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He ain’t heavy, he’s Zach Eflin

Focusing on his sinkerball, Zach Eflin had a solid season

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Zach Eflin was a reliable starter for the Phillies in 2020
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The numbers

11 games, 10 starts, 59.0 IP, 4-2 W-L, 3.97 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 10.7 K/9

The background

The one-time primary return in the Jimmy Rollins trade, Eflin had an inconsistent beginning to his major league career. He showed signs of promise in 2018, but followed it up with a disjointed 2019 season.

Pitching coach Chris Young attempted to change Eflin’s sinkerball-focused repertoire to one where he primarily threw high fastballs. While early returns on the new approach were good, Eflin faltered badly in the middle of the season, complaining of a “heavy” feeling.

Realizing that he was not going to be successful pitching in a manner his body wasn’t capable of handling, Eflin eschewed the teachings of his pitching coach, and re-focused on the sinkerball. The new/old approach seemed to work, as he had a 2.80 ERA across six September/October starts.

The good

The late season success of 2019 carried over into 2020. His strikeout rate increased, and he was reliable, not allowing more than four earned runs in any of his ten starts. The highlight of his season came when he pitched a seven-inning complete game shutout in a mid-September doubleheader.

The bad

There wasn’t much bad about Eflin’s season. While it would have been better if he could have pitched deeper into games, that seemed to be more of a result of the bizarre nature of the season and his manager’s preference. Eflin never topped more than 100 pitches in any of his starts, and considering the state of the Phillies’ bullpen, it’s confusing why Joe Girardi didn’t push him a bit more.

The future

While it seems like Eflin has been around forever, he’s only entering his age 27 season. Considering his history, it’s slightly worrisome that he’ll have yet another pitching coach in 2021, but he should be entering his prime, so further improvement is possible. I’m not sure I agree with the “Future Cy Young Award winner” talk, but at the very least, Eflin should continue to be a solid mid-rotation pitcher.