The Return of Zach Eflin
Clay Buchholz is officially out for the season. Even if Buchholz had stayed healthy, it was likely that the Phillies were going to have a major pitcher injury at some point. The good news is the Phillies are strong in major league ready starting pitching. This time, the Phillies are not dipping down into the prospects, instead going with 23 year old, not quite a rookie, Zach Eflin.
This is the second year in which Eflin was called up after the Phillies experienced a starting pitcher injury. His first trip to the majors was not good, and he posted a 5.54 ERA over 63.1 innings. Now that number is a bit deceptive, because you break his season up into 3 distinct time periods.
First MLB Start: 2.2 IP – 27.00 ERA – 9 H – 3 BB – 2 K – 3 HR
Seven Solid Starts: 47.2 IP – 2.08 ERA – 36 H – 5 BB – 24 K – 3 HR
Three Injured Starts: 13.0 IP – 13.85 ERA – 22 H – 9 BB – 5 K – 6 HR
After his August 8th start, Eflin would go on the disabled list and would eventually have knee surgery on both knees. Even during his dominant stretch (which included two complete games), Eflin did not strike out many batters. Eflin’s success revolves around keeping the ball in the park and not allowing walks. This seems rather a simple formula, but it is not entirely that easy, because when Eflin fails to accomplish one of the two, he is almost certainly going to have a bad start. This brings us to the biggest positive about Zach Eflin, he is still a work in progress.
Eflin is a big sturdy right hander with a fairly simple delivery and solid control. His delivery should have more consistency now that he is on two good knees, and the hope is that it translates to better command. His pitches are nothing special, and none miss bats at anything but a poor rate. In his two minor league starts, Eflin has shown that his velocity boost is still intact, and he has been sitting 90-94, bumping up to 94-96 when needed. Eflin is able to keep the ball down in the zone and will use a two seamer in his lower velocity range. Eflin does have a changeup in the mid 80s that moves a lot like his sinker without much velocity separation (86 vs 92). He also has a short hard slider, which showed more depth in his AAA start than it did last year. He will also occasionally mix in a loopy curveball. Eflin’s success comes from his ability to throw all four pitches for strikes and throw them in almost any count.
There shouldn’t be large expectations for Eflin in his start tonight. He has only gone 5 innings in his first two starts, and while he probably could handle 6 tonight, he is unlikely to get the chance against a good Mets lineup. The key for Eflin will be working efficiently and not giving up the big mistake. If he can flash some good offspeed pitches, it would be a plus, but it is still early in his season.
Long term, Eflin has the attributes of an innings eating back end starter, and his efficiency when he is doing well should help the bullpen. To be anything more than an innings eater, he will need to improve his secondary arsenal. His slider is his best hope of developing a swing and miss pitch, and at times he will show a pitch capable of just diving under bats, but right now it is still only flashes. Eflin just turned 23 ten days ago and is the youngest Phillie by almost a year, so he has plenty of time to make improvements. For now Eflin probably represents an upgrade over Buchholz, and he is yet another young player in the majors. The average age of the Phillies starting rotation is now just over 25 years old, and from this point forward it is only going to be infused with more youth from the farm.