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Wacha Proves He Can Shoulder Starter’s Workload

Many fans this year have discussed the idea of moving Michael Wacha to the bullpen. I’ve been one of them myself. It seemed to make sense. His velocity has been up and he typically fades down the stretch due to his bouts with shoulder issues. Fortunately for the St. Louis Cardinals, Wacha is showing us in 2017 that he can handle an entire season in the rotation.

Wacha is up to 159.2 innings pitched for the season, his most since throwing 181.1 innings in 2015. The problem with his 2015 season was that he faded really badly down the stretch. After posting a 2.93 ERA in the first half his velocity dropped off and he struggled, resulting in a 4.01 second half ERA. Simply looking at it as two halves doesn’t tell the whole story though. It was September where he completely fell apart to the tune of a 7.88 ERA.

This is something that he’s fought with his entire career. He has a 3.59 first half ERA and a 4.16 second half ERA with a career Sept/Oct ERA of 5.05. Wacha seems to have righted the ship this season though as he’s actually improved in the second half and is pitching strong, deep into September. He had a 4.10 ERA in the first half and is now at 3.89 in the second half.

What led to this?

There was quite a bit of talk this offseason about Wacha trying out a new workout regimen to strengthen the shoulder and all of the muscles around it. It was said to be recommended by Brandon McCarthy’s trainer, who had dealt with a very similar injury before. My Redbird Daily colleague Rusty Groppel wrote about this exact thing back in March. So far, it looks like a success. What has me more excited about Wacha than anything is the fact that this has all led to increased velocity, which has sustained late into the season.

Wacha Seasonal Velocity

Year Fourseam Sinker Change Curve Cutter
2013 94.20 0.00 86.58 76.27 89.02
2014 94.15 95.12 86.88 75.40 90.53
2015 95.01 0.00 87.29 76.64 90.13
2016 93.88 0.00 85.51 74.95 90.74
2017 95.61 94.28 88.30 77.10 91.25

This data from Brooksbaseball.net shows Wacha’s increase in velocity across the board this season. Which is great to see. Looking beyond that though, we can break the 2017 season down by month to prove that his velocity is keeping up throughout the entire season.

Wacha 2017 by Month

Month Fourseam Sinker Change Curve Cutter
4/17 95.80 94.28 88.97 76.15 92.05
5/17 95.25 0.00 88.57 76.53 91.26
6/17 95.28 0.00 87.98 77.02 90.90
7/17 95.61 0.00 87.82 77.21 91.22
8/17 95.88 0.00 88.49 78.25 91.48
9/17 95.89 0.00 87.93 76.88 90.57

When looking at this you won’t see much variance from top to bottom. But his fastball velocity has actually been at it’s highest of the entire season this month. Sure it’s only by 0.01, but it’s still nice to see that he not only has held up throughout the entire year, but has been getting stronger since July.

Conclusion

While Wacha’s 2013 season where he busted onto the scene and looked like a budding ace is unfortunately a clear outlier in his career, he’s showing that he can be a very useful starting pitcher. For the year he’s at 159.2 IP with a 4.00 ERA and a 3.63 FIP. His 8.46 K/9 is his highest strikeout rate since that 2013 season. He is also at 3.1 fWAR, which is his highest total for his career. A 3 WAR pitcher is basically what Lance Lynn has been for the Cardinals every season before this one. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Wacha now that he’s gotten through a season healthy.

His future could be very bright.

Thanks for reading

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