Can St. Louis Cardinals star Jack Flaherty remain the ace?

Jarrod Castillo
St. Louis Cardinals star Jack Flaherty during workouts at Busch Stadium.
Jul 5, 2020; St. Louis, Missouri, United States; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty wears a face mask as he walks off the field during workouts at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2019 MLB season, 24-year-old Jack Flaherty was projected to be a good pitcher. But no one expected the St. Louis Cardinals hurler to have the kind of season he did, especially during the second half of the campaign.

The big picture: After having a very impressive second half to the 2019 MLB season, can Jack Flaherty keep up the pace and remain the Cardinals’ ace in a shortened season?

Jack Flaherty’s lackluster first half

The best way to describe Flaherty’s first half would be “average.” Although he had a 3.75 ERA in March, April and May, June was especially rough for Flaherty as he posted a 7.01 ERA in five games. In 25.2 innings of work, he gave up 20 runs – seven of them being home runs – and went 0-2 as a result.

In all, Flaherty:

  • Had a 4.64 ERA in 18 games
  • Went 4-6 in those games in 97 innings pitched
  • Struck out 107, with batters slashing .237/.300/.444 with a .744 OPS

Having said that, Flaherty’s first half is more of an anomaly than anything else. In 2018, Flaherty pitched well, going 8-9 with a 3.34 ERA in 17 games – all starts. He was also starting to get a feel of who he was, now that he was pitching on a regular basis. Those repetitions paid dividends in the second half.

Flaherty’s All-Star Second Half

While Flaherty’s first half may not have been anything special, his performance really took off in the second half. In the 15 games after the All-Star break, Flaherty had:

  • Had the third-lowest post-break ERA (0.91) in history behind Greg Maddox and Jake Arrieta.
  • Threw strikes at a 66% clip with a 15% swinging strike rate
  • Struck out 124 batters, while only walking 23.

It’s also fascinating to note that in the second half, Flaherty’s strike out percentage went up by 7.5% – from 26.4 to 33.9. Also, his walk percentage went down almost two points, from 7.9% in the first half, to 6.3% in the second. His ability to get strikes in the second half was just unparalleled compared to earlier in the season.

Because of his incredible pitching, Flaherty’s ERA went down almost two full points from 4.64 to 2.75. In all, hitters just could not figure him out in the second half and he firmly took the title of ace.

How will Jack Flaherty pitch in 2020?

Judging by his numbers during Spring Training, it appears that Flaherty was picking off where he left off last season. In four games, he had a 3.09 ERA in 11.2 innings pitched. Additionally, the simulated statistics on baseball-reference had him at 7-5 with a 2.61 ERA.

That said, because of COVID-19 and the extended labor dispute between MLB and the MLBPA, the 2020 season will be 60 games. While it remains to be seen how many games he will play/start, it’s possible that:

  • Flaherty has another sub-3.00 ERA season, potentially between 2.75-2.90.
  • Hitters slash around .200/.250/.300 with a .550 OPS.
  • He strikes out about 100 batters and walks fewer than 20.

The rough approximations for his 2020 season are based on his 2019 stats from July, August and September/October. If those four months are any indication, Flaherty is in for yet another dominant year.

The bottom line: Jack Flaherty will fly high in 2020

At only 24, Flaherty is shaping up to be the Cardinals’ ace for this season and beyond. His fastball/slider combination is deadly and he can throw a bevy of secondary pitches to confuse hitters.

With an abbreviated season, he has the stuff to make the 2020 campaign just as special as his second half in 2019. However, it will be interesting to see if the break will have any negative repercussions, especially since it’s a mad dash to the finish.

Nevertheless, expect Flaherty to continue his dominant ways and to shut down the competition in 2020 as the Cardinals’ ace.