Ever since it became known that the Cardinals intended to promote lefty pitcher Tyler Lyons to St. Louis to start in place of the injured Jaime Garcia, Cardinal Nation has been abuzz with speculation and consternation over the choice. Many believed uber prospect Michael Wacha deserved the promotion and have questioned the decision, including members of the media. Though GM John Mozeliak offered an explanation for the choice, there is still much dissatisfaction. Well, you can count me among the few who believe the choice was the right one.
Michael Wacha is one of the best young arms to come the Cardinals way since, well, Shelby Miller. It is natural for fans to be excited over the prospect of Wacha being part of the big club. But Wacha is barely one year away from playing college ball, and is still developing into a major leaguer. The point of the minor leagues is to give young players the time and the tools to make a successful transition from high school or college ball into the big time of professional baseball. The success of that transition is the key to whether a young pitcher becomes a Justin Verlander or a Dontrelle Willis.
Many are pointing to the difference in the pitching numbers of Lyons and Wacha in the debate as to which deserved the promotion. Lyons sports a record of 2-1 and an ERA of 4.47 in 46.1 innings pitched at Memphis. Wacha is 4-0 with a ERA of 2.05 in 52.2 innings pitched there. Those who support bringing up Wacha over Lyons stop there. How could those numbers support promoting Lyons over Wacha? But let’s probe a little deeper, shall we?
Lyons has a FIP of 3.31 and a BABIP against of .366. Wacha has a FIP of 4.00 and a BABIP against of an astounding .197. What do those numbers tell us? For both pitchers, those numbers tell us that those ERAs are deceptive. The good FIP and very high BABIP of Lyons suggests that hitters against him are benefiting somewhat from good luck and sub par defense. The high FIP and very low BABIP of Wacha suggests the opposite for him. That is not to say the skill of each pitcher is not also contributing, it very likely is. But those numbers call in to question the wisdom of relying on the ERAs as the be all and end all of the debate. It is just not as black and white as it seems.
We all have heard the idea that economics played a part in the decision. Delaying Wacha’s MLB debut extends the team’s control over him. And why should this not play a part in the decision? Baseball is, after all, a business. It would be rather naive to be shocked that money is a consideration, don’t you think? But, giving the Cardinals the benefit of the doubt, I believe a desire to protect Wacha was a more pressing consideration. Given the hinkiness of Wacha’s numbers, his limited time in the minors and the fact that a call up for Wacha could be short term I believe were more of a factor in keeping him at Memphis a while longer. It can’t hurt him, it can only help. His time will come soon enough.
As for disappointed fans, think of it this way. Isn’t it better to delay wearing out that new toy? Keeping it bright and shiny for longer may hurt in the short term, but the long term benefits are much more satisfying.