St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha went from first-round pick to playoff hero in just about 15 months after his near no-hitter Monday night. In that dominant start, Wacha gave up just one hit, a solo home run to Pedro Alvarez, over seven and a third innings. In fact, the hit came with one out in the eighth inning, giving Wacha a no-hitter (with two walks) until then. It was an incredibly dominant start: Wacha struck out nine, induced three infield pop ups and got five of the remaining nine outs via ground balls.
Ranked as the 83rd best prospect by MLB.com, 76th by Baseball America and 56th by Baseball Prospectus, Wacha, like Yasiel Puig, was probably a lot lower on the top prospect lists coming into 2013 because prospectors hadn’t seen very much of him. Again, Marc Hulet appears to be one of the few writers who were higher on Wacha, ranking him 24th before the 2013 season (and writing several articles on him throughout the season).
After a 2012 campaign in which he threw just 21 innings, Wacha, 22, started 2013 in Triple-A, throwing 85 fairly dominant innings with a 2.65 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 21.9% strikeout percentage and 5.7% walk rate. While writers were impressed, they felt that Wacha was going to be “susceptible to the long ball.”
Wacha has proven Hulet wrong by improving his numbers in the major leagues over his Triple-A numbers. With a 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, a 25% strikeout rate and (somewhat higher but still solid) 7.3% walk rate, the young Texan has shown that he has the stuff to win in the majors. Wacha has also brought down his home run rate to 0.70 per nine innings.
In another very interesting article on FanGraphs, Dave Cameron discusses how Wacha breaks down conventional pitching wisdom by rarely pitching inside. Despite the limitations that this might cause him, Wacha has even dominated left-handed hitters (as a righty). Cameron writes that he becomes a two-pitch pitcher against lefties but he has “two plus pitches and fantastic command regularly putting the ball in unhittable spots.” Those two pitches are, of course, his fastball (which averages about 93.5 mph) and a changeup. While he adds in a curveball about 5% of the time, Wacha throws about 65% fastballs and 27% changeups (the numbers vary depending on whose stats you go by).
The fact is that Wacha is part of a large group of very good, young pitchers that have graduated to the big leagues in 2013 and he’s proving that he can get it done when the pressure is on.