In order to fully become a member of the Cicere family, one must be earnest in their steadfast loyalty to the Baltimore Orioles. My dad grew up in Dundalk, spoon fed us kids stories of Cal, 20-game winners and Tippy Martinez's pickoff move, among other things, so O's baseball is a really big deal to us Cicere boys, especially to my little brother and I.
I love the kid, but throughout the years of our diehard fandom, he has a tendency to find a soft spot for players that no one else would ever dream of labeling "my favorite player". For example, in his fledgling days as an Oriole supporter, he would wear his knockoff Jay Gibbons jersey wherever he went for what ended up being a short-lived period of time. Then as little brother Colin grew into his teens, he found safekeeping in rooting exclusively for Brandon Fahey (yes, Brandon Fahey), for a reason my dad and I have yet to understand. We're unsure if the resembling body types of Fahey and Colin were the cause, but either way, you can't take anyone seriously who, at one point in their life, actually looked forward to Fahey at-bats.
Then, in 2012, Ryan Flaherty became of the member of the Orioles, and one swing from Flaherty earned him the dubious honor of being named "Colin's favorite player". I'll walk around the house after a Flaherty strikeout and jokingly say "Dude, he sucks", and Colin will respond with a subtle "Dude, you suck". I've always felt confident in my opinion, as has he, but deep down I've always had a soft spot for the kid from Maine.
Mostly because, at times, Ryan Flaherty has looked like the kind of Dan Duquette obscure pickup that's helped reform a franchise that's remembered how to win (not so much recently, but you get my point). But as much as he's been a plug-and-play utility man that can hit up and down the lineup, there have been plenty of occasions where Flash has raised questions as to why Buck Showalter puts so much faith in the former Rule-5 pick.
For the moment, it seems Colin and Buck are finally reaping the benefits of their long-lived love affair.
Flaherty has always been a scrappy defender that's played fairly solid all around the diamond, but at the plate, his at-bats typically end in one of two ways: a head nod and grin or head drop and sigh. That smooth lefty swing had become so frustrating because it looked so good attacking the baseball, but there were never enough consistent results.
It's unclear as to when the change was made, or when the lightbulb in that Vanderbilt brain of his switched on, but Flaherty has really made an effort to cut down the motion in his swing.
Though there are an abundance of Flaherty strikeouts somewhere on the internet, they weren't easy to find, but our friends at the Baltimore Sports Report had a GIF on file that puts Flash's new mechanics into perspective.
Notice the high leg kick, the loading of the hands, bending at the waist and the violent twisting of the torso. All these facets of the 2013 version of Flaherty really negated him from being a consistent force in the Orioles lineup, or even hitting a 92 MPH fastball right down the middle of the plate. Hitting coaches and even Buck Showalter talk about the being in the "ready position", a reference to a batter's gathering at the plate and being in a position to attack the baseball. Looking at Flaherty from two years ago, you see a player that had too many bad habits that kept him from setting himself up for success.
Hitting is reacting, and it's very hard to react to big-league pitching when you have too many moving parts. Fast forward two years, and the 2015 Ryan Flaherty is a completely different hitter.
Notice anything different? The leg kick is gone, the hands are set in a less dramatic fashion, he's more upward and the explosion of his hips is less profound because he's allowing his hands to offset a less violent swing. This is the Ryan Flaherty we've wanted to see since he first donned the Orioles' uniform. The biggest result of a quieter swing is it allows him to see the ball for a precious split-second longer, because he's in a better attack position compared to years past. The trading in of a leg kick for a slight lift of the front foot keeps his top half balanced, which in turn keeps his head still, giving that smooth swing of his a straighter plane in which to come through the hitting zone.
So far in 2015, Flaherty is slashing .276/.364/.517 in 21 games, an unfortunate catalyst of his time spent on the disabled list with a strained groin muscle. Now, we're likely seeing Flaherty back to full health, giving fans a real opportunity to digest his newfound comfortability at the plate.
In terms of batted ball, Flaherty's hitting the ball to the opposite field at nearly 30%, while his soft-hit percentage of 17.5% is down 3% from his career 20.5% total. Being able to see the baseball just that much longer is allowing Flaherty to react in the proper manner, and in the age of the shift, the ability to sharply navigate the baseball to left field is an example that can be set for the rest of his teammates (yes Crush, please try it a couple times). While the sample size is small, the numbers show progress of a major league hitter making major league adjustments.
Flaherty is a career .224/.289/.378 hitter with a single-season high of 10 HR's, but the smart bet would be on Flash reworking his Fangraphs page with new career-highs in 2015. Yes, the Orioles are struggling to hit in a way that is incomprehensible, but it's nice to know that someone like Flaherty, a player with no previous credibility and someone that Buck has entrusted with a lot of responsibility over the past few seasons, is turning a corner that high-up scouts foresaw.
I showed Colin the big changes in Flaherty's approach at the plate and all he said was "It's time everyone knew he's the best player ever".
His confidence is unwavering.