren’t any outliers when comparing the above data sets — a good sign that Eflin’s success is relatively sustainable, despite the number of hits and hard contact he’s giving up early on.

Naturally, it will benefit Eflin if he can find a way to limit hard contact against him, even more so because he doesn’t have the luxury of stellar defense behind him. The Phillies rank 28th out of 30 teams with -12 defensive runs saved (DRS) and 17th out of 30 with a -0.4 ultimate zone rating (UZR), according to FanGraphs.

That’s not ideal for a contact pitcher like Eflin. He can’t consistently rely on strikeouts the way the game’s elite starters do, nor can he rely on the Phillies’ below-average defense to bail him out.

Eflin also is a victim of opponents owning a .342 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against him. It’s the fourth-highest clip in the majors right now, but should improve in Eflin’s favor based on luck alone. Eflin is too good of a pitcher for his previously mentioned 48.8 percent hard-hit rate to stay that high, so there’s optimism there as well.

It’s important that Eflin is among the best in MLB in limiting walks. That is something he can control and will benefit him on the nights where he doesn’t have his best stuff. It’s much easier to get outs when you’re putting fewer runners on base.

The things either mostly or entirely out of his control — the number of hits, hard contact and BABIP against him — are tougher to predict. But, he’s made it work through six starts and his expected stats are encouraging.

Eflin is an X-factor in 2021. The way he’s pitching right now, he’s capable of taking the ball in October and legitimately giving the Phillies a chance to win a postseason game. If the Phils can get there, he’ll be a big reason why.

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