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Michael Wacha is Really Good

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How Michael Wacha became an outstanding pitcher ahead of schedule.

Michael Wacha
Michael Wacha

What an incredible start from Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha last night in Game Two of the NLCS against the Dodgers: 6.2 shutout innings, five hits, one walk, eight strikeouts. In the post-season, he's now allowed one run in two starts with a 17/3 K/BB ratio in 14 innings. This follows up a regular season 2.78 ERA in 64.2 innings with a 65/19 K/BB.

Michael Wacha is really good. He's so good that nobody is talking about Shelby Miller, his fellow Cardinals rookie who won 15 games this year.

A few people have asked me to review my pre-season analysis of Wacha. Back in February, I wrote the following Prospect Profile about Wacha.The first part of this is an excerpt from the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book, followed by an additional comment written in February.

Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-6 WT: 195 DOB: July 1, 1991

BOOK COMMENT: It is difficult for a first round pick to exceed expectations, but Michael Wacha has done that. Drafted 19th overall out of Texas A&M last June, Wacha was a durable and often dominant college workhorse with a 90-94 MPH fastball and an outstanding changeup. He also has a solid curveball and slider, and he proved he could hold up to a heavy workload in college without ill effect. The Cardinals didn't want to push his innings count too far, so they used him in relief after he signed, with stunning results. His velocity kicked up a notch, to 94-97, and he still maintained the solid secondary arsenal. His command has always been impressive, and the resulting 40/4 K/BB ratio in his first 21 professional innings took even the optimists by surprise. Wacha will return to starting in 2013 and it will be interesting to see how much of the new velocity he holds. Even if he goes back to "just" 90-94, his wide array of pitches and sharp command should get him to the majors quickly. He projects as a number three starter and quite possibly more. Grade B+.

I think the main difference between my profile for Wacha and scouting reports you may see from other sources revolves around Wacha's breaking ball. Everyone seems to like his fastball and changeup, but his curveball and slider draw less praise. Based on what I've seen from him, I felt that both his curveball and slider are better-than-advertised. They aren't outstanding, but they seemed solid enough to me, particularly the slider. In this regard Wacha reminds me of Orioles prospect Kevin Gausman, another tall right-hander with a live arm, a great changeup, and a reputation for inconsistent breaking pitches. Gausman throws harder more consistently, is more athletic, and thus a better prospect, but there is nothing wrong with Wacha. He'd be the top pitching prospect in many farm systems.

So, here we are in October and Wacha has certainly lived up to the most optimistic projection. Gausman, as we know, had some problems with the Orioles this summer although he also had flashes of brilliance. Wacha, however, has been nothing but excellent, and a big part of that is because of the breaking ball.

The interesting thing for me is that, when I saw him in college, he was using what looked like two different breaking balls, a slider and a curveball. As noted in the earlier reports, I didn't think they were outstanding, but I thought they were better than reputed. In the majors he's used just the curve, and concentrating on this pitch over the slider has boosted its quality.

So, where do we stand now? Wacha has the 90+ fastball, an excellent change-up, and a strong curve. Pitch F/X also identifies some cutters in his profile, which could be remnant sliders, but either way the guy has three strong pitches and a fourth one he can go to on occasion. His command is excellent, his mound presence is first-class, and it looks like he should be durable.

None of this looks like a fluke to me. As with any young pitcher there is always the risk of injury, but assuming no physical problems, Wacha is a guy you can build a rotation around.