Buehler v. Flaherty: Who Is MLB's Pitcher of the Future?

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You're building the top baseball team you can for the 2020s. You want the best players. The ones that can carry you through a grueling season and to great heights in October. But your rotation must be anchored by one of two young aces: Walker Buehler of the Dodgers or Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals.

Who's the better bet? SI's MLB staff weighs in.

Tom Verducci: Walker Buehler

This is a great debate because Buehler and Flaherty are the successors to Verlander and Scherzer. Great starting pitching may be dying, but these two highly-competitive guys are the torch bearers for their generation. It’s also a great debate because the difference is razor thin. 

You may give Flaherty the 10-year edge because he has the bigger frame, has not had Tommy John surgery and, as a very good shortstop, did not pitch exclusively as an amateur. But I’ll go with Buehler because he has been the slightly better pitcher, has slightly better command and has off-the-charts velocity and spin rates that give him multiple ways to beat hitters. He also may be the strongest player on the Dodgers pound-for-pound and burns to be great, not just good.

Stephanie Apstein: Jack Flaherty

This is close. Flaherty has never suffered a serious injury, whereas Buehler has had one Tommy John surgery and two major league IL stints (rib microfractures). Flaherty has also been more durable and less hittable since they both debuted in 2017: 368 2/3 innings and a .200 opponents' batting average for Flaherty, 329 and .213 for Buehler. I would want Buehler on the mound in a playoff game–his stuff is electric and he always seems ready for the moment–but if I'm anchoring a rotation, I want the guy who will get me to October.

Emma Baccellieri: Jack Flaherty

It's truly a toss-up, but I'll go with Flaherty. Even if you assume that his incredible second half from last season cannot be indicative of what he does next, it was still one of the best in recent memory, no matter what metric you want to evaluate it by. And so much of what was behind that stellar performance—getting hitters to chase more often, relying more on his slider, generating more grounders—shows a specific path forward that bodes well for the future.

Inside the Rangers: What if the Dodgers traded Buehler for Yu Darvish?

Connor Grossman: Walker Buehler

Is any crystal ball more fun (read: dangerous) to look into than baseball's? Both Buehler and Flaherty have all the trappings of pitchers that will lead the sport through the 2020s. I'm siding with the Dodgers' righty because of his wide-ranging arsenal and velocity (which jumped across his pitches from 2018 to '19). Unrelated to the Buehler v. Flaherty debate, but the Dodgers' rich mine of talent will ensure Buehler continues to get reps on the sport's biggest stage for years to come. That can add to a player's legend as much, if not more, than talent. 

A year from now, though, the Buehler believers in this space could look foolish. Or brilliant. Long live the crystal ball.

Matt Martell: Jack Flaherty

A few weeks back when we picked our ideal rotation, I was the only one to pick Jack Flaherty. His absurd second-half performance last season carried the Cardinals to the NL Central title. In his final 15 starts, he went 7-2 with a 0.91 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP and 124 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings. Buehler was the fourth starter in my rotation, slotted just behind Flaherty, because there is perhaps no young pitcher more electric than him. He has three elite pitches—four-seamer, slider and curveball—and has not yet hit his prime. Still, if I'm picking one pitcher to anchor my staff for the next decade, I'm choosing Flaherty because he's the one who has already done it.

Michael Shapiro: Walker Buehler

It's hard to go wrong here with two of the game's top young arms, but I'll side with Buehler due to his dominance with his fastball. L.A.'s ace averaged 96.5 mph on his heater last year–good for fifth in the Majors among starters–pairing both a two-seam and four-seam fastball with a quality curveball and confounding slider. Buehler also proved his mettle on the biggest stage, tossing seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. Flaherty has the superior breaking ball, and his 0.97 WHIP last season is patently absurd. But in a game now built on power arms, give me the next great Dodgers starter.