Trading a franchise icon sucks.
It sucks for fans, but it especially sucks for the guy coming back to the organization. This is where Zach Eflin comes in.
At the 2014 Winter Meetings, Jimmy Rollins was dealt to the Dodgers, ending his tenure with the Phillies that saw him become the team’s all-time hit leader. In return, the Phillies received Eflin and Tom Windle. Eflin was, at the time, the more celebrated of the two prospects, therefore beginning his career as the player more likely to be more closely monitored as a prospect.
2016 saw Eflin make his debut after what has been a fairly underwhelming minor league career. Sure, he was touted as mid-rotation piece that would eat innings at his peak, but his minor league numbers were never dominating. Yet to begin the 2016 minor league season, Eflin went on a very nice run for 68.1 innings, posting his best strikeout rate (20.9%) and walk rate (4.2%). When Vince Velasquez needed to hit the DL with a biceps injury, Eflin’s effectiveness caused management to summon him to the majors to make his debut on June 14.
It didn’t go well.
Pitching against a potent Blue Jays lineup, Eflin lasted just 2.2 innings, giving up nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits, three walks and just two strikeouts. He surrendered three home runs, including a grand slam to Josh Donaldson that sealed his fate for the day. It was enough for people to wonder if he was ready for the bright lights of Philadelphia.
After that disastrous start, Eflin actually went on a very effective run of seven starts that produced this line:
47.2 IP, 36 H, 13 R (11 ER), 5 BB, 24 SO, 3 HR, 2.08 ERA
In the words of Judge Smails: "Top notch. TOP NOTCH!"
That run was capped by a start against the Pirates in which he almost "Maddux-ed" the cross state rival.
Yessir, it looked like the young right hander was starting to reach that ceiling, perhaps even bust through it to reach a new level that would only make management excited for this future.
Then the wheels fell off. His next three starts were a 13 inning horrorshow: 20 runs given up (all earned), 22 hits, nine walks, five strikeouts and six home runs deposited against him. After his final start, a three inning stinkbomb, Eflin went to the disabled list, the victim of knee pain that had bothered him since he was a preteen. He would be diagnosed with patellar tendinopathy, which, along with chondromalacia, is what sidelined Chase Utley for so long in 2011. The injury prematurely cut short Eflin’s season, one in which his promise of being a mid-rotation piece was finally being fulfilled.
Recently, Eflin has begun throwing again and that’s good.
First day of throwing in the books! Felt amazing getting out there pain free. Truly blessed with the people I have supporting and guiding me— Zach Eflin (@zeflin12) November 30, 2016
Hopefully, the pain subsiding helps Eflin with his pitching ability because there is much to improve on. Tim Guenther wrote a very good recap of Eflin’s season as well for Crashburn Alley, focusing on Eflin’s need to utilize his sinker more. It would do him well to do so because location last year wasn’t his forte. Here is a snapshot of where he was locating his pitches during his seven start hot streak:
That is a lot of red/maroon in the hitter’s zone, much of which he got away with when you consider his numbers during that run. With Eflin’s fastball (which averaged 93 miles per hour, according to Brooks Baseball), that’s not the place he wants to live as a pitcher. In his three start meltdown, that location worsened:
You can see why major league hitters would begin to tee off on him. They seeing slightly above average stuff in hittable locations. That’s a recipe for disaster.
This year for the Phillies, it already seems that the pitching rotation has more question marks than the fans would like. Can Eflin stay healthy and build on his run of promising starts? Can Velasquez stay healthy and throw more strikes, keeping himself from the whispers of a bullpen move? Can Aaron Nola stay healthy period? Given that all three have shown they can succeed at the major league level, we can only hope these questions are answered with a resounding "YES!"
Eflin’s chances of succeeding will depend on three improvements:
1. His health
2. His pitch selection (thanks, Tim!)
2. His location
If he is able to get better at two of those things, the Phillies will have a valuable addition to their rotation. With so much uncertainty at that spot, it would go a long way to helping the team improve on its outlook for the future.