What Changes Have Led to Jack Flaherty’s Success in 2024

Signed to a one-year deal this offseason, Jack Flaherty has bounced back in a big way early this season with the Detroit Tigers.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - MAY 06: Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty #9 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the first inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on May 06, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

When Jack Flaherty signed with Detroit, the fanbase had mixed emotions. The Tigers had younger options, and many felt the money could have been spent elsewhere. An often injured pitcher who walks too may batters and hasn’t been able to get back to his early St. Louis days. Until now.

Pitching coach Chris Fetter and Assistant Pitching Coach Robin Lund have had several projects in recent years. Their track record speaks for itself. However, they have not had a project as high-profile, or high-cost, as Flaherty. A former top-five finisher in Cy Young voting who can’t consistently find the zone or stay healthy is a big problem to fix.

Well, so far, so good.

Through his first seven starts, Flaherty has looked better than he has in any of the past few seasons, if not his career. Five quality starts and no outing less than five innings.

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Yes, I know what’s jumping off the page – a 3.5% walk percentage!

That’s in the 95th percentile in all of baseball. Far and away the best percentage of his career. To put this in perspective, Flaherty’s walk rate was over 10% each of the past two seasons and the best of his career was 7.1%.

If you look into his pitches, you won’t see a huge jump in velocity, spin, or movement. A tick up on his slider and Knuckle curve might actually be making a bigger difference than we realize.

As you can see in the picture above, his slider this season (left) has been located much better leading to weaker contact due to it not catching as much of the plate.

Last season, batters hit .339 and slugged .558 off his slider. This season, batters are hitting just .214, with a .174 slugging percentage against the pitch. The bottom right corner of the zone (to a righty) has seen the most pitches from Flaherty (177) than anywhere else in the zone. He has a 65% whiff rate and 56% strikeout rate in that location.

His fastball command being better and his ability to use it near the top of the zone is the reason he’s able to set up the slider so effectively and part of the reason he’s leading baseball in Called Strikes + Whiffs Percentage (CSW%).

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A better located, and more effective breaking ball is helping his fastball and vice versa.

Flaherty is locating his pitches well and generating more swing-and-miss across the board. His fastball swing-and-miss% is up 8%. For the slider it is up to 15%, the Knuckle Curve 12%. A tick up in velocity combined with better command goes a long way.

In the past he threw too many balls and uncompetitive pitches and had to fight back into counts with his fastball. Now, he’s attacking the zone more and it’s leading to results.

I know how simple it sounds, but keeping players off the basepaths is another big difference in Flaherty’s game. Mostly because of his tendency to give up home runs. Flaherty has a 15% home run-to-fly ball rate in his career, and 17% this season. When you consider how many walks he was giving up compared to now, the difference can be a three-run home run or a solo shot.

While seven starts is far from telling the entire story of the season, there’s no doubt Flaherty is showing strong promise.

Future Outlook

Flaherty’s one-year deal was a bet on himself and if he keeps pitching well, he’ll get a nice contract. Whether that is in Detroit or not, time will tell. He’ll need to stay health, first. Then, the Tigers need to be in a position where they wouldn’t want to trade him at the deadline. Oh yeah, he also has too keep pitching well. Either way, his success impacts the future.

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Every year we see bounce back candidates from a poor season or injury look for the right landing spot. Detroit is starting to enter themselves into that conversation. A pitcher-friendly ballpark and great staff do most of the appeal, but proven success closes deals.

While it might seem like a stretch, I do think it has more weight than most would credit. When a player looks at a situation where they almost need a good year or their career heads in a different direction, even the smallest bits of data matter.

Okay, okay, I am getting ahead of myself. Instead of thinking of the future I should focus on the present. The Tigers identified a player they thought they could fix and the early signs are pointing to them being right. While it’s too early for a victory lap, the front office deserves some credit for this signing. Blaming the front office for the offensive output is for another day….