Should Michael Wacha be a starter for the St. Louis Cardinals? Probably.
… well, at some point down the line, anyway. The line between a starting-caliber pitcher who is ready to contribute to a rotation now and one who would benefit from being put in a relief role is rather thin, and the dilemma of how to put up-and-coming pitchers in the best positions to succeed is one that MLB teams contend with every year.
It just so happens that the Cardinals may be the very best at it, that’s all.
Now, it helps that they’ve got enough depth to share in their system in the pitching department, but when a team can afford to have arms like Trevor Rosenthal doing his thing in the bullpen when he’d likely be a starter on most teams, you know they’re doing something right.
The latest member to join the club is Michael Wacha, who dazzled in Spring Training with impressive command of his major league-ready fastball as as one of the team’s top pitching prospects. The only problem? As primarily a two-pitch guy with a still-in-progress changeup (he also mixes in a curve once in a while), he just wasn’t ready to be part of this particular rotation in 2013 — even if the raw stuff might be there.
As a reliever, however, the righty has been perfect — literally.
After needing 99 pitches to complete five innings while walking three in his last start on August 10 against the rival Chicago Cubs, St. Louis moved him into a relief role to help out a tired bullpen (second-most IP in August at 61 entering play on Sunday). And though it’s only been a few innings, it’s difficult to argue with the results.
In a total of three frames over his two outings out of the bullpen, the 22-old has thrown 42 total pitches, allowing no hits, no runs and yeah, you guessed it … no walks.
Oh, and and struck out seven of the nine total batters he’s seen, that’s all — no big.
With his tantalizing fastball dialed back up to the mid-90s over the his relief outings, Wacha has gone to a relief-friendly two-pitch approach, and the improvement on his stuff has more than passed both the eye and numbers test … even if it’s just three innings. That, folks, is how you maximize value in over small windows of time — and few teams do it better than St. Louis.
Sure, everything about this move has “short-term, small-sample” written all over it, but the Cardinals shouldn’t have much to be concerned about here as Wacha’s upside as a starter remains considerable. This isn’t a back-and-forth conversion, and it’s being done in a calculated manner.
After all, short-term, small-sample performance spikes at the right times are what end up making the difference between contenders and champions, no?