The Cardinals Biggest X-Factor for the 2023 season

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Jack Flaherty has shown he can be historically dominant

I know, we have all heard the narrative that "if Jack can recapture his 2019 form...". In all honesty though, we need to remember the guy is 27-years old, and still has the tools to be an ace for years to come.

In 2019, Flaherty went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA and 231 SO in 196.1 innings of work. At just 24-years old, he had one of the best second half performances in MLB history, with a 0.91 ERA and .142 OPP BA as St. Louis made a postseason push. This performance was more than just a lucky half of baseball. Flaherty began to throw his sinker and slider more a lessen his fastball usage a bit, something that many of the game's top pitchers have now done as well.

Flaherty figured something out during the 2nd half of 2019 that launched him into an elite category in today's game, and is why he finished 4th in Cy Young voting that year. If it were not for injuries over the last few seasons, we likely would have seem him build upon his new found success and confidence.

Evidence of this can be found in Flaherty's 2021 performance, where he was 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA over 78.1 innings before an oblique strain hampered the rest of his season. In the 62 innings before he really began struggling with that injury, his ERA was sub 3.00 and he looked like the dominant self he was just two seasons prior.

Upon his return in 2022, Flaherty strung together five straight starts of five or more innings. In two of those starts, he only allowed 1 run, and two others he gave up just 3 runs, including a big start against the San Diego Padres. If you spend some time watching some of those starts down the stretch, you'll leave encouraged that an off-season of training will lead to an epic return for Flaherty, barring injury.

That's the thing with today's pitchers. Many of them come with that tag line "barring injury". Cardinals fans, and even myself, can get frustrated about Flaherty's health, but in all reality, he's proven he can handle a starters workload in a way many young starters have not. Not only did Flaherty almost hit 200 innings in his elite 2019 season, but he also threw 151 innings in his rookie season and was well on his way to another 180-200 inning season in 2021.

In the near future, I'll address why I think the Cardinals should look to extend Flaherty, which may come as a surprise to many. But for a team that likes to lock up their own guys, especially at good values, extending Flaherty before the 2023 season could net the Cardinals a front-line starter for 2024 and beyond on a contract that would be signifcantly cheaper than what he would get on the open market.

Regardless of what the Cardinals decide to do with Flaherty's future, here is why his return to form in 2023 will make or break the Cardinals chances of a legitament run in the National League.