St. Louis Cardinals Rotation: Michael Wacha


Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t too long ago when right-hander Michael Wacha was thought by many observers to be the next St. Louis Cardinals ace. Now? We’re not so sure.

Michael Wacha, of course, was a compensation pick the St. Louis Cardinals got for losing first baseman Albert Pujols to free agency. The organization wasn’t shy about pushing the right-hander, either. Following his stint at Texas A&M, Wacha found himself at high-A Palm Beach. Two years later, he was in the big leagues to stay.

Sort of.

In 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals were completely perplexed by a shoulder injury, diagnosed as a scapular stress fracture, which limited him to just 19 starts. Wacha bounced back last season to make 30 starts for the St. Louis Cardinals, but neither the team nor Wacha are out of the woods yet.

This is what Baseball Prospectus wrote about Wacha’s scapular stress fracture entering last season.

"Brandon McCarthy has suffered recurrent stress reactions over the years and there’s no way of knowing whether Wacha will suffer many, few or none going forward. Of course, the same can be said about any other complaint, but this just adds to the always-present injury risk inherent in throwing a baseball 95 miles per hour."

Meanwhile, Wacha’s performance last year was kind of a mixed bag. He averaged more walks and homers per nine innings than his previous two seasons, but again, this was the first time he lasted the whole season. More concerning, maybe, was his strikeouts-per-nine rate, which has inched up slightly in each of his three big league seasons.

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This all feels knit-picky, though. The thing that may help Wacha break through to be the pitcher the St. Louis Cardinals thought they’d drafted is better pitch diversity. He throws that mid-90s four-seamer of his his nearly 60% of the time. He offsets that with his changeup, which he throws less than 20% of the time.

Perhaps mixing in his other two pitches — his curve (11%) and cutter (less than 10%) — more often will help him get over the hump in 2016. Or maybe, just maybe, having another year under his belt is all Wacha needed to be better than about any free agent starter the St. Louis Cardinals could have signed this winter.

Next: St. Louis Cardinals Rotation: Adam Wainwright

I can’t tell you how often a pitching coach or minor league pitching coordinator or farm director has told me that all this pitcher or that pitcher needs is time. Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes. Maybe it’ll help Michael Wacha and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016.