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Can the Cardinals rely on Jack Flaherty in 2023?

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The future of Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty is suddenly becoming a bit of a question mark which seemed unfathomable just a few seasons ago. In 2018 and 2019 the young right hander was coming off back-to-back seasons with xERA’s of 3.25 and 3.38 as well as posting xwOBA’s of .279 in both seasons. He also did a great job of striking batters out as he had K percentages of 29.6 and 29.9 in the two seasons. Additionally, he excelled at limiting hard contact with two straight seasons below 87 MPH and he ranked in the 7th percentile in 2019 with an average exit velo against of 86.6. Although, the last three seasons have been a complete 180 degree turn for the former first round pick. Down below we are going to look at what went wrong and to try and project what the Cards will get out of him come 2023.

What went wrong?

For starters Flaherty’s once elite ability to limit hard contact took a step back as he posted an average exit velocity of 87.7 in 2020, 89.9 in 2021 and 87.2 in 2022. His K percentage dropped from 29.6 and 29.9 percent in ‘18 and ‘19 to 28.8, 26.4 and 19.8 percent over the past three seasons.

His pop-up percentage dropped significantly going from 9.6 and 11.7 percent in 2018 an ‘19 to 5.9 in 20 and 21 and then down to 4.7 in 2022. His line drive percentage increased as well going from 23.7 and 24.6 percent to 32.4, 25.9 and 27.1 percent over the past three seasons. Additionally, his solid contact percentage against jumped massively going from 4.1 and 6.3 percent to 8.8, 9.8 and 8.4 percent respectively.

His fastball lost some of its overall effectiveness as its xwOBA went from .302 and .309 to .410, .357 and .392. Its xSLG against also went from .374 and .422 to .562, .485 and .441.

The biggest red flag for myself personally is the drop off in his chase percentage. In 2018 it was 27.9 percent, ‘19 was 29.8 percent then it dropped down to 25.1 percent in ‘20, 24 percent in ‘21 and 22.1 percent in ‘22. On top of that after posting whiff percentages of 31.2 and 30.7 in ‘18 and ‘19. The righty posted 34.4, 27.9 and 25.5 whiff percentages over the following three seasons. Despite the uptick in 2020 the decreases over in ‘21 and ‘22 is very concerning. Drop offs of this size are a major telling point as to why Flaherty’s numbers have slipped dover the past few seasons.

Notably in terms of Flaherty’s stuff there was no major drop off. His pitch spin rates, movement and velocity has largely stayed the same over the past five years. There have been some year-to-year fluctuations as just about every pitcher has but nothing of any type of significant note.

The biggest problem for Flaherty though has been his health. Since the start of 2020 he has appeared in only 35 games, 32 of which were starts whilst only tossing 154 23 innings during that stretch. Over the past two seasons he has had four different trips to the injured list, two of which were extended to the 60-day variety. 3 of those stints on the I.L. were due to injuries to his right shoulder which also is cause for concern.

What can the Cardinals expect in 2023?

First and foremost, Flaherty has to be healthy this season in order to produce and hopefully regain his 2018-’19 form. Although, I do not think the Cardinals can expect Flaherty to be anything more than the third best starter in their rotation this season even if he was to remain healthy throughout the entire season. His metrics over the last three seasons indicate he is more like a fourth starter, but with how shallow pitching is across baseball he has to profile as a three.