The last couple of years, I spent the time immediately after the season examining each player that had made an appearance in St. Louis during the season. This series was well received and so I’m bringing this idea back for the 2014 offseason. More summaries than anything, I imagine the player coming into Mike Matheny‘s office and having a short conference before heading home for the winter. Stats are just the ones accumulated for the Cardinals during the regular season.
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Player: Michael Wacha
Season stats: 5-6, 3.20 ERA, 19 games, 107 IP, 95 H, 33 BB, 94 K, 1.196 WHIP, 115 ERA+
Hero/Goat: Hero 4, Goat 1
Overall grade: A-
Positives: Proved that 2013 was no fluke by putting up some outstanding numbers when healthy….had a 2.45 ERA in the first two months of the season….allowed only three extra-base hits (all doubles) in 106 high-leverage plate appearances….limited batters leading off an inning to a .176 BA.
Negatives: Missed from June 17 to September 4 with a stress reaction in his shoulder….wasn’t the same after he returned, putting up a 5.40 ERA and only once getting through the fifth inning….pitched only a fraction of an inning in the postseason–unfortunately, it was the last fraction of an inning of the Cardinals’ season, as he allowed a three-run homer to Travis Ishikawa to end the NLCS.
Overview: There are a lot of clouds surrounding Wacha right now. Obviously, the talent is there. When someone is as dominant as he was in 2013, especially the postseason, you wonder if it as a fluke or if batters will adjust to him and he’ll be a flash in the pan. Wacha emphatically answered that he was no one-hit wonder with his first couple of months. So, if he’s healthy, he should be a significant asset for the Cardinals, a #1 on some teams, a #3 here.
The problem is, “if healthy” carries a lot of import and there’s no guarantees that’s an accurate statement. Stress reactions aren’t common in baseball–Brandon McCarthy has had it, but that’s one of the few that you can look at. McCarthy’s been able to pitch, but he’s also missed time more than once with the reaction. How will this affect Wacha, either mentally or physically? Will he have to go away from his devastating changeup? Can he find a way to pitch that doesn’t aggravate the reaction? Lots of ifs with a guy that is so talented, which is not exactly what you want to see. If you want to put some logs on the hot stove fire, start speculating about what Wacha will do in 2015.
Outlook: Assuming health, which seems a fair assumption given an offseason of rest, Wacha will slide right into the middle of the rotation. How long he’ll be there, though, is the question. While we hope that this doesn’t turn out to be a Jaime Garcia situation, that he’ll be fine and pitching all year long, there’s going to be a lot of breath-holding every time he struggles next season.