JUPITER, Fla. — Jack Flaherty gave up 10 runs in 99.1 innings in the second half of 2019. That's an ERA of 0.91. Few have ever come close to that kind of dominance in a half of a major league season.
But that's because few pitchers in baseball are like Jack Flaherty.
Now, entering his third full season, Flaherty faces an impossible task. How can he follow up on what he did at the end of last season?
Well, if you know Flaherty, that's not really a tough question for him at all. He's not focused on being 'better'. Jack Flaherty just wants to be his consistent best.
"I think that's a dangerous thing to think. I think the only thing you can try to do is to go out and try to be consistent," Flaherty said at spring training. "You can look at the numbers and want to go out and try harder and or try to do more, but all you can do is perfect the process. The days in-between and understand the work you need to do to get to that point."
Consistency is Flaherty's focus in 2020. He knows how to perform at his highest level. Now, it's just about doing that for six months instead of three.
"At the end of the day, if I do my work and go about my business, from that point everything else will take care of itself. All you have to do at that point is go out and execute," Flaherty said.
"If you prepare and do all of your work at that point, it just comes to getting on the mound and finding that mentality of going out and executing. Some days you're going to do that and some days you're not. But if you try to go out and 'do better' that's where you find problems."
And now, Flaherty knows what it feels like to be at his best for an extended period of time. His historic run last year landed him fourth in NL Cy Young voting. If he can find the "zone" he described being in in 2019, the rest of the pitchers in National League might as well pack it in and try again next season.
"Just find yourself in the zone as many times as you can. And it felt every time I was on the mound I was in that zone and mental state of mind. It was something I had been searching for for a little bit during the season. And once I found it, it felt like I'd never let go of it," Flaherty said of his second half of 2019.
"And it didn't matter how long in the game I went or what went on, it was like I never lost that focus. I was present in the moment and was just able to stay right there."
If Flaherty does want to rise to that consistent Cy Young level of pitching greatness, he has the right mentors. Fellow Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright has flirted with the Cy Young Award a few times in his career. Flaherty's relationship with MLB legend Bob Gibson is well-documented. And the young ace has been picking the brain of another former Cardinals Cy Young winner this offseason as well. Flaherty has often been compared to Chris Carpenter, and it only makes sense for the two to have formed a connection.
"We talked one time this offseason. He texted me out of the blue and checked up on me. So, I called him and we talked for about 30 or 40 minutes just asking some questions here and there and saw how he was doing," Flaherty said of his conversation with Carpenter. "We have a good relationship. He's been very kind and generous to me when I've got something I want to ask him."
For the fans, it is not fair to place greater expectations on the young starter. He was the best pitcher in baseball the last three months of the season. It is fair to hope he's more consistent all the way throughout. And he'd tell you that's his standard as well.