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Jack Flaherty Propelling Himself into CY Young Conversation, Cardinals to Playoffs

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no accident that Flaherty’s commanding second half is coinciding with the Cardinals’ rise in the standings. St. Louis is 8-3 in his 11 starts since the All-Star Break, over all the games in that stretch, the Redbirds are a National League best 37-18. It’s no wonder why they find themselves up 4.5 games over the Cubs.

The 23-year-old Flaherty has been dismantling the opposition since the Mid Summer Classic; his ERA (0.76), WHIP (0.76), fWAR (3.0), HR/9 (0.38) and soft contact against rate (23.6%) all top the National League leaderboards in that span. Additionally, his 71.1 innings pitched during this period tops the NL circuit. The August NL Pitcher of the Month lowered his ERA from 4.90 to 2.99 in the span of 12 starts from July 7th to September 8th. His FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement total is up to 3.7 on the year, up considerably from his 2.3 mark in his 2018 campaign. 

It’s hard to pinpoint his success on one thing, as it happened for a myriad of reasons, however his ability to control his slider stands out. In the 1st half of the year, he surrendered 7 home-runs on his slider, giving up 13 extra-base hits in total and allowing opponents to put up a 25% hard-hit rate on the pitch. In the 2nd half it’s a completely different story; he has let up zero home-runs on the pitch, only four extra-base knocks and the hard-hit rate has been almost cut in half (13%). His use of the slider has gone up in the 2nd half, and it’s easy to tell why.

His numbers don’t just stand out in comparison to others in 2019, they’re reaching a historic level; if he sustains his current pace, he’ll be the first Cardinals pitcher since 1911 (Rube Geyer) to record an ERA of 0.76 or lower in the 2nd half of a season. In terms of the MLB, the last player to put up an ERA of 0.76 or better in the 2nd half was Jake Arrieta in 2015 (0.75) — when he won the Cy Young Award. The person before him was Ferdie Schupp, all the way back in 1916. 

To further put the magnitude of his success in perspective, Flaherty has a 3.0 fWAR in the 2nd half, while the rest of St. Louis’ rotation has only managed to reach a combined total of 3.1. Also, he leads the team in quality starts. On the topic of quality starts, since the All-Star Break, Flaherty’s nine quality starts are only one fewer than the Brewers’ team total (10) in the same span. 

Regarding Flaherty’s Cy Young candidacy, it doesn’t seem plausible for him to win the award this season. His hot stretch has propelled him into the conversation, no doubt, however his not so strong first half will be hard to overcome with the voters. With that being said, it is reasonable to see him finishing in the top five for Cy Young voting this season. And, at 23, he has many more seasons to compete for the illustrious award. 

At the season’s middle point, the Cardinals found themselves on the outside looking in, regarding the division. They were given a 21.2% chance of reaching October and a 10.9% chance of winning the division, per FanGraphs — in danger of their fourth straight season without playoff baseball. Almost two months later, the tides have completely changed; St. Louis owns a 4.5 game lead in the National League Central, giving them an 81.1% chance of winning the division and a playoff probability of nearly 95%. 

The hot stretch has been fueled by many members of the Cardinals club, however you could argue Flaherty has been the biggest cog in their success. 

(Sites used: FanGraphs, Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant)

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