By John Kern, from Cardsblog.com
Michael Wacha had a rocky 2016, with an ERA over 5, and fewer than 140 innings despite being a regular starter. Should the Cardinals move him into the bullpen, and try to turn him into the next Zach Britton or Andrew Miller, or can he hold his own in the rotation?
After emerging on a national stage in the 2013 postseason as a force to be reckoned with, Michael Wacha has instead had a rocky three years, after a solid, yet injury shortened, 2014, a still solid 2015 that may have been better had he been more prepared for a full season's work, and then last year.
It is no secret among Cardinals fans that his shoulder injury in 2014 likely caused this drop in production, but it does not explain why his real fall did not come until last season.
Baseball Prospectus is a site known for making valuable prospect rankings of players who could be considered rookies in the upcoming season. Yesterday, on the same day that pitchers and catchers reported, the site dropped its list for the 2017 season. Now at the current moment in time, the Cardinals farm system is considered middle-0f-the-pack in the MLB.
When emerging in 2013, fans viewed Wacha as the next Adam Wainwright, the ace of the staff. But Wacha could throw harder, he could be even better. Unfortunately, that has not happened thus far. I do believe that Michael Wacha is a better pitcher than his 2016 statistics would suggest, after all his FIP was only 3.91, a 0.04 point increase from the year before.
I do, however, think that the Cardinals might limit his time in the rotation, not because of a lack of talent or drive, but because the Cardinals have a logjam of starting pitchers who did not have a 5.09 ERA last season.
In three seasons as a starter, Zach Britton was not very good. He threw only a fastball, slider, and changeup, before moving to the bullpen and dropping the changeup. We all know how well that turned out. In the bullpen it is easier to rely on one stellar pitch, in the rotation when facing players multiple times it becomes harder.
Michael Wacha's changeup is among the best in the game, and in his first season he threw almost exclusively the changeup and fastball. As he has looked more towards the cutter, at expense of his fastball, his number have declined.
That is to be expected, one cannot succeed as a starter at the major league level for long without developing a solid third pitch, but if Wacha dropped his cutter and curveball and moved to the bullpen where he could throw just his fastball and changeup, unquestionably his best pitches, he might become dominant, like we saw in 2013.
This is not to suggest that Michael Wacha cannot be a solid contributor in the rotation next year and throughout his career. I fully expect him to perform well next season, and I think the team does too.
#STLCards Matheny was quite impressed watching Michael Wacha's 1st bullpen session today: "That’s as good as I’ve seen him in a long time."— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) February 15, 2017
That is not the point, though. Wacha is competing for a spot in the rotation with Luke Weaver, Tyler Lyons, and even Trevor Rosenthal. Should he not make that spot, he could become a very valuable player out of the bullpen.
He had been a good starter before last season, but he could become a great reliever. He is also still only 25, and has a lot of room to grow. You never know, he could further develop his cutter into a weapon, continue to recover from his shoulder injury and become the pitcher Cardinals fans hoped he could become, in the rotation.
But I still think that his future lies in the bullpen, whether he, or management see it too. He would definitely be more valuable there than as an emergency starter in and out of Memphis. So lets all hope for a resurgence from Wacha, whether it is from the rotation or from the bullpen.
On the surface, Stephen Piscotty's sophomore campaign was not much better than his rookie year. He slashed .305/.359/.494 as a rookie and .273/.343/.457 in his second season. Adjusting for the fact that Piscotty played fewer games in 2015 than in 2016, those numbers are very comparable.