Jack Flaherty and the Greatest Second Half

Before or during Jack Flaherty’s start today, viewers are likely to hear about his 0.91 second half ERA. It is the third-lowest second-half ERA since 1920. The second-lowest second half ERA belongs to Greg Maddux, who accomplished the feat in the strike-shortened 1994 season and pitched barely more than 50 second-half innings. The first belongs to Jake Arrieta, whose 0.79 ERA in the second half in 2015 propelled him to the Cy Young award. Of course, ERA alone doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, as with Maddux, it doesn’t show how many innings are being thrown. For another, different eras produce vastly different run-scoring environments. Pitching with a juiced ball or juiced players can make life more difficult for pitchers, rendering a lower ERA even more impressive. To that end, we can put Flaherty’s second half in perspective.

The easiest way to do so here at FanGraphs is to use RA9-WAR, which takes runs allowed, innings, and the run environment into account. Flaherty’s second-half RA9-WAR was 6.4, way out in front of Jacob deGrom’s second-place 4.8 mark. If you cut Flaherty’s RA9-WAR in half, he would still rank ninth in baseball since the All-Star Break. We have second-half splits going back to 1974; here’s where Flaherty ranks among the couple-thousand qualified second-half pitchers:

Best Second Half Performances by RA9-WAR Since 1974
Season Name Team Age RA9-WAR
1976 Vida Blue Athletics 26 6.9
1974 Fergie Jenkins Rangers 31 6.5
2019 Jack Flaherty Cardinals 23 6.4
1976 Don Sutton Dodgers 31 6.4
2004 Johan Santana Twins 25 6.3
1998 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 35 6.2
1998 Randy Johnson – – – 34 6.2
1985 John Tudor Cardinals 31 6.2
2015 Jake Arrieta Cubs 29 6.2
1975 Jim Palmer Orioles 29 6.2
1987 Roger Clemens Red Sox 24 6
1975 Gaylord Perry Rangers 36 6
1978 Ron Guidry Yankees 27 6
2000 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 28 5.9
1985 Dwight Gooden Mets 20 5.8

In 1976, Vida Blue threw 170.1 second-half innings with an ERA of 1.69; all those innings were enough to take the top spot. In 1974, Ferguson Jenkins put up a 1.59 ERA in 147 inning to nudge himself ahead of Flaherty. In the last 40 years, no pitcher has as valuable as Jack Flaherty in the second half when viewed through the lens of run prevention. As we know, more than just the quality of a pitcher goes into run prevention. When Arrieta went on his run in 2015, he had a great defense behind him, and Flaherty’s Cardinals defense has been pretty good as well. If we looked at the greatest second halves by the WAR that we typically use here at FanGraphs, Flaherty’s 4.1 is just behind Justin Verlander’s 4.4 mark this season and ranks 35th over the last 46 seasons. Instead of reproducing that list, let’s look at the pitchers 25 years old and younger:

Best Second Half WAR by Pitchers 25 years old and Younger
Season Name Team Age RA9-WAR WAR
1987 Roger Clemens Red Sox 24 6 5.3
2004 Johan Santana Twins 25 6.3 4.3
1984 Dwight Gooden Mets 19 3.3 4.2
1985 Dwight Gooden Mets 20 5.8 4.2
1997 Pedro Martinez Expos 25 4.6 4.2
1975 John Montefusco Giants 25 3.4 4.2
2019 Jack Flaherty Cardinals 23 6.4 4.1
1975 Frank Tanana Angels 21 5.4 4
1974 Bert Blyleven Twins 23 4.2 4
1990 Erik Hanson Mariners 25 4.2 3.9
1976 Frank Tanana Angels 22 5.6 3.8
1980 Len Barker Indians 24 2.4 3.8
1991 Greg Maddux Cubs 25 3.1 3.7
1976 Dennis Eckersley Indians 21 3.4 3.6
2003 Mark Prior Cubs 22 4.6 3.6
Since 1974

Of the players on that list Flaherty’s age or younger, Eckersley and Blyleven are in the Hall of Fame, Gooden couldn’t live up to the promise of his early-career greatness, Tanana had a solid career, and Prior’s injuries ended his career early. Gooden is the only pitcher Flaherty’s age or younger with a better second-half WAR since 1974.

If we wanted to mix the run-prevention of RA9-WAR with a FIP-based WAR, which considers the results most in the pitcher’s control, an average or geometric mean of the two numbers should suffice. Here’s how those numbers stack together:

Best Second Half Pitching Performances
Season Name Team Age RA9-WAR WAR AVERAGE GEO MEAN
1974 Fergie Jenkins Rangers 31 6.5 5.4 6.0 5.9
1998 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 35 6.2 5.4 5.8 5.8
1987 Roger Clemens Red Sox 24 6 5.3 5.7 5.6
2000 Pedro Martinez Red Sox 28 5.9 5.3 5.6 5.6
1976 Vida Blue Athletics 26 6.9 4.4 5.7 5.5
1975 Gaylord Perry Rangers 36 6 4.9 5.5 5.4
1998 Randy Johnson – – – 34 6.2 4.7 5.5 5.4
1979 J.R. Richard Astros 29 5.5 5.2 5.4 5.3
1997 Roger Clemens Blue Jays 34 5 5.7 5.4 5.3
2001 Randy Johnson D-backs 37 5.1 5.5 5.3 5.3
2015 Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 27 5.6 4.9 5.3 5.2
2004 Johan Santana Twins 25 6.3 4.3 5.3 5.2
1978 Ron Guidry Yankees 27 6 4.4 5.2 5.1
2019 Jack Flaherty Cardinals 23 6.4 4.1 5.3 5.1
1985 John Tudor Cardinals 31 6.2 4.2 5.2 5.1
1985 Dwight Gooden Mets 20 5.8 4.2 5.0 4.9
1990 Roger Clemens Red Sox 27 5.6 4.3 5.0 4.9
1997 Curt Schilling Phillies 30 5 4.8 4.9 4.9
1999 Randy Johnson D-backs 35 5.7 4.2 5.0 4.9
1998 Kevin Brown Padres 33 4.6 5.2 4.9 4.9
2015 Jake Arrieta Cubs 29 6.2 3.8 5.0 4.9
2008 CC Sabathia Brewers 27 5.4 4.3 4.9 4.8
1995 Randy Johnson Mariners 31 4.9 4.7 4.8 4.8
1983 Jack Morris Tigers 28 5.6 4.1 4.9 4.8
2004 Randy Johnson D-backs 40 4.3 5.2 4.8 4.7
1993 Jose Rijo Reds 28 5.7 3.9 4.8 4.7
1995 Greg Maddux Braves 29 5.6 3.9 4.8 4.7
1975 Frank Tanana Angels 21 5.4 4 4.7 4.6
1995 Mike Mussina Orioles 26 5 4.3 4.7 4.6
2017 Corey Kluber Indians 31 5.5 3.9 4.7 4.6
Since 1974

The 14th-best second half since 1974 might not have the same ring as the third-best, but it is still pretty darn impressive. There’s a fairly credible argument to be made that Flaherty’s second half was better than the one Arrieta put together four years ago. And there’s a very good case to be made that no player as young as Flaherty has ever produced a second half as impressive as the Cardinals right-hander. The Braves might be favored in this afternoon’s game, but Flaherty is unlikely to make it easy for them.

We hoped you liked reading Jack Flaherty and the Greatest Second Half by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Jolly Good Show
Member
Jolly Good Show

There are quite a few red flags in his stats in the second half:
Babip: 0.206
Lob: 94.2%
Xfip: 3.19
Hr/fb: 6.2%

His k-bb however is fantastic (27.6%).

Great second half though.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

Perhaps, but some of that is due to the excellent defense behind him, which isn’t going anywhere this postseason.

otis
Member
otis

Not sure “red flags” is the right term to use here. It’s a red flag when a guy with an ERA of 3.5 outperforms his FIP by a run and a half. Everyone knows a 0.91 ERA is impossible to sustain. When a guy with an ERA under one outperforms his FIP by a run and a half, you say, “wow, an excellent string of starts looks even better based on sequencing and batted ball luck,” not “wow, Jack Flaherty sure has some red flags in his profile!”

Jolly Good Show
Member
Jolly Good Show

One of the beautiful things about the English language (or indeed many languages) is there are many different ways to describe the same thing.

I was just a bit surprised that none of the stats I mentioned were in the article. It’s not that I had to look hard to find them.

There’s no denying that his performance, aided by defence or not, is a fantastic achievement.

Barring a low outfield fence or outstanding jumping ability, (I don’t know the parks dimensions as I live in England), it is hard for fielders to rob batters of home runs, particularly considering the home run era we are in.

Dknapp26
Member
Dknapp26

While I respect all cultures and places in this world. It might be beneficial to provide a translation for posts in languages other than the default for most readers of the site. Please keep this in mind next time you post in English.

For reference, In American, we spell “fence” with an “S”… as in “a low outfield fense”

I can confirm, however, that all Americans are imbued with an innate knowledge of Outfield wall dimensions in every MLB Stadium (Except the Rogers Center, where the dimensions are probably in French)