2014 Pod Projections: Michael Wacha

The Pod Projection train has left the station and is gaining momentum, as today brings another forecast for your reading pleasure. The young Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha dazzled over nine starts and 64.2 innings in his rookie debut and then impressed on the biggest stage in the playoffs, posting a 2.64 ERA in five starts. Not surprisingly, he is quite the target of many a fantasy player, as he’s currently the 17th starting pitcher off the board in NFBC leagues, going 92nd overall. Could he possibly deliver that kind of value to his owners?

2014 Pod Projection Index:

Masahiro Tanaka
Nolan Arenado
Manny Machado

IP: 180

Wacha pitched about 150 frames last season, so you figure 170 to 180 innings would be his range this season. He’s slotted in as the #2 or #3 starter, depending on which depth chart you consult, so he shouldn’t ever been in any danger of having a start skipped, assuming good health. As a result, I don’t think this projection is too optimistic, considering it’s higher than all four projection sets.

K%: 22.0%

Wacha’s changeup was insane last year, generating both tons of swings and misses and gobs of ground balls. His fastball was also above average at generating whiffs. If you knew a starter only possessed two pitches, I’d want those two to be the fastball and change. So it’s not the end of the world that he’s still working on that third pitch. Because the changeup is more of a swing and miss pitch, he doesn’t get a whole lot of looking strikes.

Wacha dramatically outperformed his Triple-A strikeout rate, which you don’t see often, so you have to figure that he’s due for some regression the second time around the league off his 25.0% debut rate. I calculated his xK% for 2014 as 22.0% based on his projected overall strike, swinging strike, called strike and foul strike percentages. Without a history to consult as to whether he has typically been in line with his xK% marks or not, I chose to use the xK% as my projected K% since it looked reasonable.

BB%: 7.3%

Same deal here as with his xK%. My xBB% formula spit out a 7.3% mark, which just so happens to exactly match what he posted last year. Though his F-Strike% sat below the league average, he actually threw a higher rate of overall strikes than average, so his control should remain good.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 43%/19%/38%

He was more of a fly ball pitcher in the minors, and if his changeup loses a bit of its extreme ground ball tilt, he’ll become one again. This projected batted ball distribution is similar to his debut, but assumes his line drive rate regresses toward league average, reducing both his ground ball and fly ball rates.

HR/FB%: 10.0%

I will rarely project a starting pitcher with limited Major League experience to post anything but a 10% mark. It is true that Busch Stadium does suppress home runs, but until a pitcher proves to me he possesses such home run prevention abilities, I have to assume he doesn’t.

BABIP: .295

With an expected batted ball distribution right around league average, you would figure his BABIP should follow suit. Major League starters allowed a .295 BABIP last year, so this projection assumes league average ability. Just like the HR/FB rate, until he can prove he has an inner Matt Cain, I need to see it to believe it.

Below is my final projected fantasy batting line, along with the other systems for comparison.

Pod 180 11 3.64 1.25 165 8.3 2.7 1.00 22.0% 7.3% 0.295
Steamer 173 12 3.74 1.25 156 8.1 3.0 0.84 21.4% 7.8% 0.287
Oliver 124 8 3.48 1.22 99 7.2 2.4 1.01 19.2% 6.4% 0.283
Fans (18) 171 13 3.31 1.17 164 8.6 2.5 0.84     0.299
ZiPS 155.1 10 3.54 1.20 135 7.8 2.6 0.87     0.295

It’s no surprise that the Fans are most optimistic, projecting the best ERA, WHIP, wins, and strikeout rate. I’m not sure what Oliver is thinking, as it projects him to make 8 relief appearances and only 19 starts.

So to answer the question I asked in the intro, no, I don’t think Wacha will deliver top 20 starting pitcher value this season. Could he? Sure, but fantasy owners are paying a steep price to find out. He’s way too richly valued for my blood and is therefore highly unlikely to find his way onto any of my teams.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

10 Responses to “2014 Pod Projections: Michael Wacha”

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  1. benagain123 says:

    can you copy and paste your xK% ? like whatever you are putting into your spreadsheet cell

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  2. KJ says:

    I agree Wacha will be a good contributor but at his current draft price, managers are definitely overpaying

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  3. jcxy says:

    You mention how he’s basically a two pitch pitcher and I’m curious as to whether that is something that is being overlooked some. You put the implicit caveat in that a FB/changeup mix is better than, say, FB/Slider mix because he should theoretically be able to get lefties out with that combo, but I look at the chart of guys who throw a change >20% and none use their fastball as much as Wacha.

    Having said that, the best recent comp I could find of a starter throwing pretty much only fb/change was the late model Rich Harden…who was very good. And of course, Wacha could simply throw his cutter more this year.

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    • jcxy says:

      I should be clearer–my fear is that a lack of show-me curve or a decent cutter limits his K potential over a full season.

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    • Anon says:

      Wacha was using a curveball late in the season and during the postseason last year. I would expect him to refine it during spring training and possibly add another pitch as well.

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      • jcxy says:

        Excellent! Is there any place which tracks guys like this who are working on a “new pitch”? (don’t say twitter)

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  4. troy says:

    Does this change your thoughts on his value?

    “I don’t see any reason why there is the buzz about the workload,” said Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist. “He had 170 innings last year. You can think he could be a 200-inning guy this year. At the end of the day we need some guys who can give us 200 innings.”

    Source: Associated Press

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  5. David says:

    The Cardinals have said they won’t limit Wacha’s innings; I can’t remember which young stud pitchers received this endorsement last year but is it the kind of thing we expect teams to follow through on or is it just Spring Training fluff?

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  6. Gus says:

    So basically Kris Medlen.

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  7. KCExile says:

    I would love to see one of these for Mike Leake. There hasn’t been an article written on the young lad since June. He had a pretty decent season last year, though it wasn’t overwhelming. Is he set for a step forward?

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