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%*
Fourseam 5.7% 6.9%
Sinker 3.2% 5.4%
Change 1.5% 14.9%
Slider 11.7% 15.2%
Curve 11.4% 11.1%
Total 5.7% 10.1%

*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.

Grade: D

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24 comments

  1. Romus

    November 18, 2016 10:01 AM

    Grade D….seems a bit harsh.
    Eleven starts…..total Game Scores of 440.
    Throw out his debut and last three starts….IMO, and he had a very C+/B- grading of seven consecutive games in between with an average game score of 53.
    Did he reach his max innings pitch for a year at 132, matching Reading’s IPed and tired, affecting his last three disastrous starts?
    Was it the knee issues?

    • pamikey

      November 18, 2016 10:25 AM

      I agree w you. A “D” is a little tough. He had a few good games in there. Sans his debut. Tried to tough it out the last few prob while his knee was damaged.

    • Edwin

      November 18, 2016 02:34 PM

      Doesn’t deserve a ‘D.’ Supreme mischaracterization of this young pitcher

  2. Edwin

    November 18, 2016 02:28 PM

    Wow to consider Sean O’Sullivan and Eflin in the same conversation is either amusing or disturbing – can’t decide. I guess you didn’t get the memo to grade on a curve. That said he has upside that I guess you can’t see. Seriously, a ‘D’ not sure if we’re watching the same pitcher.

  3. Colin Martucci

    November 18, 2016 10:49 PM

    A D?!

    That is a bit of a farce, Tim.

    Please be more objective next time.

  4. Jerry Spradlin

    November 19, 2016 09:06 AM

    I do have concerns about his ability to succeed in the bigs, given his low strikeout rates. But he was hurt, he’s not going to be 24 until opening day and two complete games don’t happen by accident. I think a D is too low- I go with a C.

    • Romus

      November 19, 2016 09:34 AM

      JS…you aged him an extra year.

      • Jerry Spradlin

        November 19, 2016 01:45 PM

        Why yes I did! Thanks for catching- only turning 23 is even more reason to be encouraged.

  5. Ed

    November 19, 2016 05:34 PM

    Maybe we should start grading the graders

    • Romus

      November 19, 2016 08:04 PM

      Perhaps when grading a rookie…one factor could be, grade against all rookies of his ilk…..especially age-wise.
      In Eflin’s case….would have liked to see how he graded against other 22-year old pitchers…or his peers, who entered MLB in 2015 and 2016.

      • Edwin

        November 19, 2016 08:49 PM

        Here’s a novel idea, chuck the grading system out. It’s an antiquated system that is arbitrary and usually the graders aren’t taking a particularly holistic approach. Critical evaluations are far more valuable and informative but may require more qualitative reasoning which may be too difficult for some to master.

      • Steve

        November 20, 2016 01:34 AM

        Then what would we talk about in the comments?

      • Brian

        November 22, 2016 09:15 PM

        Out of 2016 rookie starters who pitched at least 50 innings, Eflin ranked 26 out of 32 in FIP and 29 out of 32 in xFIP. Out of rookies 23 and younger, he ranks 11 out of 13 in both categories.

  6. Brian

    November 20, 2016 01:11 PM

    Hi everyone – I’m Tim’s younger brother. Tim was naturally more athletically gifted than me, but I had the more successful athletic career. I think, because of that, he’s always held a deep resentment towards younger players, and he views them as an indictment of his own personal shortcomings.
    For example, I remember my first game playing high school varsity soccer as a Sophomore. I was a little overwhelmed by the increased pace from JV, and was not at my best, but overall felt like I held my own. I asked Tim (a senior on the team) how he thought I did. This is how the conversation went:
    Tim: “You keep playing like that, you won’t last long.”
    Me: “Well, yeah, I’m sure I’ll get better with time. But not bad for my first shot, right?”
    Tim: “Life’s not graded on a curve, bro*. But I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about what I think. You notice how Mom and Dad could barely make eye contact with you after the game?”
    Me: “Sheesh. Do you even have any analytic basis for your opinion?”
    Tim: “No. But only because analytics don’t exist yet. If they did, I’d use them to tear you apart.”

    Anyway, don’t get too caught up on that D grade for Eflin, as a lot of psychological issues are biasing it. What else could explain giving a poor grade to a guy with a 5.48 FIP and 5.36 xFIP? I mean, Tim’s acting like he had an ERA over 6 and peed on the Phanatic’s costume in the locker room after getting pulled in the 3rd inning, am I right?

    *editors note: I used to hate it when he called me “bro”. Always in such a condescending way.

  7. JustBob

    November 21, 2016 10:14 PM

    Everybody gets caught up by the fact that Eflin had 2 CG but one was against the worst offense in MLB (Braves) and a weak Pirates’ lineup that was slumping.

    Of the starters who threw 60+ IP, Elfin was ranked 165th of out 167 MLB starters in K/9. Only other weaker ones were Pelfrey and Nicolino both who had poor years with an ERA over 5 last year.

    His swing and miss rate was also 165th out of 167 MLB starters with only Colon and Nicolino. Both of them also had notably better % GB rates and Colon is an outlier because of his freakish control.

    Eflin simply doesn’t miss enough bats with any of his pitches to stick as a MLB starter unless he had freakish command and control (he doesn’t) or generated GBs at a very high rate (he was below average).

    Perplexed why so people were critical of the ‘D’ grade if they were being objective and comparing Eflin against other MLB starters.

    • Edwin

      November 22, 2016 12:56 AM

      Hmmm. 22 year old rookie. In an age where a complete game is a rarity in itself this is an accomplishment. Never mind that it was against the Braves which had one of the best 2nd halfs in 2016 or the Pirates, he exceeded the expectations of a 22 year old rookie. To pitch at the major league level at that age is laudable in and of itself and the grade is BS. In fact this whole grading thing is kind of stupid.

      • Brian

        November 22, 2016 09:20 PM

        Out of rookie starters who pitched at least 50 innings, Eflin ranked 26 out of 32 in FIP and 29 out of 32 in xFIP. If you want to point that he’s a young rookie, then out of rookies 23 and younger, he ranks 11 out of 13 in both categories. He’s about a full run worse than the median. If that’s not a D then what is? THEN WHAT IS, EDWIN!?!?

        If you want to argue that the whole system is arbitrary or subjective… well so is grading in a lot of college classes. Or the judgment of the market. That’s life, Edwin. For example, I thought my comment above was hilarious but it’s at -5 marking. I may not like that, but I accept it. Just like you and Zach Eflin should accept his D grade.

      • BobSmith

        November 23, 2016 12:04 AM

        Not it isn’t and there is nothing objective about your analysis.

      • Romus

        November 23, 2016 11:51 AM

        Brian….that is what I wanted to see ..how he did in comparison with his rookie class.
        On what site is that data available?

      • Brian

        November 23, 2016 12:45 PM

        Romus – you can search it on Fangraphs. I was surprised at how easy it was. Under the “Leaders” bar at the top they actually have a “Rookie Leaders” option that is very easily sortable by age/IP/etc.

      • Romus

        November 23, 2016 07:35 PM

        Thanks Brian…amazing all the time I am on there and just pass over a lot of that data.

    • Edwin

      November 22, 2016 12:57 AM

      Hmmm. 22 year old rookie. In an age where a complete game is a rarity in itself this is an accomplishment. Never mind that it was against the Braves which had one of the best 2nd halfs in 2016 or the Pirates, he exceeded the expectations of a 22 year old rookie. To pitch at the major league level at that age is laudable in and of itself and the grade is BS. In fact this whole grading thing is kind of stupid.

    • Romus

      November 22, 2016 09:40 AM

      JustBob….I agree with Edwin.
      I prefer he be graded against his rookie or 22-year old pitching peers.

      • BobSmith

        November 23, 2016 12:07 AM

        Why just 22? It is fair to evaluate him against any rookie starter who is 23-24 too and in almost category he is at the 25th percentile or less.

        That isn’t a D but an F.

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