When you are playing catch-up with your own body, the end result won't be a pretty sight.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha is a prisoner to his own body, but unlike Jaime Garcia's many bouts with the injury bug, Wacha's frailty has a single name: stress reaction in his right shoulder. A condition that affects the scapula, and has a trickle down effect on the limb that it is attached to.
Other than Brandon McCarthy, no other pitcher in baseball has dealt with this perilous injury and survived. McCarthy first dealt with the condition in 2007, and has started over 30 games in a season just once (in 2010) since then. Surgery isn't a solution, rest is merely a band-aid, and recovery is a ghost.
Here's the reality: if the Cardinals are serious about winning this season, Wacha can't continue to start baseball games. After starting the season with six starts that any baseball club would love to receive from their fifth starter, Wacha has fell down a slope in his last six starts that came after a skipped start. Derrick Goold of the Post Dispatch provided the uninviting splits of Wacha's 2017 season:
The theory is an interesting stream in a troubled lake, because Wacha was gliding right along before the Cardinals decided to skip him against the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium. However, Wacha's downfall this season has been highlighted by very good lineup battering him. A pair of starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a rough outing against the Cubs, and a beating at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers last night show that the stronger the lineup, the rougher night that will be experienced by Wacha. The Cardinals can only play the Philadelphia Phillies so many times.
Wacha's biggest problem is increased visibility from an opposing lineup. He can get through the order one time extremely well, but the second time produces warning signs, and a third time is absolute destruction. Here are Wacha's splits from innings 1-3 and 3-6.
Innings 1-3: 36 innings pitched, 3.75 ERA, 37 strikeouts, 15 walks
Innings 3-6: 27.1 innings pitched, 6.26 ERA, 22 strikeouts, 10 walks
Taking it one step further, the inning that Wacha seems to have the most trouble with right now is the fourth inning. The earned run average in the fourth for Wacha this year is a bombastic 10.64 with an opponent batting average of .400.
What does all this add up to? Wacha needs to go to the bullpen, where he can come into the game during the 6th or 7th, and shore up the Cardinals need down there for reinforcements. Matt Bowman can use a friend down there, and Wacha can provide the Cards with 1-2 innings of pitching.
Wacha has largely abandoned using the sinker or curveball in his starts, sticking mostly to the changeup and four/two seam fastballs to attack hitters. The changeup is still his bread and butter pitch, but must be set up by a very accurate fastball delivery. According to Brooks Baseball, Wacha has stopped using the sinker the past two months, and the usage of the cutter has risen to over 20 percent. These are the weapons of a relief pitcher.
The next question is simple: if Wacha moves to the bullpen, how will the move effect his shoulder? Perhaps, you treat him like a starter in a way, and limit his appearances to twice a week. That means 4-6 innings of work that will in return save his shoulder for the long haul of the season. The stress on his shoulder is withholding Wacha from giving the Cardinals valuable innings at the start of a game, so it's time for a change.
They could allow Wacha to start the game with Tyler Lyons behind him, but with arms down on the farm like Luke Weaver and Marco Gonzales, the time could be now to switch. If Weaver's removal from a game on June 11 isn't severe, he should get a shot at the rotation. Gonzales didn't fare well against Milwaukee during Tuesday's doubleheader, but is still making the long climb from multiple major injuries. Both options looks like better ideas than sticking with an ineffective Wacha.
Before Alex Reyes got hurt, Wacha appeared to have stiff competition for the last rotation spot, but according to General Manager John Mozeliak, the spot was never really in contention. When asked by Cards scribe Josh Brown at a blogger event about removing Wacha, Mozeliak seemed to be reluctant to remove the 25 year old: "Do you want to tell him that he is no longer a starter? I don't." Come on, Mozeliak.
The GM is being coy about the situation, because he knows something has to be done to fix the issue. Removing Wacha kills two problems with one move. You provide the rotation with a fresh young arm built for the future, and the bullpen gets a potentially potent arm to aid its worn down wings. It almost makes too much sense.
If the Cardinals are going to stage a comeback or put themselves in a better position to win games, Michael Wacha has to go to the bullpen. Forget trade value worries or confidence killers, because the state of the team is most important. He's going to be 26 on July 1, so the clock is starting to tick a bit faster on where his arm carries the most value to the team.