By Greg Hall, Sports Talk Philly editor
Believe it or not, Zach Eflin is a good major league pitcher.
In fact, he is currently having the best season of his major league career, even if the numbers don't immediately show it.
Currently sporting a 4.58 ERA through seven starts after his no-decision Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox, Eflin has given up 41 hits in 37 1/3 innings.
That is far from the whole story.
His 3.75 FIP is almost a full run lower than his ERA and career FIP (4.73), suggesting the defense behind him has been subpar and he's even gotten a little unlucky. That is backed up by the .358 batting average on balls in play against Eflin.
Baseball Savant shows Eflin's expected ERA to be 3.30, which would put him in the top 10 percent in all of baseball.
Against teams at or above .500 this season, Eflin is 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA across 16 1/3 innings. He also struck out 19 hitters.
Strikeouts have been a big part of Eflin's game in 2020, much more than his career marks suggest.
He is currently striking out 11.6 hitters per nine innings, by far a career high (7.2 average), while walking batters at an all-time low mark of 2.2 per nine. That is good for a 5.33 strikeout to walk ratio, more than double his normal rate.
The Phillies are 6-1 when Eflin has started a game this season.
So what is the issue?
When hitters make contact, they are crushing his mistakes.
Opposing batters are making contact when Eflin hits the strike zone. Of his 281 pitches in the strike zone this season, hitters have swung at two thirds of them. Of those 186 swings, contact has been made 86 percent of the time. That is over three percent higher than his career mark and leading to his high BAbip.
Eflin's pitches are being barreled at a much higher clip as well, as almost 10 percent of hits against him are considered hard hit off the barrel of the bat, which is roughly 3 points higher than his average.
Combine shaky defense, a bout of bad luck and some unusually hard hit balls and you have the recipe for Eflin's 2020 season. Couple all of that with the limited innings he has pitched in this crazy shortened campaign and even better things seem to be in his future.
Ironically enough, Eflin has mainly struggled against sub-par teams or when he gets a lot of run support. When facing a team under .500, Eflin has a 6.43 ERA spanning 21 innings across four starts.
In games where the Phillies score six or more runs, Eflin's ERA is even higher at 6.60, compared to just 3.22 when the Phillies score five or fewer times. Note that the Phillies have scored at least three runs in all of Eflin's appearances.
It could be a case of pitching up and down to his competition.
Not a free agent until 2023, Eflin is showing that he is developing into a middle of the rotation starter for a playoff contending team.
Now, he just has to put it all together.