When we take a peek at the MLB leaderboards at any time during the year, it’s easy to gravitate towards the names we’re most familiar with. Plus, it’s hard to look past guys like Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and others after getting a glimpse of the ridiculous things they’ve been doing on the mound.
One of the most interesting things about baseball, though, is that any hurler can get hot and unexpectedly find themselves on a leaderboard or two. Now that we’re more than a month removed from the 2019 All-Star Game and the second half is officially rolling, there are quite a few pitchers performing well so far — they’re just not the guys who normally grab a ton of headlines along the way. And, even though we might upset a few New York fans, we’re going to steer clear of listing some of the obvious. If you’d like to get stats and odds on those guys, check out New York sportsbooks.
That’s why we’re here, though — to shed some light on those who are getting great results and deserve a little credit for it. The following six hurlers have been performing well enough to be rubbing elbows with some of baseball’s biggest names since the second half began.
Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
An intriguing young arm in the Cardinals rotation, Flaherty was anticipated to take a step forward after posting a 2.4-fWAR campaign in 151 innings last season. His overall statistics in 2019 are on track to do that (2.3 fWAR in 128.1 innings), but it wasn’t without some major first-half issues.
In the 97 innings he accumulated prior to the All-Star break, Flaherty struggled to a 4.64 ERA, 1.86 homers allowed per nine innings (20 total), and a .313 wOBA against. However, in his most recent 31.1 innings (prior to Tuesday’s start), those numbers have improved to 0.86, 0.29 (1), .202, respectively.
He’s managed to improve his WHIP by 0.50 while watching his strikeout-to-walk ratio climb from 18.5% to 28.6%. Flaherty also traded surrendering line drives for more ground balls, but his hard-hit rate allowed is still up over 40.0%.
The right-hander has used his slider slightly more often, but the value of that offering has gone up exponentially. After being valued at -0.15 per 100 pitches in the first half, it’s all the way up at 4.43 per 100 pitches since the midsummer classic.
Reynaldo Lopez, Chicago White Sox
It’s been two different seasons in one upon looking at Reynaldo Lopez’s splits. Entering the All-Star break, the 25-year-old owned a 6.34 ERA and 1.58 WHIP through 98 innings. In the 38 frames that have followed the midsummer classic, those numbers are down to 2.13 and 1.21, respectively. Opposing hitters have watched their wOBA against Lopez drop more than 100 points in the process, too (.376 to .270).
There’s been a clear change in his batted-ball profile, as Lopez is allowing hard contact at just a 28.3% clip (37.8% in first half). That’s helped offset the fact that his line-drive rate allowed has risen from 19.9% to 25.7%, but he’s also seen a six-percentage-point rise in ground-ball rate.
When looking at his pitch value per 100 pitches (via FanGraphs), all four of Lopez’s offerings have improved from the first to the second half of play. This has been helped by significantly decreasing his changeup usage, a pitch that opposing hitters have recorded a 162 wRC+ against this year. His usage of the changeup has gone down about 10 percentage points, with the difference mostly going to his slider (17.6% in first half, 24.8% in second half).
That pitch has produced a 96 opponent wRC+ in 2019, tied with his curveball for the lowest of all offerings in his arsenal.
Cal Quantrill, San Diego Padres
Most of the rookie spotlight in San Diego belongs to Fernando Tatis Jr., and honestly, everybody can understand why. Especially when he makes ridiculous plays like the one he did on Monday night.
But you know what? Cal Quantrill has put together a nice little campaign of his own, even though it won’t make any waves in the National League Rookie of the Year race. Through 16 appearances (11 starts), the right-hander has posted a 5-3 record with a 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 19.7% strikeout rate, 6.2% walk rate, and 1.0 fWAR while tossing 70 innings.
His 4.55 SIERA shows a bit of concern, which makes sense because he’s allowed hard contact at a 39.8% rate to go along with a 20.8% line-drive rate and just a .266 BABIP.
This solid rookie campaign has been made possible by a ridiculously effective second half, which includes a 0.93 ERA and .207 wOBA against in 29 innings. Although his strikeout rate has gone down a couple percentage points, he’s paired it with improved control — his walk rate has gone from 7.3% in the first half to 4.5% in the second half. However, both his hard-hit rate allowed (40.5%) and fly-ball rate allowed (37.8%) have increased in the second half, but his homers allowed per fly ball rate has dropped from 17.9% to 3.2%.
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs
It feels weird putting Yu Darvish on this list, but he’s struggled so much that it seems as if what he’s been doing since the All-Star break has actually gone under the radar a bit.
While one would think it’s difficult to have just a 4-6 record through 24 starts and 132 innings, that’s exactly where the right-hander stands at the moment. His 4.43 season-long ERA doesn’t look all that wonderful, but it could’ve been a lot worse after the kind of first half he had.
Through his first 97 innings, Darvish struggled to a 5.01 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Since returning from the All-Star break, those numbers have dropped dramatically to 2.83 and 0.77, respectively, in 35 frames. A huge change has come in his strikeout and walk rates. Darvish is whiffing 35.1% of hitters in the second half after posting just a 26.5% clip in the first half. What’s more dramatic of a change is his walk rate: after allowing 11.7% of hitters to reach via the free pass prior to the midsummer classic, that number is all the way down to 1.5% (!) at the moment.
He’s accomplished this by getting ahead in the count much more often. His first-pitch strike rate has risen more than eight percentage points in the second half to 67.9%. That’s been paired with a rise of about nine percentage points in chase rate, bringing that number to 39.3% at the moment.
This is the pitcher the Cubs were hoping they acquired two winters again when Darvish signed a six-year, $126 million contract.