Exit Interview: Michael Wacha

For the fifth 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.

This year’s Exit Interview series is “being brought to you by” some of the various Cardinal podcasts that are out there for your listening pleasure.  Our focus this time is STL CardGals.  Laura and Holly recap most every series and usually bring a very positive approach to whatever is going on with the Birds.  Find them on iTunes and check out their website for some totally biased baseball.

Player: Michael Wacha

Season stats: 7-7, 5.09 ERA, 27 games, 138 IP, 159 H, 45 BB, 114 K, 1.478 WHIP, 3.91 FIP, -0.4 bWAR

Hero/Goat: Hero 2, Goat 5

Overall grade: C-

Positives: Left-handed batters hit .264 against him….limited hitters to a .246 average and a .707 OPS on the road….gave up a .751 OPS in the first half….didn’t lose a game in the second half….had a strong June, with a 3.34 ERA and a .227 BAA….batters hit .204 with a full count on them and just .196 when they had two strikes….batters had a .731 OPS when the bases were empty….in 16 late and close PA, batters hit .133/.188/.133….allowed a .699 OPS in low-leverage situations….was actually most effective (.224 BA, .695 OPS) between pitches 76-100.

Negatives: Spent time on the disabled list as the stress reaction in his shoulder created problems again….righties hit .307 against him….had a 6.18 ERA at home….batters had a .944 OPS against him in the second half….batters hit .500/.500/.875 against him in four September outings….allowed a 1.352 OPS as a reliever….batters hit .298 when they took the first pitch….batters had a 1.044 OPS when they were ahead in the count….the first batter he faced hit .308….batters hit .327 with nobody out….allowed an .885 OPS with runners in scoring position, a mark that jumped to 1.002 when two outs were added to the equation….gave up a .900 OPS in high-leverage situations….had a 10.03 ERA against the Cubs.

Overview: Wacha allowed five runs, four earned, in 4.1 innings in his 2016 season debut.  Unfortunately, that was more a sign of things to come than an aberration.  In a three game span in May he had a 12.00 ERA and never pitched more than four innings in any of those starts.  Only once after returning from the disabled list in September did he have a scoreless outing.  Matheny’s decision to start him against Pittsburgh in the next-to-last game of the year seemed disastrous when he allowed three runs in the first, though the game was saved by a offensive rally and the fact Wacha didn’t go out for the second.  Wacha never seemed to be able to command his changeup this season and when he wasn’t able to throw that for strikes, batters could sit and wait on a fastball that, at least later in the season, was probably impaired by the stress reaction.

The 2016 version of Wacha was such a far cry from the 17-win, 3.38 ERA that the 2015 put up, even if the FIP of the two seasons wasn’t that different.  That might mean that Wacha can bounce back next season, but the end of the season makes that a tough bit of optimism to hold on to.

Outlook: There is talk about Wacha moving into a bullpen role, perhaps a multiple inning reliever like what they have in mind for Trevor Rosenthal.  That said, I’ve always thought that the stress reaction really precluded him from getting off the four-day rest schedule, though I may be mistaken.  If that’s the case, though, you’d think he’d be more like the old Joe Kelly model, where he might not pitch but once every couple of weeks when a long man is needed rather than as a fireman type to keep games from blowing up.  Most likely, the club will hope that the offseason workout regimen they have him on will build the needed muscle to handle the stress reaction and let him return to the starting rotation.  What we’ll see out of Wacha next year is truly anyone’s guess.

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