Tempering Wacha Expectations

You’ve probably never heard of, much less read, a book called Seasons in Hell by Mike Shropshire.  It details some of the crazy events surrounding the 1973-1975 Texas Rangers.  When it was published in 1996, Sports Illustrated ran a story comprised of snippets from the book. I found that article hilarious, and subsequently bought the book. But I’m not going to Clown College.

Anyway, one of the central figures in the book is Whitey Herzog, then in his first Major League managing stint.  The Rangers were terrible, and losing money, but there was an 18-year old Houston-area high school pitcher/phenom named David Clyde, and Texas had the first pick in the 1973 amateur draft.  Guess who the Rangers picked.  They then rushed Clyde to the majors, amid a media blitz and significantly stronger ticket sales.

Clyde actually performed pretty well in his first two starts, but then the wheels came off.  You can see from his career stats he never fulfilled the potential he had, mostly due to injury.  Not really his fault, the Rangers had no business rushing him up to the big club that quickly.  It was a different time.

This post is not going to draw some sort of half-assed parallel between Clyde, his career arc, and current Cardinal post-season phenom Michael Wacha. For starters, Wacha is 22, went to college, and has been seasoned in the minors.  The Cardinals have carefully guarded their future ace.  However – or as my New England friends would say, how-EVAH – he’s thrown less than 100 innings at the Major League level (95 1/3 to be exact).  A third of those came in the post-season.  He’s barely scratched the surface of what it means, physically and mentally, to pitch every fifth game against Major League hitters.

Given the high investment teams make in young pitching, and key to success those young men hold to a franchise’s near-term/long-term success, it’s entirely reasonable to expect St Louis will have Wacha on an innings limit in 2014.  They did it with Michael last season, setting an organizational limit for his time in the minors and majors.  They also did it with Shelby Miller, who spent the entire season in the rotation.

It’s also entirely reasonable to expect some regression from Wacha.  He had the advantage of not being seen much, and so not creating much videotape, of his stuff vs ML hitters heading into the playoffs.  That won’t be the case now.  I suspect every NL team has cut video of his 95 1/3 innings ready for their hitters to look over once the real games start.  His delivery has been analyzed and his spin and location patterns reviewed. It’s not going to be so easy this season.

While Michael will be a key part of the St Louis rotation, he’s not going to go out and throw a 1-hitter every start.  He’s going to get hit, and he’s going to have to pitch.  Expecting him to be lights out, like he was for 5 consecutive starts in October, is asking too much.

Michael Wacha is very, very good.  If he turns out to be a little more 2013 Stephen Strasburg and a lot less 1968 Bob Gibson that’s OK.

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    Yeah, Wacha is likely a #2 or #3 starter long term (which is still really good) and this will be his first full ML season. We’ll see how it goes but people should temper expectations. Appreciate the great article.

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