Zach Eflin Has Reached the Promised Land

Zach Eflin is soaring higher than ever before.

When the Tampa Bay Rays signed Zach Eflin to a three-year, $40 million contract this offseason — a rare splurge for the thrifty team — you could almost hear the collective sigh of exasperation from the Rays’ American League rivals.

A longtime productive hurler for the Phillies, who briefly turned him into a closer for their pennant run last year, the writing was already on the wall: Eflin would emerge as the next ace out of Tampa’s fearsome pitching machine. What might not have been as expected, however, was just how badly the Rays would need him.

Though the Rays have raced to a 70-48 record, good for second place in the AL East and a Wild Card spot, they’ve weathered injuries up and down their pitching staff, dealing with season-ending blows to Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs, and Drew Rasmussen, as well as just 68 innings from ace Tyler Glasnow.

Eflin, meanwhile, has tossed 129.1 innings with a 2.92 FIP, which ranks him sixth on FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboard for pitchers with 3.7 fWAR.

Where would the Rays be without Eflin?

Let’s dive into the adjustments that have made Eflin an ace and kept the Rays with their winning ways this year.


The Arsenal


It took some time for Eflin to grow into a useful starter for the Phillies.

After debuting in 2016, Eflin tossed 419 innings with a 4.73 ERA during his first four seasons, striking out less than seven batters per nine and battling injuries and inconsistency. Back in those days, he was almost entirely a sinker-slider pitcher, occasionally mixing in a curveball.

Once he started to throw that curveball more, he saw more results in Philly. In 2020, he threw the pitch a career-high 13% of the time for his best season yet, totaling a 3.39 FIP over 59 innings, amassing 1.5 fWAR.

But he didn’t build meaningfully off that success for the next seasons, posting sub-4 FIP numbers but failing to stay healthy. He did, however, enjoy a successful stint as the Phillies’ closer over the stretch run of the 2022 season.

What follows is some pitch mix data that helps explain Eflin’s improvement this year.

Zach Eflin’s Repertoire in ’22
Zach Eflin’s Repertoire in ’23


As you can see, the Rays have made some meaningful changes to Eflin’s profile.

The right-hander is no longer just a two-pitch wonder: he’s established a cutter as a strong third offering, which is helping solve some of his problems all across the board. More on that pitch later.

It’s clear that Tampa has told Eflin to keep leaning on the pitches that powered his initial breakout — his trusty sinker and whiff-accruing curveball — while adding in a cutter to make him less predictable. The results have been outstanding for the Rays, who have to hope that Eflin stays on track to surpass his career-high innings total of 163.1 back in 2019.


A New Weapon


As we covered before, there’s one important tweak the Rays have made to Eflin’s pitching style: using his cutter more. Funnily enough, Eflin only started throwing a cutter in 2022, when he had a 3.56 FIP in 75.2 innings.

When he got to Tampa Bay, the Rays must have encouraged him to rely on the offering more, recognizing that it was an underutilized, solid offering that could help him defuse some sticky situations.

Eflin had always struggled against lefties during his career: he has a 4.84 FIP against southpaws and just a 3.50 FIP against righties. Lefties have slugged .482 against Eflin over his career, and have launched 69 home runs — while he’s only allowed 46 homers to righties in 48 more innings.

It’s safe to say this was at the top of the Rays’ priority list when they had initial strategy meetings with Eflin.

Zach Eflin’s Cutter in ’23

Miles Schachner

Miles Schachner is a Going Deep writer at Pitcher List. He is a lifelong Yankees fan who lives in New York City.

One response to “Zach Eflin Has Reached the Promised Land”

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