Jack Flaherty has overcome the odds, pitching his team into the heights of the National League with a historic second half performance. He has been the most piece that helped the St Louis Cardinals place themselves in pole position for the NL Central crown.
In 13 starts since the All-Star Game, the 23-year-old has posted a 6-2 record with a 1.05 ERA. Flaherty has the best ERA in baseball in that span in addition to being second in HR/9 (0.53) and fourth in Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs) among qualified starters. His red-hot status continues to solidify itself as he’s being mentioned in the conversation for the NL Cy Young award more and more often as we approach the final gasps of the MLB regular season.
His unbelievable surge has paid enormous dividends. Let’s not forget – the Cardinals’ bats are near their ceiling at the moment but things weren’t always that way. Even since the start of St. Louis’ strong second half which saw them ending up the winning side in 27 of 66 games.
Jack Flaherty’s had a run support of 0-2 runs more often that a run support of 6+ runs (11 to 7; per Baseball Reference). He’s won 3 of those 11 starts, had 3 no-decisions and posted a 1.95 ERA which was a miracle for a team which was desperate for an equalizer. Think about it – you’re usually going to lose a game in which you score 2 runs, and Flaherty saves his team from a certain loss 55% of the time.
What was really the big change that established Flaherty’s second-half performance as one of the best ever? He headed into the break with 4-6 record and 4.64 ERA. No Cardinals starter had an ERA under 4.00 except Hudson. He started off the year allowing 3+ runs in 7 of 10 starts, also striking out 10+ only once – against the Brewers on April 22nd.
Which brings us to his biggest statistical jump half-to-half – strikeouts per nine innings. His numbers in this field rocketed, going from 9.93 to 11.29. Moreover, he’s done an incredible job in the only consistent part of his game – control. He’s been fairly decent when it comes to keeping walks to minimum, averaging BB/9 close to 2 in both halves. If he hadn’t been able to at least keep that under control, it would’ve turned his first half into a nightmare and who knows if he would’ve started the second half in the majors. Especially considering the Cardinals’ bad July stretch, which saw them sink to third in the division and lose a series to the then-lowly San Francisco Giants going into the halfway point of the schedule.
A lot of experts also note that July 7th start as the turning point for Jack Flaherty. It was the Sunday before the All-Star Game and a visit to Oracle Park with Flaherty taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. However, he lost it to Evan Longoria’s solo homer which made the difference in the 1-0 win for the surging Giants.
According to MLB.com, his 1.05 ERA since the break ranks fourth-best all time, with Jake Arrieta’s 0.75 ERA in the second half of 2015 taking the top spot.
He hasn’t been alone in what has been a truly dominant pitching staff in the second half. The team’s 3.05 ERA is the second-best in Major League Baseball since the break. Dakota Hudson has had a great rookie campaign and Carlos Martinez has justified his closer role since returning from the Injured List. The Cardinals rotation was a big disappointment coming off what was a brilliant 2018 by Mikolas & Co. However, it has been one of the best in the MLB since the ASG and that has been the driving force behind the Cardinals’ five-game lead.
Flaherty’s unlikely to even receive anything more than a top 5 nod for the National League Cy Young award. But, despite the shocking deference between his numbers in the two halves, he’s had some components of his game that have been consist. That sets him up to carry his success well into the playoffs.