Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat. Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them. The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable. Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.
Player: Michael Wacha
Season stats: 8-2, 3.20 ERA, 15 G, 84.1 IP, 68 H, 9 HR, 36 BB, 71 K, 4.22 FIP, 1.233 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 0.8 bWAR
Hero/Goat: Hero 4, Goat 3
Overall grade: B
Positives: Posted his lowest ERA since his first full year in the bigs (2014)….took a no-hitter into the ninth against the Pirates….lefties had a .583 OPS against him….had a 3.08 ERA at Busch….batters hit .198 against him in May, when he had a 2.02 ERA….had a 2.20 ERA in his eight wins….batters hit .194 against him when he got two or less runs of support and when he got six or more runs of support….sixth-place hitters had a .495 OPS against him….batters had a .609 OPS when they took the first pitch….if he was ahead in the count, kept hitters to a .350 OPS….batters hit .188 with one out and had a .571 OPS with two outs….allowed a .186 BAA with runners in scoring position….it was a .462 OPS with two outs and RISP….batters hit .208 in low leverage situations….got better as the game went on, allowing a .203 BA the third time through the order and a .153 average on pitches 76-100….had a 1.82 ERA on four days’ rest….Milwaukee went two for 21 against him.
Negatives: Pitched in the fewest games since his debut 2013 season….missed the entire second half with an oblique strain….gave up nine runs in four innings two outings after his no-hit attempt….only went six or more innings in seven of 15 starts….six of his home runs came against righties in roughly the same number of at bats….struck out less than double of the batters he walked….his FIP was over a run higher than his ERA….put up a 12.46 ERA in his two losses (though much of that came in that nine run game)….leadoff batters hit .293 against him….batters had a .798 OPS on the first pitch….hitters put up a .942 OPS when they were ahead in the count….the first batter he faced hit .385….six of the homers he allowed came with nobody out….had a 4.97 ERA in the fifth inning….the Cubs had a 1.207 OPS against him.
Overview: We keep hoping for a year like 2013 or 2014 but there always seems to be something that comes between him and those results. Usually it’s an injury, which happened again in 2018. Before he was hurt, he showed some tantalizing promise that maybe, just maybe, he’d really come into his own. Wacha’s never been a huge strikeout pitcher but he can be very effective at limiting hits, it seems like. It helps to have a good defense against him, of course, but there’s a very good pitcher in there when he can stay healthy. The question is, can he stay healthy enough? This time it wasn’t the shoulder, which is something I guess. In theory he should be able to heal up from that oblique and be ready to go when spring training rolls around. And, if he can stay healthy, he can put up good numbers. If.
Outlook: It’s always been interesting to me that, for the fact that the Cardinals hand out long-term contracts to young players almost like there was a never-ending supply, the club has never committed to Wacha. This is his last arbitration year but they’ve never even offered (at least, not that we are aware of) to buy out any of those years and, in fact, actually went to an arbitration hearing with him, the first one they had gone to since 1999. (Publicly, the Cards stuck to a “we need to occasionally try cases” but that didn’t stop them from extending Carlos Martinez that same season after C-Mart had filed for arbitration.) If Wacha had ended the year healthy, I would almost be tempted to put him down as a surprise trade candidate. He didn’t, of course, and so will likely settle before going to his arb hearing and have one more season in Cardinal red. More than that, I wouldn’t put money on.