St. Louis Cardinals: Papa Michael Wacha is an unlikely ace

SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 12: Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on May 12, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 12: Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on May 12, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

With injuries affecting the starting rotation of the St. Louis Cardinals, a surprising ace has risen to the top.

Michael Wacha was a one-time, postseason MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 2000s. Then he became a mediocre pitcher. So much so that I argued for him to be traded this offseason and/or as this season’s trade deadline approaches.

I am gladly eating crow to date this season on my requests regarding Michael Wacha. At this point, I hope the St. Louis Cardinals hold onto this gem unless a major offer arrives (think: Manny Machado).

Why? Wacha is pitching below his usual numbers. A career 3.74 ERA pitcher is now pitching a 2.71 ERA so far this season. And today’s game isn’t even considered in that number.

Today, through eight innings (as of the time of this writing), Wacha has yet to allow a run (or hit) to the Pirates. His stuff looks good and even the one inning that gave him some walk problems had him slamming the door shut with his material. The St. Louis Cardinals have a gem on their hands. Period.

And to his credit, as well, Wacha appears to be getting stronger as the season progresses. In his first appearance in 2018, Wacha pitched only 4.2 innings allowing four earned runs on five hits. This was the Wacha that I worried about.

Since that first game, Wacha has yet to allow anymore than two runs in a game except for the one outlier on April 12 when he faced the Reds and allowed three runs.

Here’s a look at his game log for this season:

2018 Pitching Game Log
11222Mar 31STL@NYML,2-6GS-5L(0-1)994.254422217.712295521736117003800019200000.69-0.212-1.731.708.001b start tie5b 1– 2 out d3
21238Apr 7STLARIW,5-3GS-5W(1-1)65.042255005.592389481478520051000171001001.240.0270.5315.8536.001t start tie5t 3 out a3
312413Apr 12STL@CINW,13-4GS-5W(2-1)45.054335005.5223935718117861045100201000001.35-0.167-1.4214.4533.001b start a 25b 3 out tie
412519Apr 20STLCINW,4-2GS-7W(3-1)76.261113004.2225926016810115106000023000110.830.2172.1118.8038.001t start tie7t 12- 2 out a3
512623Apr 25STLNYMW,9-1GS-6W(4-1)46.051118003.622498641517698006500023000000.900.1102.0427.9051.001t start tie6t 3 out a8
612728May 1STLCHWW,3-2GS-555.052233003.6223965411761152049200201000001.190.0130.538.4518.001t start tie5t 3 out d1
712832May 6STLCHCW,4-3GS-645.162135103.3523965918126931052000191001101.000.0060.3614.6028.001t start tie6t -2- 1 out d1
812937May 12STL@SDPL,1-2GS-656.031115003.09228952168884106610021000000.920.1921.9119.1030.001b start tie6b 3 out tie
913042May 18STLPHIW,12-4GS-6W(5-1)56.052228003.0825101651511873206000023100000.780.1701.0425.3048.001t start tie6t 3 out a4
1013147May 23STLKCRL,2-5GS-746.242106102.88241027015147116206600022000010.960.1401.3122.6035.001t start tie7t 1– 2 out tie
1113252May 29STL@MILW,6-1GS-7W(6-1)56.221143002.7126102601871096006500021000101.630.2153.1419.4038.001b start tie7b 1-3 2 out a5

Notice the growing innings and Wacha’s ability to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. Also notice the number of strikeouts; while not the stuff of an ace, his material is more important than the K-count.

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Here’s the skinny on that: Wacha has mastered his off-speed material this season. In the past, Wacha battled injuries that seemed to make his offspeed pitches weak and thus he relied more heavily on his fastball to detrimental outcomes.

Through 2017, Wacha used his fastball in the neighborhood of 52-65 percent of the time. In 2018, this number has dropped to a percentage of 44.7.

Additionally, through 2017, Wacha relied on his curveball in the neighborhood of 5-11 percent of the time. 2018 is seeing a percentage of 15.5.

Staying with the offspeed material, Wacha pitched his changeup in the neighborhood of 16-27 percent of the time through 2017. This season he is relying on the changeup 21.9 percent of the time.

The reliance now on the offspeed material is what is making him so deadly. Not for strikeouts but for fooling batters into soft contact that leads to easy(ier) outs. So while not necessarily an ace, Wacha has been precisely what the St. Louis Cardinals have needed.

Next: The shift hurts

As of the time of publishing, Wacha is around 95 pitches and has one of those things going that I won’t jinx. At the same time, I refuse to turn the tv off or walk away. Stay tuned. Go St. Louis Cardinals!