2016 Phillies Report Card: Zach Eflin
There was probably an unrealistic expectation set over the summer of 2015. Within a single month’s time, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff debuted for the Phillies. Nola was expected to be good. Eickhoff was expected to be not terrible. Both stepped onto a major league mound and immediately looked like quality rotation pieces.
Their sudden success made us briefly ponder a world where the Phillies were immune to things like “prospect attrition rates.” Then Zach Eflin stepped onto a major league mound and immediately looked like Sean O’Sullivan.
Eflin’s biggest issue is that he seemingly lacks an authoritative strikeout pitch, or even a non-authoritative one. The numbers are limited in sample, but even clinging to that caveat, they’re far from encouraging.
|Eflin Whiff%||League Whiff%*|
*Individual pitch percentages based on data located here
A pitcher can find success without big strikeout numbers, though, and it comes by limiting walks and keeping the ball in the park, a somewhat underrated skill set. But the surest way to prevent the ball from clearing the outfield fence is to keep it on the ground. Eflin did not do that. The league average ground ball rate was 45% this year. Eflin’s ground ball rate: 36%.
All told, opponents put the ball in play a lot against Eflin, and a majority of those balls were hit in the air. That’s generally considered a poor way to go about pitching. Eflin reinforced that narrative with a 5.54 ERA and the peripherals to match.
Without a swing and miss pitch, and a track record suggesting that’s long been the case, Eflin might want to embrace the ground ball. That would mean more sinkers and curveballs, fewer four seamers and sliders. You can make a good living in baseball with a 92 mph sinker.
There are other reasons to be optimistic for Eflin’s future. He is still fairly young. He’s been pitching through pain in both knees for years, of which he just had surgery to alleviate. He was excellent for two months in AAA. He has yet to follow the full career path of Sean O’Sullivan.
But as for 2016…Yuck.