(Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)
Last week, I was doing a mock draft with the PitcherList staff. We were at the end of one of the later rounds and I decided to take a pitcher I valued pretty highly: Jack Flaherty. The choice wasn’t really met with great fanfare – as a matter of fact I was ridiculed about it for the next week – so I decided to take a deeper dive into Flaherty to see if I was crazy or there really was some late-round value there.
Jack Flaherty is fighting for a spot on the Cardinals’ opening day roster with an impressive arsenal under his belt. He features a straight four-seam with good velocity, a plus-upside slider, an ok curveball and a poor changeup. After a dominant stretch in AA in 2017 (1.42 ERA, 2.92 xFIP, 8.81 K/9, 1.56 BB/9 over 63.1 IP) and great stretch in AAA (2.74 ERA, 4.06 xFIP, 8.94 K/9, 2.53 BB/9 over 85.1 IP) Flaherty made his debut for the Cardinals in September. It didn’t go well. In five starts he had a 6.33 ERA, 4.62 SIERA, 8.44 K/9, 4.22 BB/9 and .322 BABIP. While this may be a red flag to some, the minimal innings combined with an uncharacteristically high BB/9 and elevated BABIP don’t have me too concerned. If anything, some of his results actually got me more interested, notably the results from his slider.
Eno Sarris wrote a fantastic article about the fact that Flaherty, “threw 87 excellent sliders that recorded better numbers than anyone else in the second half including Clayton Kershaw.” According to Baseball Prospectus’ tunneling metrics, Flaherty was among the league leaders in tunneling his fastball-slider sequence vs. right-handed hitters. For those unfamiliar with what this relatively new metric means, it measures how close back-to-back pitches look at the point when a batter decides to swing at a pitch. Flaherty pitched 16.1 IP in 2017 so take the below with a large grain of salt but Flaherty was below league average in a fair amount of his xStats, too.
|xStat||Jack Flaherty||League Average|
Flaherty left the community intrigued but concerned as to whether he’d be able to have continued success with his slider, get his four-seam command back, and hone his curve and change. So far this spring training, Flaherty has thrown 8 IP, struck out 12 and walked 3 (I’m throwing the 6.75 ERA out the door as I don’t think it’s too relevant given the 8 IP). Let’s start by taking a look at how his slider faired against the Orioles on February 28th.
Two swinging whiffs to Schoop and Jones? I’d say that’s pretty good. Now, I don’t want to be presumptuous but you may be thinking, “That’s a nice slider but better than Kershaw’s? There’s not that much movement”. Well, according to Eno, “the best sliders – by results – don’t look so great by movement or velocity.” What about his fastball?
Flaherty threw a few solid fastballs but this was definitely his best as it set up that strikeout you saw above. Flaherty missed with a few here and there but the command and control seemed to be there for him as they were in his minor league stints.
After Flaherty’s first start in ST, Jeff Zimmerman wrote that Flaherty was way too far off the plate with his curve and that he’d need to adjust that to fool major league hitters. Who knows, maybe Flaherty read that:
Let’s be realistic though, there are still a lot of factors working against him: his fastball is definitely a little flat, he still needs to work on that changeup a bit more and find consistency with his curve to have success, Manny Machado smacked a really poorly thrown sinker 400+ feet for a grand slam and, most importantly, with Miles Mikolas turning it around in his most recent start, there may not be room for Flaherty to start off the year in the rotation. Even with those things in mind, I think the progress Flaherty’s made in spring paired with his plus-potential slider, ability to tunnel well and improvements in his curveball make him worthy of a last-couple-of-rounds pick in your draft, especially if his breaking pitches continue to generate whiffs like they have been so far. And, hey, if you get laughed at like I did, at least you can show them this article after you win your league.