St. Louis Cardinals 2013 Season in Review: Top Five Stories

2013 was another great year for the our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Despite facing an incredible amount of adversity, they were still just two wins away from their 12th World Series title. Well, as part of our end-of-the-year project for the United Cardinal Bloggers, this post will be dedicated to bringing you my top five stories of 2013. Here we go:

stltoday.com

stltoday.com

5. The Emergence of Rookie Pitchers. Jason Motte went down before the season. Jaime Garcia required season-ending surgery after a handful of starts. Jake Westbrook pitched injured for much of the season.

Rookies–Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha, Seth Maness, and Carlos Martinez–became key contributors to the pitching staff. Throughout 2013, other rookies–Tyler Lyons, Keith ButlerJohn Gast, Sam Freeman, and Michael Blazek–had roles of their own as well. Considering only one of the 10 listed were traded (Blazek), fans can expect much from this group in 2014.
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Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

4. Matt Carpenter‘s Breakout Season. Carpenter filled two glaring team-needs in 2013 by taking over as the everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter. According to Fangraphs, he had the third highest WAR in the National League at 7.0. He made his first All-Star team and finished fourth in NL MVP voting.

With David Freese now in Los Angeles, Carpenter will return to his natural position at third base. Ideally, by the end of the 2014, this doubles machine will be moved down to the two-spot in the lineup, but that will be a direct result of the performances of Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos.
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Photo Credit: USATSI

Photo Credit: USATSI

3. Yadier Molina‘s Brilliance was Ever Present. As I stated in story #5, the pitching staff was largely dominated by rookies. It is hard to fathom how 2013 would have gone without Molina’s presence behind the plate. He was a calming presence for the young arms and was the mentor they needed to get through the long, grueling season.

Molina remained one of the best defensive catchers in the league–winning his sixth straight Gold Glove Award. His offense picked up yet again–leading to a .319/.359/.477 slash line. Putting all of 2013 together, Molina finished third in NL MVP voting and moved one step closer to being known as one of the best catchers to ever play.
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Photo Credit: AFP

Photo Credit: AFP

2. The Cardinals Win the Pennant! The Cardinals Win the Pennant! The Pittsburgh Pirates were the “sexy” pick by the national media to win the National League in 2013. However, Wacha and Adam Wainwright had other plans–allowing just two total runs in Games 4 and 5 of the NLDS.

They moved on to face the big bad, $220+ million-payroll Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. They won the series in six games with two wins from Lance Lynn and two wins from Wacha over the best pitcher on the planet, Clayton Kershaw.

They ended up losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox in six games, but for the purpose of this post, let’s just focus on the positives.
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1. Stan Musial. On January 19, 2013, the greatest Cardinal to ever live passed away. I would love to write a paragraph embracing just what Stan meant to the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis, but I really could not do him justice.

However, the lovely ladies over at Aaron Miles‘ Fastball constructed the perfect post to check out because it contains links to article from across the Web about The Man.

Thank you, Stan Musial. I may not have been able to see you play, but your impact on the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis will last forever. Because of this, I feel like Stan was the only choice for the #1 spot on my list.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page

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St. Louis Cardinals Prospect Watch: Marco Gonzales

Photo Credit: Chris Lee (Post Dispatch)

Photo Credit: Chris Lee (Post Dispatch)

The St. Louis Cardinals have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, and Marco Gonzales is one of the main reasons why. Just one year after being drafted, he has already ascended all the way up to third on Derrick Goold’s Top 7 prospects list.

The former Gonzaga Bulldog is a left-handed starting pitcher who saw limited work in the minors after the draft–hoping to preserve his arm as much as possible. However, he ended the season at High-A Palm Beach–which is impressive considering it was just a few months after the draft. In 16.2 innings pitched for Palm Beach, he had a 1.62 ERA with 13 strikeouts, and opponents hit just .179 against him.

I predict that he will move up the farm system ladder quite rapidly next season–mimicking the rise Michael Wacha had last season. Does this mean he will have his major league debut in 2014? Considering he will be on an innings limit once again, most likely not. However, you never know when it comes to pitchers–as we saw this past season when injuries happened and over 10 rookie pitchers made their debuts for the Cardinals.

He main pitch is a fastball that ranges from 89-92 MPH. Like most lefties, he has a somewhat deceptive delivery and all four of his pitches have effective late movement.. Like Wacha, his go-to combination has been fastball-changeup with both pitches released from an almost identical arm slot. His breaking pitches need some polishing, but they have the makings of being effective pitches for him as well. Thus, he projects to be a three or four pitch pitcher with pinpoint control from the left-side. What’s not to like about that?

However, for as good as Gonzales is as a pitcher, this is not why I like him as much as I do. Gonzales may be one of the best athletes in the entire organization. When he wasn’t pitching at Gonzaga, he played first base–where he was an effective hitter and above-average defender. In 2 years for the Bulldogs, he hit .310 with 20 doubles, two home runs, and 43 RBI. His fielding percentage was .984, and he showed range that will translate well over to his defense from the mound. Because of what I just documented above, I could realistically see him as a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger candidate year in and year out at the big league level.

If you live in Palm Beach, Springfield, or Memphis, make sure to keep an eye on Gonzales next season because I do not think he will be at any of those stops for very long. He has a very bright future, and I am looking forward to seeing him pitch in Busch Stadium someday soon.

Want a closer look at his minor league numbers and be able to keep up with him next season? Well, my buddy, John Nagel, of CardinalsFarm took the time to make player pages for the majority of Cardinal minor leaguers. Here is the link to Gonzales’ page as well as a link to the index of all the players’ pages.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page.

United Cardinal Bloggers’ Discussion: Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez?

Photo Credits: Associated Press

Photo Credits: Associated Press

For November 12, 2013, it was my turn to ask the question for the United Cardinal Bloggers’ Round Table Discussion.

As most of you already know, I like to consider pitching analysis one of my strong points in blogging. I also like to write about prospects, so I figured the following question would be perfect to ask the rest of the Round Table participants:

Question: Who do you believe has the brighter future, Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez? You can use whatever criteria you choose for this answer; I just wanted to get a feel of where the rest of UCB stands on this topic.

Mark TomasikRetro Simba

The pitcher who is least susceptible to injury has the brighter future. I don’t know enough about their mechanics and makeup to make that determination. Based on their ages, their 2013 performances at the big-league level, the quality of their pitches and the comments of their peers, their futures are equally bright.

Mark’s answer brought to light a whole in my question that I did not intend to be exploited. Thus, to provide the answers that I was more looking for, I changed the wording of the question:

Given that both pitchers remain 100% healthy (wishful thinking), who has the brighter future, Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez?

Ben ChambersThe View From Here

Usually, this would be a question I’d be asking you. I’m not good on evaluating pitchers well, but I’ll certainly give it a shot.
What Wacha showed in September and October just goes to show that he has ice water running through his veins and talent in that right arm. If he can continue to work on his curveball (and who better to work with than Wainwright), then I can see him becoming the ace of the staff once Wainwright retires, and the #2 until then.

Martinez is still in the “raw talent” phase to me. He has a great, lively arm. He can throw fire at times. I think he might need just a little more development in order to get his stuff right to be a starter. In his 1 start against the Dodgers in August, he gave up 4 ER in 4.2 innings on 7 hits. He did throw each of his 4 pitches (fastball, sinker, slider, change), but the Dodgers got the best of him. In his relief appearances, I felt it was a toss-up on whether he would strike out the side or he’d give up a run or two. Looking at the game log, it was about every 3rd appearance that he would give up a run. He’d pitch great, pitch great, not pitch great.

In the end, I would have to say that I think Martinez can be great with a little more refinement, but Wacha is great right now and will continue to get better. I don’t know what the future will hold, and so I may be wrong about it, but if I were asked right now to put money on who I think will have a better future, I’m placing all my money on Wacha.

Daniel SolzmanRedbird Rants

I’m not sure. They are both capable of being finalists year in and year out for Cy Young Awards. Martinez could easily be a guy that gets 200 wins or 300 saves depending on which route he goes. There’s a reason he draws comparisons to Pedro and it’s not for nothing.

John NagelCardinals Farm

Before this season, I would have told you Carlos Martinez had a brighter future, and it’s not even close. After the season, I still believe Martinez’s future is brighter but Wacha has narrowed the gap, and its nothing to do with Martinez. Wacha is performing above expectations. His fastball is a little faster than at A&M, and his changeup is a little slower.

I am going to disgree with something that Ben said. I am not sure how much better Wacha can get. As of today, Wacha is closer to his ceiling than Martinez, thus I am not sure where Wacha can go. As sick as C-Mart is now, he can get more consistent and that is scary.

In 30 years after they are both long gone from the game of baseball, I believe Martinez will have had the better career.

Daniel ShoptawC70 At The Bat

I think I’m going to swim with the stream here and say that Wacha is the better bet for 2014, Martinez for the long haul. I remember reading when Wacha was drafted that he was already close to his ceiling and would likely move rapidly due to that. Now, the evaluations have changed some given what Wacha has done, but I think that probably still holds. Both are likely to be above-average major league pitchers, which is a great thing to have on a staff, but I’m still probably leaning toward Martinez, assuming he can put it all together.

Matt WhitenerCheap.Seats.Please

I am inclined to say that Wacha will be the better prospect, for a few reasons that I’ve noticed already.

#1) He’s exceeded his scouting report already, which projected him as (and I remember this clearly because I felt like throwing up) a “3 or 4, Jon Garland type”. With all due respects to Mr. Garland, he’s already blown past him.

#2) He has shown the capacity to learn on the run. He had three separate genesis’ in 2013 alone, from lights out reliever to high potential, up and down rookie, to lights out starter, already. That takes a high IQ and short memory, which will do nothing but get sharper.

#3) While he may be close to his roof already, he’s done so while still not completely unleashing what will be his “over the top” pitch (meaning what could boost him to elite in baseball status): the curveball. Within two years, when he completely comfortable with it, he’ll be showing more looks on the mound than any pitcher in St. Louis since Chris Carpenter‘s prime.

Much like Adam Wainwright, he has taken the tools he has and made better on them than expected. Wainwright didn’t profile as being within the top 5 or so starters in baseball at any point in his career when he was rising through the system, but learned, mastered what he had and turned into one. I see that same type of package around Wacha, and for that reason alone, I think he’ll be the better product long-term.

Christine ColemanAaron Miles’ Fastball

My thought is Wacha as well and, as I was trying to come up with my reasons why, I read what Matt had to say — and he said it much better and more thoroughly than I could.

Not to say that Martinez won’t be great as well but, as several have already said, his talent is more raw and still in need of refinement. We saw such moments of brilliance, but he still needs more polish.

But what two great talents — and what a great debate we are lucky enough to have.

Mark SherrardCardinals Fan in Cubs Land

I’m no scouting expert, but the feeling I get is that Wacha is at or near his potential right now, while Martinez still has room to grow and improve.

What’s scary to think about is what Wacha might do if he could develop a curve as good and consistent as say Adam Wainwright. Combine that with his fastball and devastating change and he would be unhittable.

Martinez just needs to get more consistent with his pitches and location. He has better all around “stuff” than Wacha, but Wacha is more polished at this point.

Thus, in the near future, say the next year or two, Wacha will probably be better, but overall, I think Martinez will have the better career.

Dan BuffaDose of Buffa

With these two wicked young talents capable of all the pitching awards, choosing between them is like debating between a pair of sharp shooters.

Wacha and Martinez are each enormously talented and capable of greatness, but if I had to go with one for the long haul I would choose Wacha . He came up earlier in the year and was as raw as Carlos. He made three starts and won one of them. He spent time down in Memphis refining his changeup and working on his curveball. When he came back up and made a start in September, Wacha had transformed into a dynamic pitcher. Capable of pitching well in hostile environments and taking down great teams twice inside one week. That kind of improvement can’t be short changed.

While Martinez was nasty, he showed a tendency to be wild and inconsistent. This happened every time he made a trip up & down I-55 and hopefully in the future he can work out the raw areas of his talent. However, there are no guarantees. When JD Drew and Colby Rasmus came up they were coined as the next Mickey Mantle. Martinez is sharp but needs innings and a defined role before he can become the next Pedro.

Unlike Martinez, Wacha has a defined role and is already being groomed as Waino’s successor and a Cy Young candidate in a few years. He has taken Shelby Miller‘s spot with two months of pitching. That is based off opportunity and not skill set alone. As they say in sports you are only as good as what you’ve done in the show on the big stage. While we are talking futures here, I’d put my chips on Wacha side of the table.

Any evidence can be taken from the opening trade rumor analysis. Wacha is seen as untouchable while Carlos is slightly expendable. You can’t find great young controllable pitching anywhere these days.

Finally…if you have made it this far…MY ANSWER!

I would have to go with Carlos Martinez. I fully realize and undoubtedly appreciate the incredible postseason performance that Wacha put together, but it is impossible to look past CMart’s incredible stuff. Martinez has three pitches–a four-seamer, a two-seamer/sinker, and a hard slurve. On average, all three pitches break over six inches horizontally–with his two-seamer averaging an incredible 9.6 inches of break–that’s over half the width of home plate!

His four-seamer averaged 98 MPH and his two-seamer/sinker averaged 96 MPH this season. His slurve had a devastating drop-off in velocity, averaging just 82 MPH. Wacha has an incredible fastball-changeup combination, and he has the ability to develop an Adam Wainwright-like curveball, but I still feel like he is a lot closer to his “ceiling” than Baby Pedro.

However, in my opinion, both are untouchables, and I look forward to seeing both pitch with the “Birds on the Bat” across their chest for years to come.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe 

Postseason Performances: Michael Wacha vs. Chris Carpenter

Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Set to retire this off-season, Chris Carpenter will go down as one of the best postseason pitchers in the history of baseball. There are numerous articles written about his postseason legacy, but this one by HardballTalk in 2011 is one of the absolute best.

Carpenter made 18 postseason starts–compiling a 10-4 record with a 3.00 ERA. His last postseason, one in which he pitched while injured, put a slight damper on these numbers, but it also added to his legend. Carpenter was just the second pitcher in MLB history (the other being Virgil Trucks in 1945) to record a postseason win without having one in the regular season.

Well, 22-year-old rookie, Michael Wacha, is making his case to drive Carpenter’s numbers into the ground. Through four postseason starts, in his rookie season nonetheless, Wacha is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA. For perspective, Carpenter didn’t make his first postseason start until his eighth year in the MLB at the age of 30–eight years older than Wacha. Carpenter after his first four starts? 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA.

Thus, Wacha has one more win and has an ERA almost one point lower than Carpenter’s over their first four postseason starts. However, this does not even tell the whole story. Over those four starts, Carpenter allowed 22 hits–Wacha has allowed exactly half that with 11. Opponents hit .229 against Carpenter and have hit just .122 against Wacha. Carpenter had 19 strikeouts and 8 walks. Wacha has 28 strikeouts and 8 walks.

For even more perspective, I decided to look at Bob Gibson‘s first four postseason starts–all in the World Series since they did not have the same playoff format back then–as well. Gibson was 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA. He had 41 strikeouts and 9 walks. Opponents hit .218 against him–96 points higher than the batting average against Wacha thus far. Yet, unlike both Carpenter and Wacha, Gibson had 36 innings pitched over these four starts–8 IP in his first start, 10 IP in his second, 9 IP in his third, and 9 IP in his fourth. Interested in seeing the rest of Gibson’s amazing postseason statistics? Click HERE.

Michael Wacha is in really good company to even be talked about in the same sentence as Bob Gibson and Chris Carpenter. Will he ever be as good as Gibson? Absolutely not. Gibson is in a class of his own and will forever be known as one of the best pitchers in the game. He, too, would have had gaudy win totals if he had played under the current playoff format.

However, given Wacha’s early start in the playoffs, since it is still his rookie season, and the fact that the Cardinals appear to be built to make the playoffs for years to come, Wacha has a really good chance at eclipsing Carpenter’s numbers early in his career and creating his own records as his career progresses.

Buckle up, Cardinal fans, the World Series is on the line–at Fenway Park. Game 6 is necessary after the Cardinals lost two of three at Busch Stadium. Wacha will be poised and ready to compete for his 5th playoff win and keep the Cardinals World Series title hopes alive.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Michael Wacha Primed for World Series Game 2 Start

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals got blown out by the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series–losing 8-1 despite having their ace, Adam Wainwright, on the mound.

A costly miscue by Pete Kozma in the first inning when trying to turn a double play ball set the tone for the Cardinals, and the Red Sox took full advantage. The Cardinal defense, though it is known for its poor range, is usually sure-handed on balls hit right at the fielders. Last night, this was definitely not the case, but that is as far as I want to get into that discussion.

Moving on…

Arguably the best starting pitcher in the playoffs, 22-year-old rookie right-hander, Michael Wacha, takes the hill for the Cardinals in Game 2. His playoff statistics are nearly flawless thus far. In three starts, he has 21.0 innings pitched and has allowed only one earned run (0.43 ERA)–a solo home run that broke up his no-hitter against the Pirates in the NLDS. He has a perfect 3-0 record with 22 strikeouts and just 4 walks. Oh, and he out-dueled Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS–not a big deal, though, right?

Needless to say, Wacha has been on fire in the playoffs. He edged out Carlos Beltran for the NLCS MVP, even though both would have been quite deserving of it. Well, as I explained in the following post, one of Wacha’s best pitches is his changeup. And again in this post, I said that the Cardinals would “ride Wacha’s changeup” back to St. Louis before his start in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Good thing for Wacha and the Cardinals, the majority of Red Sox hitters, with the predictable exceptions of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, have struggled against the changeup in 2013. Here is a complete breakdown:

Data: BrooksBaseball.net

Data: BrooksBaseball.net

Thus, once again, the matchup is favorable for the young rookie right-hander. He does not really have to change his approach in order to have success against the Red Sox, which can be huge for a pitcher that is in such a groove. Obviously, they will have watched game film of him, so slight adjustments must be made, but nothing too drastic considering the majority of them have struggled against arguably his best pitch over the course of an entire season.

This best pitch, like his overall performance, is on fire as well. According to ESPNBoston, hitters have a .093 batting average against his changeup since September 19th. Wow! Wacha knows this, and he has been throwing it much more–almost 24% of the time in his three playoff starts.

When facing Pedroia, who hits the changeup relatively well, I would like to see Wacha give him a heavy dose of fastballs. Pedroia is a really good hitter, but hitting fastballs, according to the numbers, is not one of the best pitches he hits against. Regarding Ortiz, he seems to hit every single pitch well, so Wacha will just have to be extremely careful and pick his spots with him. An advantage for Wacha is that this will be the first time Ortiz has faced him, so it may take a few at-bats before he can adjust to the plane of his pitches.

We all know how good his fastball is, how good his changeup is, and how difficult it is to distinguish between the two at the plate (something I have harped on numerous times in the past), but I honestly believe the wild card in Game 2 will be his curveball. He has proven in the past, like in his near no-hitter against the Washington Nationals, that he does not necessarily need it all that much. With more and more game film, hitters, especially good hitters like the ones in Boston, will start making adjustments to his fastball-changeup combination.

Wacha knows this as well and has actually had a pretty good curveball throughout the playoffs. I wrote in my very first post on Wacha that a scout said his curveball had a chance to resemble Wainwright’s some day, and we have seen glimpses of this lately. He has been throwing it more often as well–almost 13% of the time in the playoffs.

Well, the stage is set. The rookie right-hander is on the mound for the Cardinals in a pivotal Game 2 of the World Series. It is essentially a must-win for the Cardinals–not only because they do not want to be down two games to zero, but because going down two games to zero with your best pitchers on the mound can be extremely disheartening.

In a pre-World Series interview found on ESPNBoston.com, Wacha said, “I’ll try to approach it just like any other start, but [I’m] just real excited about it.” 

Well, Mr. Michael Wacha, Cardinal Nation is really excited about it, too. Go out there and do your thing!

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Cardinals Will Ride Michael Wacha’s Changeup Back to St. Louis

Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals enter Game 4 of the National League Division Series (NLDS) on the brink of elimination–down 2 games to 1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. If the Cardinals win Game 4, both teams will return to St. Louis for Game 5, and Adam Wainwright will be primed and ready to go for the Cardinals.

However, before this can happen, the Cardinals must win Game 4 first.

Well, Mike Matheny has assigned this tall task to 22-year-old rookie right-hander, Michael Wacha, and this looks, at least on paper, to be an extremely wise decision.

As I wrote in my post on September 25th, Wacha’s “1-2 punch” of fastball-changeup is a devastating combination and when it is on, it is nearly unhittable. Though he is still just a rookie, I would argue that he has one of the best changeups in all of baseball.

According to BrooksBaseball’s PITCHf/x tool, Wacha has thrown 283 changeups in 2013, and the pitch is averaging 5.95 inches of horizontal movement (tailing action). This horizontal movement combined with the downward plane from his 6’6″ frame has led to the hitter swinging and missing on 22.61% of his changeups (aka whiff %). Also, batters are hitting line-drives off his changeup just 2.47% of the time (For perspective, both of these percentages are even better than changeup-specialist, Cliff Lee).

So, Wacha has a good changeup…so what?

Well, the Pirates simply are not good at hitting changeups, and I have the numbers to prove it. I broke down 10 Pirates that have the possibility of facing Wacha in Game 4 and compiled the following table:

PiratesVsChange

As you can see from the table, the team as a whole has had 517 at-bats end on a changeup in 2013. The team is hitting less than .200 against changeups–coming in at .198. Also, of the 517 at-bats, 130 of them (25%) have been strikeouts. Lastly, the team is not hitting for much power against changeups this season–hitting 15 home runs or just 2.9% of their at-bats.

Concluding Thought:

I realize that playoff baseball is not played “on paper,” and there will be numerous variables that play a part in the outcome of Game 4. However, in my opinion, one that is backed up by the data above, Wacha is the best candidate to get the Cardinals back to St. Louis for Game 5. His fastball-changeup combination gives him a huge physical advantage over the Pittsburgh hitters, but will he be ready mentally for the task at hand? This is something we will soon find out.

Go Cards! I am not ready for the 2013 season to be over yet…

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Related Article:

– Cards hope Wacha will change up outcome (stltoday.com, @dgoold)

Michael Wacha: His 1-2 Punch was Nearly Unhittable

Photo Credit: @Cardinals

Photo Credit: @Cardinals

On September 24th, 2013, young Cardinals’ phenom, Michael Wacha, flashed brilliance that was noticed by baseball fans around the country. He came within one out of a no-hitter, and his final stat line was 8 and two-thirds innings pitched, ONE hit, zero earned runs, two walks, and career-high nine strikeouts.

I would say that this was a statement performance from the 22-year-old Wacha. Though he is just one year from being drafted by Dan Kantrovitz and the Cardinals, Wacha has proven that he has the repertoire and makeup to be an impact starting pitcher right now and for many years to come.

So what made Wacha so dominant on Tuesday night against the Nationals?

I had an inkling as to why, but I checked out BrooksBaseball.net’s PITCHf/x tool to make sure the numbers backed up my theory before I decided to write about it. However, before we get into that, let’s quickly go over his pitch counts. He threw 92 fastballs17 changeups, and just 3 curveballs for a grand total of 112 pitches.

82% of his pitches were fastballs, and yet, he was one out away from a no-hitter? He only threw 3 curveballs (2.7%) all game? Something fishy has to be going on here, right? There is no way a starting pitcher could be successful for the entirety of a game when utilizing just two pitches. Well, for at least one night, Wacha proved all these notions wrong, and here’s why…

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Wacha is 6’6″ and basically towers over opposing hitters when he is out there on the mound. To go along with his frame, his overhand pitching motion (pictured to the right) adds, on average, around four more inches to his release point.

In the one-hitter, Wacha’s release point averaged at 6’10.7″. A release point like this allows him to put an incredible amount of downward plane on his pitches–making hitting even harder than it already is in the big leagues. So…what else?

Washington hitters had pretty good odds that they were going to see a straight pitch last night, with 97.3% of Wacha’s pitches being fastballs and changeups. Yet, he was able to record 10 whiffs–five on his fastball and five on his changeup.

Thus, if Washington hitters knew what was coming–something straight–why were they unable to hit it? Here’s where my theory comes into play. In order for a changeup to be a successful pitch, especially at the Major League level, the pitcher must be able to disguise it as if he were throwing a fastball. The slightest change in arm velocity or release point will likely be keyed on by hitters as the game goes along.

Well, to be honest, Washington hitters had absolutely no clue what was coming after all. Sure, they knew it was going to be straight, but one pitch averaged over 95 MPH while the other averaged just under 88 MPH. The seven MPH difference between the pitches is more than enough to keep hitters from making solid contact.

So, why did they have no clue what was coming? HIS RELEASE POINT! Wacha’s release point on his fastball last night averaged at 6’11.5″. His changeup release point averaged at 6’10.9″. This is a difference of just 0.6 inches! For perspective, 0.6 inches is less than the diameter of a penny. Thus, there is no way that a batter standing 60.5 feet away could pick up on this difference. This left batters with basically one option at the plate–guess.

UPDATE: I have received many comments saying that his changeup has late movement/screwball action, and this is most definitely true. The numbers show that his changeup averaged a little over 7 inches of horizontal movement per pitch last night. However, my main point was that the his changeup looks straight (like a fastball) out of his hand, and the movement does not occur until its closer to home plate. Yet, even with the movement of this pitch, if his release point was a little off (which it was not), hitters could pick up on the differences and adjust accordingly.

The Future:

Wacha will be in the playoff rotation. He has been the best starter for the Cardinals in September–33.1 innings pitched, 28 strikeouts, and a 1.72 ERA. He has been so good that I could even see him being the #3 starter (Sorry, Joe Kelly). As I said in an earlier blog post, “swing-and-miss” pitchers are crucial in the playoffs since runs always seem to come at a premium. The numbers show that Wacha is much more of a “swing-and-miss” pitcher than Kelly.

In the long-run, Wacha will have to keep developing his breaking ball if he wants to become a true top-end of the rotation pitcher, but who can really argue with his performance thus far?

Let’s save the breaking ball development for the off-season. As fans, we need to enjoy Wacha’s incredible, old-fashioned 1-2 punch (fastball-changeup) for the rest of 2013.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

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