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Michael Wacha and fastball command

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As managing editor Craig Edwards described in his tweet regarding 2016 projections, Michael Wacha had three seasons in one last year: solid, ace, and tired (broken down in the table below). While I do not intend to statistically justify the importance of possessing fastball command, I do plan on pointing out, as I have before (on here and on Twitter), that the lack of fastball command is a very real issue that continues to plague Wacha. Frankly, fastball command is an issue that will limit the 24-year-old righty's ability to be consistently successful in the future (and ultimately lower his ceiling) should he not be able to eventually harness it.

Time Period IP K% BB% ERA
April, May 63.1 16.2% 6.5% 2.27
June, July, August 94.0 23.6% 5.9% 2.97
September 24.0 17.0% 16.1% 7.88

Using the new heatmaps feature on Daren Willman's, I located the core locations, separated by month and by batter handedness, of Wacha's fourseam fastball last season. The goal was to see whether or not Wacha was consistent with his location when attacking hitters with the pitch. If the core location was indeed consistent, then theoretically speaking, Wacha did not have any troubles with fourseam fastballs last season. Given that I wrote an article about it, I think it is safe to say consistency was not present.

Core Location of Fourseamer to Left-Handed Batters

Month X-Value Y-Value
April -0.25 2.25
May -0.25 2.75
June -0.25 2.75
July -0.75 2.75
August -0.25 2.5
September 0.5 2.5

Core Location of Fourseamer to Right-Handed Batters

Month X-Value Y-Value
April 0.25 2.75
May 0.25 3.25
June 0.5 2.25
July 0.75 2.75
August 0.25 3.25
September 0.75 2.75

And for those who prefer visuals:

Left-Handed Batters

Wacha Overall LHB

Right-Handed Batters

Wacha Overall RHB

As you can see (from the tables and/or the maps), Wacha struggled to consistently locate his fourseam fastball last season, particularly versus right-handed batters. In fact, the exact x- and y-coordinates of his fourseamer's core location did not repeat once against righties. Of course, one could make the argument that given he was facing different opponents with different weaknesses, the core locations could change. However, over the span of one month (four to five starts in each), this should even out. Plus, as can be seen in the maps (in all RHB months except July), there were months where Wacha's fourseamer had several "mini" cores as well. What does this mean exactly? Well, long story short, the tighter (more defined) the core, the more command of the pitch.

Bottom Line

Wacha has been a very important member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Given the current state of the pitching staff, he will likely be even more important this season. He has dealt with shoulder issues (injury, fatigue) in his three-year MLB career, but given that command is a persisting problem, it is hard to put the blame on his shoulder issues. While has gone to his cutter more frequently (and it really is a pretty good pitch), his "money pitch," as reinforced by newcomer Brayan Pena, is his changeup. If he wants to keep hitters from sitting on his changeup, then he needs to begin commanding his fourseamer.

Plus, when he is able to command the fourseamer, the pitch, coming down from his 6'6" frame, is virtually unhittable. Just ask Joc Pederson.

Wacha FB

Of note, I am not alone in my worry about Wacha's fastball command, either. Earlier in the post, I linked to one of my articles, but here is another one on the topic by Steven McNeil of Redbird Rants worth checking out.