Something kind of strange has happened over the last half-decade—St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha became underrated.
The amount of hype which surrounded Wacha’s rookie campaign in 2013 has perhaps faded somewhat in the subsequent years, but he was an enormous deal. He debuted at 21, retiring the first ten Kansas City Royals he faced in an extremely annoying game, he nearly threw a no-hitter a couple months after his 22nd birthday, and most notably he threw 22 postseason innings while allowing one only run in that year’s NLDS and NLCS.
It turns out that Michael Wacha didn’t become a quote-unquote staff ace, but he has still been mostly successful if one looks at his resume with tempered expectations. Since 2013, Wacha ranks 48th among pitchers in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, and despite his reputation as an injury risk, Wacha has averaged a respectable 161 2⁄3 innings over the last three seasons.
Wacha has spent the last two seasons performing much better by Fielding-Independent Pitching than by Earned Run Average, though in 2017, his 4.13 ERA (with a 3.63 FIP) was a far less obvious eyesore than in 2016, when his 5.09 ERA looked far more dreadful than his 3.91 FIP suggested he actually was. The biggest change in Wacha’s performance from 2016 to 2017 was his strikeout rate, jumping a full strikeout per nine innings, from 7.43 to 8.58, while his walk rate stayed about the same (jumping from 2.93 to 2.99 BB/9). He also made 30 starts, tied for a career high.
By FanGraphs WAR, 2017 was Michael Wacha’s best season, which flew under the radar due to his so-so ERA and the team’s average-ness throughout the year. VEB actually nailed his season FIP last year while underestimating his durability. For 2018, ZiPS projections and Steamer projections believe that Wacha will take a slight step back from his improved 2017 but that his true talent is far closer to his 2017 results than his 2016 results. Meanwhile, while Baseball Prospectus’s Wins Above Replacement Player did not like Wacha’s 2017 nearly as much as FanGraphs WAR or even the much more lukewarm Baseball Reference WAR, its Pecota projections expect a big bounce-back year in 2018.
What do you think?