St. Louis Cardinals: Last Chance for Michael Wacha to Prove Worthy as a Starter

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Coming off a disappointing 2016 season, Michael Wacha has a lot to prove in 2017. Another sub-par year and the St. Louis Cardinals may be forced to use him in a different role.

The St. Louis Cardinals are keeping a close eye on Michael Wacha this spring. Once a future top-tier starting pitcher, Wacha has slumped to a battle for a rotation spot entering 2017. However, Wacha appears aligned for the fifth slot in the rotation thanks to an impressive spring to this point. The question now is whether or not he has any staying power in a cut-throat Cardinals starting five.

Michael Wacha has pitched like his pre-2016 self in five starts this spring. He’s 2-0 with a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings pitched. Wacha has had good command of his pitches, to the point in which his manager has taken notice. Mike Matheny said, as quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“When his fastball is right, you’re seeing those awkward swings on his changeup. I think his curveball is getting better. He’s smart with the cutter. He’s in a good place all-around.”

Wacha has all the momentum on the spring stage, but the true test will be the 162-game, potential 30-start regular season. The Cardinals right-hander must first stay healthy. An injury-riddled 2016 season doomed Wacha. It seemed he never had a chance to really get going, leading to a forgettable season overall. The Cardinals need a healthy season from Michael Wacha not only for their own team’s success, but also to assess Wacha’s future as a starting pitcher.

Wacha has a dangerous track record of fading as the season progresses. In 2015, he began the season with a 2.42 ERA in April and a 2.17 ERA in May, just to finish the year with a 7.88 ERA in five starts between September and October.

Similarly, in 2016 Wacha opened the year with a 3.07 ERA in April, then finished the year with a 5.40 ERA in two starts in August, and a 17.55 ERA in September/October in four appearances. He posted a BAA of .299 in July, .300 in August and .500 in September/October. Yes, injuries often disrupted his 2016 season. However, it’s safe to say Michael Wacha wasn’t fooling any hitters toward the end of the campaign.

Point being, Wacha has yet to prove he can maintain for a full season. He’s only 25 years old, but he wears quickly. He has the repertoire of a starting pitcher, but he can’t sustain it. Another season similar to the last two and St. Louis may be forced to find an alternative use for Michael Wacha.

A poor 2017 as a starting pitcher and the Cardinals will be left with two options moving forward. They can move Wacha to the bullpen as a middle reliever. Wacha’s 6’6” frame, multiple pitches and mid-90s fastball could make him a weapon out of the bullpen. Or, the Cardinals can keep him as a starter, but with added rest. St. Louis always has a deep rotation, and it may benefit Wacha greatly if he could pitch on the occasional six days of rest.

He may never be a 30-start, 200-inning workhorse. Instead, he could be a 24-start, 150-inning starter. Though he could also pitch to the effect of former starters like Travis Wood of the Kansas City Royals or Joe Blanton of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Each have had good success out of the pen, and you’d have to think Wacha is a more dominant pitcher than both of them. We’ll see what the future holds for Michael Wacha. First, he has a vital 2017 season ahead of him.

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