Exit Interview: Michael Wacha

For the fourth straight year, we’re taking some time in that time between the end of the season and the winter meetings to discuss each player that made an appearance on the St. Louis roster this season.  Whether they played almost every day or never actually got into a game, they get covered in this series.  All stats are exclusively their time in St. Louis.  Just think of this as them stopping by Mike Matheny‘s office for a quick evaluation before heading home for the winter.

Player: Michael Wacha

Season stats: 17-7, 3.38 ERA, 30 games, 181.1 IP, 162 H, 19 HR, 58 BB, 153 K, 1.213 WHIP, 3.87 FIP, 3.0 bWAR

Hero/Goat: Hero 5, Goat 4

Overall grade: B

Positives: Pitched his first full MLB season, making 30 starts….lefties were kept to a .215 average against him….had 10 wins and a 2.93 ERA at the All-Star Break, getting him his first All-Star selection….started the season strong, going 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA in April….for all the worry about his second half, went 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in August….batters hit just .208 with runners in scoring position….limited hitters to a .579 OPS in high-leverage situations….went 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA against the Cincinnati Reds.

Negatives: Looked terrible down the stretch, posting a 7.88 ERA in five September starts….struggled in his postseason start as well, giving up four runs in less than five innings….batters had a .962 OPS against him in September, basically 300 points higher than any other month during the season….his K/BB ratio slipped under 2 for the second half of the season….besides his bad September, also had a 4.06 ERA in July….had an ERA of almost 8 in his seven losses.

Overview: Tired or injured?  That’s the question that seems to hover around Michael Wacha during the offseason.  There’s no doubt that he wasn’t the Wacha we’re used as the season came to a close and didn’t even approach his 2013 postseason heroics when it came to October.  It’s reasonably possible that fatigues was a large part of the equation.  After all, he’d threw more innings than the last two years (in the majors) combined.  Even when you look at 2012 and the minor league innings, this year’s burden was much more than he’d ever dealt with before.

With the stress reaction from last year, though, it makes you worried that there is more to it than just being tired.  Is something affecting his mechanics?  Is there still some residual effects from that reaction?  Or is it just an issue of not being able to fool folks with the changeup as much?  I’d think if that was the case that we’d have seen some of that reflected earlier in the year.  As he got tired and didn’t have the command later on, it made it easier for hitters to lay off of the pitch and wait for the fastball.  That’s fatigue, though, not injury.  We hope.

Outlook: Assuming that he is just worn out, I expect there will be some more conditioning going on this year with the expectation that he will be strong as the season winds down in 2016.  With Lance Lynn now out, they’ll need Wacha to step into the gap, even if they play the free agent market.  We know that Wacha can do that and there’s no real reason right now (barring some injury we don’t know about) to think he can’t be right there at the front of the rotation again next season.

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