The Philadelphia Phillies have quite the pitcher in Zach Eflin.
The Philadelphia Phillies are playoff contenders. As of June 28, the Phillies sit at 42-36, two and a half games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East and one half a game behind a wild card spot. Despite the recent struggles of their ace, Jake Arrieta, the Phillies continue to win. One major reason for this team’s success: Zach Eflin.
What’s most shocking about this is that Eflin is listed as the fifth starter on the Phillies depth chart, according to both Fangraphs and the Philadelphia Phillies official team site. Arrieta sits atop the rotation with Aaron Nola, who is having a Cy Young worthy season, forming an outstanding one-two punch (except for Arrieta’s 0-4, 6.66 ERA month of June). Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez help round out the rotation.
Unless you follow Philadelphia baseball or are a close follower of the game, you probably haven’t heard of Eflin before. So, who is Zach Eflin? He was originally drafted in the first round (33rd overall) of the 2012 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, bypassing his commitment to the University of Central Florida. He wasn’t terrible in the lower minors with the Padres, posting average numbers across the board. The only stat that stood out was his strikeout rate. In 529 career minor league innings, Eflin struck out just 371 hitters. Hard to find success when you can’t miss bats.
The Padres traded Eflin to the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2014, sending Yasmani Grandal and Eflin in exchange for Matt Kemp. Eflin was then immediately flipped to the Phillies for SS Jimmy Rollins. The right-handed pitcher would make his MLB debut for Philadelphia in 2016 in very disappointing fashion.
From roster-filler to a strikeout machine for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Eflin made 11 starts in both 2016 and 2017. Here’s a look at some of his numbers from those two seasons.
|ERA||5.54 (63.1 IP)||6.16 (64.1 IP)|
|K % / BB %||11.4||12.5|
Now with 10 starts and 56 innings under his belt in 2018, Eflin has emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball. Sitting at 6-2 with a 3.02 ERA, Eflin is posting a 1.13 WHIP, a 0.64 HR/9 rate and a 6% walk rate.
He doesn’t have enough innings to qualify on the Fangraphs leaderboard, but if he did, here’s where he would rank among National League pitchers.
- ERA- 8th
- WHIP- t-9th
- Strikeout %- 11th (Nola, Pivetta and Velasquez are all in the top 10)
He hasn’t given up more than two runs in an outing since May 30 and is coming off a scoreless seven-inning performance against the New York Yankees. In five June starts, Eflin did not give up a home run and walked just six hitters in 30.2 innings.
The biggest reason for all of this success: the strikeout. Eflin has raised his strikeout percentage to 24.5%. Implementing a new strategy of attacking hitters directly has paid off for the 6-6 24-year-old.
His average fastball velocity has risen from 92.7 mph to 94.3 mph this year. A more powerful fastball and increased usage in his slider and changeup have resulted in a massive drop in contact made on pitches outside the zone. Opposing hitters were making contact between 75-77% of the time over the course of Eflin’s first two seasons in the bigs. That number has dropped to 62.5% in 2018. Contact on pitches inside the zone has also dropped from 90% to 84%.
While the added velocity does allow for his offspeed pitches to play up, Eflin has been placing his slider better this season, a large reason for the inability of opposing hitters to make hard contact against him. Below are his 2017 and 2018 heatmaps of his slider, down and in to righties, low and away to lefties. Just where it needs to be.
Slider (2017) Slider (2018)
Opposing hitters have posted a .220 batting average against Eflin’s slider, good enough for the 62nd lowest mark among all starting pitchers and relievers in baseball. His slider is posting better results than Chris Archer; not bad for a guy who looked to be destined for a bullpen role or the life of a 4-A player. The spin rate on Eflin’s slider ranks 218th in revolutions, meaning that his success is due to three things; location, location, location.
We’re only looking at a 10-game sample size here, but what Zach Eflin is doing this season is unbelievable. Seen as nothing more than a roster-filler and a barely-average starting pitcher, Eflin is resurrecting his career in grand fashion. The Phillies have a number of key prospects who are turning into major league caliber players and made the financial commitment to Jake Arrieta in the offseason. Keep your eye on this ballclub in the second half of the season. Special things have been happening in the city of Philadelphia, and it appears some of that magic is rubbing off on the Phillies.