Exit Interview 2020: Jack Flaherty

After every season (dating back to 2012), we’ve spent time looking at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals that season.  They might have gotten a couple of innings, they might have played every day, but if they played, they get a post.  Usually, I like to term this like the players are packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter.  This year, of course, was anything but typical.  So we’ll look at every player, we’ll take in some of their stats, but we won’t be giving out grades this season or delving too much into the positive/negative.  There are just too many variables in the Year of COVID for that to be reasonable.  As he has for the past few years, cardinalsgifs has lent his enormous talents to our header image and we thank him for it!

Player: Jack Flaherty

Season stats: 4-3, 4.91 ERA, 9 G, 40.1 IP, 33 H, 6 HR, 16 BB, 49 K, 4.11 FIP, 1.215 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, -0.3 bWAR

Postseason stats: 0-1, 1.50 ERA, 6 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 8 K, 1.333 WHIP

Statcast: 6.9% barrel %, 87.7 exit velocity, 32.4% hard hit %, .328 xwOBA

Best Statcast category: Whiff Percentage (88th percentile)

Worst Statcast category: Fastball Spin (27th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Hero 2, Goat 2


Overview: There was a solid chance that 2020 would have been a bit of a disappointment no matter what Jack Flaherty did.  You can’t have a second half that compares to Bob Gibson 1968 and not come back to earth a little bit.  When you’ve gotten people used to you just allowing a run or less a game, giving up 2-3 feels like a lot.  So there were some high standards coming into this season for the young hurler.

Even acknowledging that, though, 2020 felt a little…..off, maybe the right way to put it.  The COVID issues led Flaherty to be treated with kid gloves more than any other pitcher on the staff, which is understandable given his potential.  After the three-week layoff, Flaherty was limited to less than three innings in his first start and only went past five innings once after the layoff.  His first game, where he went seven innings and struck out six against the Pirates, was almost his best.

There’s a school of thought that says, take out the Brewers games (a team that always seems to do well against him) and the numbers would be fine.  There is something to that.  Flaherty faced Milwaukee twice, went just eight innings total, and allowed 12 runs, walking six and striking out 11.  Without those games, his ERA is a more reasonable 2.78.  However, you could also go the opposite way.  He threw 13 innings against the Pirates and allowed just two runs with 17 strikeouts and two walks.  Remove those outings and the ERA blooms to 6.59.  Maybe the numbers aren’t quite as skewed after all.

I’m no expert on anything like pitch mechanics or philosophy so I can’t tell you exactly why Flaherty had so many issues this year.  We saw the good Flaherty in the playoffs, as he limited a good Padres team, so maybe there was some familiarity issues facing the same teams over and over again this year.  Maybe the stop-start nature of the virus-plagued season got him out of whack.  Maybe he was just destined to take a step back after such a performance in 2019.  Maybe we should just toss out 2020 and never speak of it again.

I also don’t think we can leave speaking about Flaherty’s 2020 without acknowledging his activity off the field.  With social issues relating to the Black community taking center stage, even with the pandemic raging, Flaherty spoke his mind and became recognized not only as a leader on the Cardinals but also a leader throughout baseball.  While these are sensitive topics, the fear of backlash didn’t keep him from talking about things that mattered to him and even if you commend him for nothing else, you should commend him for that.  You can decide how much weight to give to celebrities or athletes or the like talking about issues, but their status doesn’t preclude them from action on topics that are meaningful to them.  It is going to be interesting to see how Flaherty’s leadership on things evolves and grows in the coming years.

Outlook: Flaherty is still the ace of the staff and will be until a full season proves otherwise.  That said, the rotation looks a lot different if you don’t have a strong Flaherty at the top of it.  The Cardinals need more of the guy that turned out quality starts and better every time out and less of someone that you aren’t completely sure what you are going to get on a different day.  Most likely we’ll see a turnaround in Flaherty’s results in 2021.  If not, then some hard questions are going to have to be asked.

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