Michael Wacha is not who you think he is


Ok Cardinals’ fans, this one is going to hurt. Throughout this season, I have been wondering where the 2013 Michael Wacha has gone, and why 2013 Wacha has not reemerged. Today, I am going to tackle why Wacha has been struggling. 

Flashback to 2013 with me for a bit, it was a time when we were discovering that the Cardinals had pitching talent aplenty. They had Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, and the fresh from college Michael Wacha all contributing in some fashion. Wacha challenged to make the club out of camp, but was sent down to minors to get a little more seasoning. 

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Then came May 30th, and Michael Wacha was finally getting his chance. Wacha did not disappoint – he dazzled with that great changeup of his and went seven innings, allowing just two hits, and striking out six Royals’ batters in that major leage debut.

He wound up making two more starts before being sent back down to the minors for a couple of months before coming back up in August to finish the season with the major league club, making the rotation at the beginning of September. Wacha made a total of five regular season starts from September 3rd to September 24th, and he dazzled some more with an ERA of 1.72 and an average of about 8 strikeouts a game.

Wacha then went into the postseason with the Cardinals, where he continued to look like a great pitcher coming into his own. Wacha made five total postseason starts that year and had an ERA of 2.66. He dazzled in the NL portion of the postseason allowing just one run to the Pirates in his NLDS start and no runs to the Dodgers in the NLCS. He then allowed a total of eight earned runs to the Red Sox in two starts (9.2 IP).

Our reaction to Wacha at this point in time was “wow we have a stud pitcher in the making on our hands,” and for good reason — the results were telling us that Wacha was going to be pretty darn good. However, I want to show you something that may scare you just a bit. It has to do with Wacha and his overall ability at this point in his career.

I want you to look at some data here from Fangraphs. Here is a chart from the last game of the regular season in 2013.

Ok, so what we have here is Wacha’s start from September 24, 2013, where he nearly no hit the Washington Nationals. I want to show you something here. Look at all of the fastballs Wacha threw that night (represented by a diamond on the chart) and see how he missed up in the zone and up out of the zone quite a bit and was able to live with it. Now, let’s take a look at a more recent start as in last night’s start against the Cubs. Here is the data from last night via brooksbaseball.net. This chart is a little different than the Fangraphs chart as it has both right handed and left handed hitters on the same chart.

In this chart, the black squares represent fastball. What do we we see here? We see roughly the same thing from 2013; lack of fastball command. His fastballs are up in the zone and he is missing the zone consistently just like 2013. Wacha is struggling with something that no amount of rest can change. This is why we are seeing 2015 Wacha give up bombs and walks like they’re free candy.

As a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball, you can not live up in the zone and not get hammered eventually. One of the things Wacha has going for him is velocity, Wacha has consistently averaged 95+ on his fastball throughout his brief career. With that velocity, the inexperience hitters had on him, and his plus changeup – it’s easy to see why hitters struggled with him at first.

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However, now that Wacha is in his third year as a pitcher in the National Legaue. Hitters are figuring out that they can let the changeup go for the most part and get Wacha to throw his fastball, which he cannot command. This is very alarming, because all of a sudden Michael Wacha is not who we thought he was.

You may be saying, “wait a minute Wacha won 17 games and had an ERA of 3.38 on the year. He has to be a good pitcher to do that.”

The great thing about baseball is that there are multiple stats that show us the real picture to how a player is performing. Let me show you a few statistics that do just that.

Michael Wacha finished the year with a below average .276 BABIP against him, meaning that hitters are a little unlucky against him. Also, according to Fangraphs, Wacha’s SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), and his xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching) are all higher than his ERA and have been for each year he’s been in the league (with exception to his FIP last season).

All of these numbers show us that Wacha has been an extremely lucky pitcher these past three seasons and that he is probably not as good as we thought he was. This is a very hard thing to admit, I was hoping that Wacha was going to be the stud pitcher that we thought he was in 2013 and it turns out that he is the same pitcher from 2013, just with different results.

What are your thoughts on Wacha?