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Buffa: Jack Flaherty is proof that everything works out for the best

The worries you have about Wainwright and Miles Mikolas are solved by arms like Flaherty and Reyes.
Credit: Steve Mitchell
Mar 15, 2018; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty (32) delivers a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when I didn't mind trading Jack Flaherty. No, I wasn't drunk or taken too many hits to the head that evening. It was a simple case of naive observation, but thanks to a couple people and weeks of baseball brain re-routing, I am in better spirits.

The St. Louis Cardinals can't trade Flaherty. They just can't do it. It would be like Tom Cruise telling you there was doom in a pool-stick case and you agreed to give it away. Bad ideas live on the same mountain as trading Jack Flaherty, who has a name like belongs in an Indiana Jones movie, but will live on a mound for the next decade wearing Cardinal Red instead.

First, thanks Joe Schwarz. He used to write for Viva El Birdos and now splits his words between Birds on the Black and The Athletic. The South City native wrote a piece every sportswriter in the country will be referencing this summer when Flaherty is reminding hitters why the cartilage in their knee is important. He Schwarz introduced pitch tunneling to the world this spring. Flaherty doesn't even understand it yet, but the breakdown is simple if you don't think about it too hard. A pitcher can be be a true magician and disguise a pitch to the point of no return for a hitter by throwing it in a particular sequence with another pitch.

According to Schwarz, Flaherty can throw a fastball and slider back-to-back, and a hitter will be hamstrung in an effort to make good contact. Think about a chess player drawing up 3-4 moves ahead in a game, leaving the opponent to step right into a trap. While I probably failed in making pitch tunneling sound sexy, you get the point. Flaherty is wicked and is only starting to pop the trunk on his repertoire.

Did I mention he's only 22 years old? Some in St. Louis don't know his name because he is preceded by a guy named Alex Reyes, an arm who could make or break the 2018 season. Before Reyes made his debut in 2016, he was the top pitching prospect for the Cardinals. Luke Weaver showed up, while Austin Gomber and Dakota Hudson await the call. Flaherty's teaser in 2017 didn't do him any favors with the short-attention span crowd.

In five starts and 21.1 innings pitched, Flaherty was lit up like a Christmas tree, compiling a 6.33 ERA and allowing more hits and finding more trouble than he had the rest of the season. Let's put it this way. Flaherty's 15 runs allowed in his brief Major League debut was higher than the amount given up in Springfield (10) in triple the amount of innings pitched (63.1). However, the slider was the takeaway.

A slider that, according to Schwarz, had a whiff rate of 28.7 percent. You read that right, but let me break it down for you. Out of the total amount of times Flaherty threw the slider, nearly 29% saw the hitter swing and miss. It doesn't mean the hitter was caught looking or fouled it off. They missed it entirely.

Second, I want to say thanks to Flaherty himself. Sometimes, pitchers get rocked and never come back. They struggle for a couple years and lose a few green seasons, or years where their age carried as much value as their arm. Flaherty has come out this spring and sharpened the arsenal. Don't mind the ERA which only tabulates data from four starts. Look at the 4-1 strikeout to walk ratio and the low WHIP. He's a guy who just needs an outlet.

Enter Adam Wainwright's hamstring. The 36-year-old veteran's spring was hopeful. Hint: it was going better than Flaherty's overall. Then again, Cardinals fans have been down this road for two years now. Wainwright carrying success into the regular season was far from a sure thing, so his injury allows a young gun like Flaherty to show us what he's got, wiping away a rough 2017 debut. Wainwright will be back, but Flaherty will do everything he can to stick around.

He still has a lot to learn. While the slider is deadly and the fastball is juicy, Flaherty has to craft an understanding of how to combine his pitches in order to get consistent outs against big league hitters. There's an intersection that combines confidence, promise, and ability, and Flaherty has to find that spot in order to reach his potential. If he's right, the 2018 season looks better. If he needs more time in Memphis (he had 15 starts there in 2017), then it resets to normal. Watching where Flaherty sets the normal bar at will be fun. Factor in the arrival of Mike Maddux as pitching coach, and the fun goes off the wall.

Flaherty is proof that everything works out for the best. Injuries shouldn't be wished upon no one, but there was trepidation among fans that Wainwright was going to be a liability this season. Now, that bittersweet end gets delayed a few weeks. This way, Flaherty gets to rewrite his MLB debut and show us what the future holds. The worries you have about Wainwright and Miles Mikolas are solved by arms like Flaherty and Reyes.

Thanks Joe and Jack. You reminded me that some assets aren't expendable, no matter how lovely the return. Back in November and December, I was all for trading Flaherty for Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, or Manny Machado.

Today, I'm not sure I would include the kid. He's 22 and in the words of Al Pacino's Frank Slade, Flaherty is just getting warmed up. HOOHAAA!

As Sansa Stark would say, sometimes it takes me a bit to learn, but in the end, I do learn. Jack Flaherty isn't going anywhere. He simply can't.

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