The Cardinals position battle is officially over, and it wasn’t very close.
On Monday, the Cardinals announced they are going with Michael Wacha as the fifth starter. This decision officially set the rotation to Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha. The rotation was pretty much set at the beginning of the year, but an injury to Alex Reyes threw the whole thing out of whack.
Reyes’ injury forced a position battle for the last spot in the rotation between Reyes and Luke Weaver. Unfortunately, Weaver dealt with back spasms this spring and did not pitch especially well, so the job went to Wacha.
Initially, pitching was supposed to be the Cardinals strength, but with injuries to Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzalez, Zach Duke, Alex Reyes and even back spasms for Luke Weaver, the Cardinals are a little thin in terms of pitching.
All this means the Cardinals will be relying more heavily on the back of the rotation. With the bullpen stretched thin, it’s more important than ever that the back of the rotation can go deeper into games to prevent a tired bullpen.
Spring training stats
Before you say anything, yes, I am aware of how useless spring training is. So useless that it’s really difficult to find spring training stats from previous seasons before they’re wiped from the internet. Of course, this is not without reason. There isn’t a lot of evidence to say spring training stats are correlated with in season performance.
However, right now, this is all we got. The name of every baseball blog for the month of March could be changed to extrapolating meaningless statistics in hopes of predicting regular season performance blog. So does spring training exist for you and me to obsess over and then ultimately forget about once the regular season starts? Yes. Let’s begin.
First things first, Wacha’s spring has been excellent. In 5 starts he’s thrown 17.0 innings with a 2.65 ERA 15 strikeouts and a 1.24 WHIP. The biggest indicator for Wacha’s regular season performance so far is his accuracy. In his worst season (last year) he had a WHIP of 1.478 after averaging a WHIP of 1.187 for the previous three seasons. The good thing is that his increased control isn’t limiting the potential of his stuff, as he’s still averaging about 8 SO/9.
“But wait,” you say, “how can you calculate SO/9 when he’s only pitched 17 innings.” To that I say shhhhhhh you’re missing the point. The point is that he’s maintaining his strikeouts with increased accuracy, both signs of a good Michael Wacha making a return to form.
Back to form?
While we’re throwing meaningless numbers around take a look at this: 3.21 ERA, 1.187 WHIP, 2.84 SO/W, 118 ERA+. Those were Michael Wacha’s average numbers before last season (2013-2015). I don’t know about you but those don’t look like number 5 starter numbers to me.
Last year; however, was a different story. Wacha’s ERA inflated to 5.09 and his WHIP went up to 1.478 while his SO/W went down to 2.53. Control and strikeouts are the name of the game for Wacha, and if his spring is any indication, he’s regaining that ability after losing it to Tommy John.
It’s not like Wacha needs to put up those 2013-2015 numbers to be a good number 5 starter. If Wacha can capture at least 65% of that solid production I think the Cardinals will be in good shape.
Another not so meaningless number: Wacha is only 25. He still has plenty of room to improve, especially because last season he was still in the process of recovering from Tommy John. It’s possible that we are yet to see the best of what Wacha has to offer.
The Cardinals’ pitching staff has suffered a lot of setbacks this spring. Their young stud pitchers Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver haven’t been healthy and some key bullpen pieces have suffered some set backs. However, the Cardinals could definitely do worse than Michael Wacha.
Though it’s hard to tell from Spring Training states, Wacha will definitely improve over his 2016 numbers and hopefully take the pressure off of an already taxed bullpen.
Photo Credit: Scott Rovak- USA Today Sports