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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Joe Kelly Should Not Be Overlooked for 2014 Rotation

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Joe Kelly has been the best starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals since the All-Star break. Including a brief stint back in the bullpen, Kelly has been one of the top pitchers in baseball since mid-June.

The table below is a breakdown of his statistics since June 14th:

Date G ▴ GS Dec IP ER BB SO HR ERA BA
Jun 14 to Aug 17 12 7 4-0 53.1 11 21 34 3 1.86 0.222

Those statistics are absolutely incredible. He may not be pitching that deep into games, but he has pitched at least six innings in four of his last seven starts.  Sure, the relievers (Maness, Siegrist, Rosenthal, Mujica) cannot pitch every single day, but who can really complain if Kelly pitches six innings and allows only one or two earned runs?

If Kelly is truly the team’s best pitcher since June, then why is he not really being considered for the 2014 starting rotation?

Let’s take a look at the current state of the 2014 rotation:

2014 Rotation “Locks”:
1. Adam Wainwright
2. Shelby Miller
3. Lance Lynn
4. ??
5. ??

Thus, this effectively leaves five (maybe six) guys for the final two spots:

a. Kelly
b. Jaime Garcia
c. Michael Wacha
d. Carlos Martinez
e. Tyler Lyons
f. John Gast

Case for Kelly:

His performance thus far in 2013 as a starter has been impressive. His stuff is just nasty. His four-seam fastball can touch 98 MPH on the radar gun. His two-seam fastball comes in around 93-96 MPH and has tailing action that leaves left-handed hitters buckling at the knees. He is gaining confidence in his changeup and slurve which will only make him a better starter in the future.

I realize that we have only seen a small sample size of Kelly as a starter, but as I stated above, he has the stuff to get both righties and lefties out. His laid-back personality shows that he will be able to survive a long season of up’s and down’s. Let’s see how he does for the rest of the season before locking him into the 2014 rotation, but the purpose of this article was to bring him into that conversation in the first place.

Case for Garcia:

He is left-handed. He has proven to be a successful pitcher thus far in his career–39-25 in with a 3.45 ERA in three seasons as a starter. Also, he is under contract through 2015 with team options for 2016 and 2017.

However, there are also few knocks on Garcia. His health always seems to be in question–he has now injured both his elbow and his shoulder in his short MLB career.

Also, for whatever reason, he has not been able to bring the success he has had at home with him on the road. From 2010 through 2012, his home ERA is an impressive 2.33. However, during that same span, his road ERA is 4.46. I cannot put a finger on this issue, but given the fact that half of his starts will be on the road, this can be troubling.

Case for Wacha:

He has been a successful starter in Triple-A. Just a year after being drafted, he has shown flashes of being a dependable starter at the big league level. Against the Royals in late May, he pitched seven innings and allowed just one earned run. When was the last time a Cardinals starter had a performance like that?

His stuff is unbelievable. He is able to touch 97-98 MPH on the gun, and his 6’6″ frame allows him to throw his heaters on a downward plane–kind of like Wainwright. His curveball has been nasty when it’s on, and given time, it will only get more consistent. He also has a change that can be effective as well.

Having only thrown just over 110 innings (Memphis + St. Louis) this season, has he been groomed to pitch 175+ innings next year? Not really. However, as a polished college pitcher with solid mechanics, I really do not see this as that big a problem for him.

Case for Martinez:

He has electric stuff. In his one big league start, he touched 100 MPH multiple times, and he flashed a devastating curveball. He has proven to be a successful starter in Memphis so far this season. Yet, he needs to fine-tune his off-speed pitches and learn how to get deeper into games. Look for him to develop this more the rest of the season and into the off-season.

Case for Lyons:

He is left-handed. He has been extremely successful for Triple-A Memphis–going 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 16 starts. He has not been able to translate this success to the big leagues just yet, but he has only been given seven starts so it may still be too early to tell.

His last start was actually pretty good–going 6.0 innings and allowing only three earned runs. This could have been even better had Matt Holliday caught that flyball instead of having it bounce off his glove/hand into the stands for a home run.

Case for Gast:

He is left-handed. Yet, it is tough to even make a case for Gast to be honest. Though he was 2-0 in three starts in the big leagues, he had a 5.11 ERA and was unable to pitch deep into games. Also, he is recovering from shoulder surgery and may not even be ready to return to live action until July 2014. Thus, with all the question marks, he is very unlikely to get this, but I figured I would include him in the conversation since he saw time in the starting rotation this season.

Trade Possibilities?

The Cardinals have a surplus of pitchers for just two starting spots in 2014. The organization also has some promising prospects that will look to crack the rotation sometime soon as well–Zach Petrick, Marco Gonzales, etc.

As we all know, shortstop is a weakness for the Cardinals. Though Pete Kozma has been good defensively in his rookie season, his bat has just been ice cold–.223 batting average, .273 on-base percentage, and .281 slugging percentage. He has not hit a home run since the second game of the season. The Cardinals already had Brendan Ryan at shortstop and dealt him for Maikel Cleto (haha!). Thus, they don’t need another one and need to make a move to improve at the position during the off-season.

It is likely at least three to five years before any of the team’s recent draft picks at the position will make it to the big leagues. Thus, wouldn’t it be smart to trade part a surplus to improve a glaring weakness?

Well, in my humble opinion, I really do not want to trade Wacha or Martinez. Both project to be top-end of the rotation guys and have shown flashes of brilliance in brief appearances in the big leagues.

The only other player on the above list that could bring a solid return would be Garcia. I realize that potential trade partners will be worried about his health, but he claims that he is on track to be ready by October so hopefully that is not an issue. Also, compared to other starters in the league, he has a relatively cheap contract–$7.75 million in 2014 and $9.25 million in 2015.

I realize that most people believe that every rotation needs at least one left-handed pitcher. This makes a lot of sense, especially if you face an opponent that has a lot of left-handed hitters. However, Kelly has been more successful against lefties than he has against righties this season. Also, Wainwright and Lynn have shown to be successful against lefties as well. Thus, does it really matter if the pitcher throws left-handed or not? In my opinion, as long as the pitcher is able to get lefties and righties out, then that is all that matters.

My Picks for the 2014 Rotation:
4. Kelly
5. Wacha/Martinez

  • I think Wacha is better suited for the spot at this time, but it is still hard to rule out Martinez

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network