Michael Wacha and Solo Home Run Situations
Michael Wacha was placed on the Disabled List on Sunday, leaving three Cardinals starters on the shelf. Wacha used a stellar 2013 playoff run to catapult himself into the conversation for best young starting pitchers in baseball. As a result, fantasy owners expected the lanky right-hander was in for a big 2014 campaign. Instead, Wacha’s season is on hold, joining another young gun figured to build on a strong 2013 debut, Gerrit Cole. We already examined Cole’s Solo Home Run Situations. Does Wacha follow the same pattern?
Michael Wacha was one of the initial names mentioned when Mike Newman and I first discussed Solo Home Run situations. Our conversation about the added stresses of close ballgames led to breakdowns of the UCL injuries to Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Patrick Corbin, and Martin Perez. However, the goal was eventually take a look at healthy pitchers — especially younger players adjusting to the grind of a Major League season like Wacha, Zack Wheeler, and Cole.
Cole was the first non-TJ pitcher examined, but not until he hit the disabled list. Red flags were raised when the Pirates announced the former #1 pick had shoulder fatigue, but thankfully Cole is expected to return on June 28th. Still the result was telling: Cole saw his Solo Home Run rate jump nearly 30% between this season and last, from 56.5 to 84.3%.
Michael Wacha demonstrates a similar jump in Solo Home Run rate and we weren’t able to do the research before he hit the shelf either. In his career, he’s thrown 65.4% of his total innings in one-run leads or deficits, or tied. However, like Cole, Wacha’s splits are worth showing:
2013: 64.2 IP overall, 32.1 IP +/- 1 run (50.0%)
2014: 90.1 IP overall, 69 IP +/- 1 run (76.4%)
Career: 155.0 IP overall, 101.1 IP +/- 1 run (65.4%)
Wacha’s Solo Home Run rate jumped over 25% this year. Additionally, as shown with the other pitchers in the study, Wacha threw with a three-run lead only 15.1 (9.9%) of his 155 total innings. With more tight ballgames in 2014, the rate has dropped to 7.0%. Like the Pirates with Cole, the Cardinals relied on their young pitcher to throw deep into tough games and he’s delivered. But at what cost?
Is There Reason to Worry About Michael Wacha as a Fantasy Pitcher?
The short answer? No. His fastball velocity sits near 94 MPH, but with minimal effort. He’s averaging approximately 93 pitches per start due to a walk rate at 2.59 BB/9. He pitches off the change-up, using the fastball and change-up nearly 80% of the time. Though he’s using a cutter more this season, the arsenal points to a durable profile. Wacha slots in nicely behind staff ace Adam Wainwright as a top flight second starter — especially given Shelby Miller’s issues this season.
The Cardinals ranked in the top-5 in runs scored each of the last three seasons, but currently rank 27th in baseball. Clearly, one benefit to scoring more runs is less pressure on starting pitchers to be perfect out on the mound. With two bad offenses in Miami and New York losing Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey, it’s possible the physical and mental stresses of keeping your team in the game every time out are affecting Wacha (and Cole) this year.
Going forward, it’s reasonable to expect the Cardinals’ offense to rebound. Super prospect Oscar Taveras [FULL SCOUTING REPORT] has already debuted. Fellow outfielders Randal Grichuk [FULL SCOUTING REPORT] and Stephen Piscotty are on the cusp of contributing as well. Allen Craig is better than he’s performed too. Scoring more runs isn’t a cure all, but a more familiar St. Louis offense will play a role in keeping Michael Wacha healthy.
24 Jun 2014 / Ben Flajole / 2
Categories: MLB Analysis
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