Breaking Down Michael Wacha’s Fantastic Pitching Performance

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Reds mauled the St. Louis Cardinals last night, 10-0. Adam Wainwright lacked his usual control and Reds’ hitters kept pulverizing his “get-me-over” fastballs early in the count. Was it because of his 128-pitch complete game last time out? In my opinion, the answer is no. Pitching is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports, and to be frank, it was just “one of those nights” for Wainwright. After all, he is human.

Moving on…

Despite the embarrassing loss, last night was not all bad for St. Louis. Michael Wacha had a brilliant pitching performance in relief of the struggling Wainwright. A performance that likely makes him the “leader in the clubhouse” for the 5th spot in the rotation the rest of the way.

Wacha pitched four scoreless innings and allowed just three hits. He was also able to rack up a career-high seven strikeouts while tallying just one walk. Lastly, he showed a pretty good efficiency that will help him in the starting role–averaging just over 16 pitches per inning.

Why was Wacha so successful last night? Let’s look at a few graphs from BrooksBaseball.net to find out…

speed

As you can see from the graph, Wacha changed speeds effectively throughout his entire outing–maxing out at 98 MPH on his fastball and dropping down to 75 MPH on his curveball. He maintained the speed on his fastball throughout his outing–touching 97 MPH on his strikeout of Jay Bruce in his last inning of work.

Another reason Wacha was so successful was his amazing “whiff rate.” Reds’ hitters whiffed on 14 of his 65 pitches (21.5%). His most successful “whiff” pitch last night was his changeup. He threw 17 of them and eight of them resulted in whiffs–an astounding 47.1%.

Why were Reds’ hitters whiffing so much against his changeup? It all has to do with his release point. Sure, it is a slower pitch, but if a major league hitter knows it is coming, he will be able to time it successfully. Thus, as most of you already know, the key to a successful changeup is having the same release point and arm speed as your fastball. Well, Wacha did this almost flawlessly last night, and I have the graphs to prove it…

release

release (1)

As you can see from the above graphs, Wacha was able to strike out two of the Reds’ best hitters (Shin-Soo Choo, Bruce) using merely a fastball-changeup combination. Sure, the curveball is a lot “sexier” and can lead to hitters looking foolish, but Wacha showed last night that his fastball-changeup combination can be devastating and will likely develop into his “go-to” sequence.

The fastball-changeup sequence was so successful for him because his vertical release point on both pitches were virtually the same all outing long. Sure, the graphs show that his horizontal release point changed a little bit, but that must be done in order to locate pitches on the inside and outside parts of the plate.

Wacha pitched like a crafty veteran last night, not a 22-year-old rookie with just over 33 major league innings under his belt. Because of this performance, I truly believe he has proven to the organization that he is deserving of the 5th rotation spot for the rest of the season.

I know I have been the one of the biggest supporters of Carlos Martinez getting a spot in the rotation all season–as you can see in some of my past blogs. However, with a performance like Wacha’s last night, it is hard to deny the fact that he deserves a chance in the rotation. It will help the Cardinals down the stretch, and it will give Wacha the experience he needs to be a successful starter next season as well.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Special thanks to @brooksbaseball and BrooksBaseball.net for all the graphs and their amazing work!

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