Michael Wacha Requests Your Attention

The 2013 postseason included some of the best young pitchers in recent memory. Alex Cobb battled Danny Salazar in the AL Wild Card game and emerged victorious. Sonny Gray twice faced perennial Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander, and he outdueled him the first time. But Cardinals youngster Michael Wacha stole the show with his five postseason outings. He earned the NLCS MVP along the way by allowing zero earned runs over 13.2 innings in that round.

Postseason numbers are moot when it comes to fantasy baseball, but his highly visible performance on the big stage of October means that he won’t be slipping through the cracks on draft day. Wacha will probably be ranked similarly to players like Anibal Sanchez and Zack Greinke, so let’s spend some time deciding if he’s worth that kind of investment.

In his brief 95 inning exposure to the big leagues, Wacha has mostly leaned on a two pitch mix of fastball and change-up. Both pitches were quite excellent last season, especially his change-up, which generated whiffs at a rate similar to Cole Hamels. Wacha doesn’t have the same command and control of the pitch, but he’s set up to be a change-up artist for as long as he remains healthy. Anecdotally, Hamels is an interesting comp since he also entered the league throwing little besides a fastball and change-up. His curve ball remains a show me pitch to this day, although his cutter has become fairly useful.

Incidentally, the other pitches that Wacha has shown are a curve ball and cut fastball. The cutter only came out to play in September, and he put the pitch away for the postseason. We may see more of the pitch in 2014, but it probably needs development in the pen. Some pitchers will work on a pitch for over two years before moving it into their repertoire while others will use new pitches immediately upon discovering them. Who knows where Wacha falls in that dichotomy. The curve ball showed fairly well, although he only used it about six percent of the time during the regular season. That rate doubled in the postseason, likely to keep hitters from sitting on the fastball or change-up.

Wacha Pitch Usage

His pitch usage chart shows that he likes to get ahead with the fastball and move to the change-up. Because Wacha was new to the league, it is my suspicion that Yadier Molina presented him with a straight forward game plan. Change-up artists usually mix their pitches uniformly so as to remain as unpredictable as possible. I expect we’ll see more of that from Wacha in 2014.

If there is any particular concern with Wacha, it’s that he sprinted through the minor with a minimal amount of seasoning. He ended up throwing 180 innings in his age 22 season, thanks to his 30 inning workload in the postseason. Wacha hasn’t been around long enough to establish a regular offseason routine, but his postseason run could increase his injury risk slightly. Then again, that risk may be overwhelmed by the value of the experience he received on the postseason stage – especially with working his curve ball in more frequently.

His overall fantasy profile is quite attractive. He features good command and control, which should help him to work efficiently and pitch deep into games. While the Cardinals probably won’t be as ridiculously effective with runners in scoring position as they were this past season, he should still be in line for good run support. That means the always elusive wins stat could work in his favor. He’s also well positioned to excel in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP.

Pricing him will be a bit tricksy. Or maybe I mean to say risky. It’s hard to place a high valuation on a pitcher with such a short major league track record without at least some trepidation. But that’s what you’ll have to do to win him in the draft. Blame the postseason.

I’ve laid out a projection for above average production in three to four categories. Looking at where pitchers with similar projections went in 2013, that should make him about the 18th pitcher off the board for about $20. It’s completely reasonable if you’re less willing to call him a four category starter – Steamer and Oliver expect him to be pretty ordinary. But given the tools at his disposal, I’m more excited about his future than I am worried about regression.

As a parting thought, I recently wrote up Gray and Salazar for RotoGraphs. With both pitchers, I concluded that they may end up a bit underpriced in fantasy drafts. In terms of projected outcomes, they’re pretty similar to Wacha, even though they get there in different ways. Depending on your league, it’s possible that you could get that pair for the same price as Wacha. Then again, it’s still early in the offseason, so this is mostly guesswork.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

23 Responses to “Michael Wacha Requests Your Attention”

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  1. Steven says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t bring up his velocity. His numbers in AAA (7.73 SO/9, .95 HR/9, 3.53 FIP) weren’t nearly as good as his major league numbers last year. For some reason, he experienced a velocity boost once he got the majors which is probably the best explanation for his increased dominance. Will he keep that velocity over a full season instead of just 14 starts is something I don’t know, but that will probably end up being a large determinant in his success.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Yes, there’s a good article on his player page from the postseason about him pitching like a reliever. I meant to link to that…

      Velocity won’t necessarily affect his strikeout rate greatly – we find that relationship is much stronger with relievers. We do need to consider those Triple A numbers when thinking about regression though. Anytime you have a youngster perform the way Wacha did, you have to expect regression (the bad kind).

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  2. McDiddy says:

    Where do you rank Wacha vs. Shelby Miller for 2014, in terms of fantasy value?

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  3. Vernon Wells says:

    Would you guys trade Goldschmidt and Ellsbury for Trout in a dynasty league with no restrictions/salaries?

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    • Triteon says:

      In a heartbeat.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Absent any other knowledge, yes. There is the possibility that it makes your team worse off though. For example, if you’re replacing Goldy with say Gaby Sanchez, then you’ll need to think about it. You may still want to make the trade even in that case, although I think you’ll find it hard to compete in 2014.

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      • Vernon Wells says:

        I’d be moving Edwin Encarnacion from 1B/3B to replace Goldy and Allen Craig from Utility to replace Edwin. I’d then need to draft a hitter to replace Allen Craig in Utility.

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      • Pat G says:

        that didn’t answer the question lol. Your net change is still Goldschmidt+Ellsbury to Trout+Util (so any offensive player). But you haven’t indicated what sort of pool you are drafting from.

        That said, there is a very short list of players that wouldnt make this a win for you. Much like trout+(2) replacement level OF = top 10 OF, Trout+just about anyone will be more valuable than ellsbury+goldschmidt.

        Ellsbury is 30, and Goldscmidt is 26, trout is 22. He will be the gift that keeps on giving.

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      • Vernon Wells says:

        Thanks, Pat G. It’s a 10-team, 15-keeper league, so I’d be drafting from the likes of Will Venable, Paul Konerko, Nick Swisher, Brandon Moss, etc. for my Utility spot. Sounds like Trout is the way to go! Thanks, guys.

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  4. i’m surprised to see the prediction that wacha will be ranked among greinke and sanchez. i think both players are much better than wacha.

    i view wacha as a medlen level pitcher heading into 2014, which isn’t a knock on either. i do agree that wacha will have the most hype among the younger pitchers not named gerrit cole going into 2014 fantasy drafts, but that also makes him a candidate to underperform his draft position.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Actually, Medlen is the PERFECT comp value wise. Last season, Medlen’s average draft price was $17 according to Fantasy Pros. Greinke and Latos went for $15 and Wainwright/Bumgarner went for $19. Medlen probably should have been drafted for $11 with the Doug Fisters of the world.

      The reason was that Medlen was perceived to be a better pitcher than he was. I expect that same phenomenon to occur with Wacha this season.

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      • ok – that makes more sense. preseason 2013 anibal or greinke. wacha is just one of those guys i’ve resigned that i won’t have on any of my teams this year due to ADP and auction value. and i’m fine with that.

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    • cs3 says:

      “i do agree that wacha will have the most hype among the younger pitchers not named gerrit cole going into 2014 fantasy drafts”

      Jose Fernandez?

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  5. Troy says:

    Im happy to keep him for $3 this year. He may underperorm $20 but not $3.

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  6. Troy says:

    To follow up on post about keeping wacha at $3, I can only keep two players for next year at a $3 inflation. I have Wacha $3, Carpenter $4, and also have Rosenthal $3. Which guys would you keep for the best value. I am leaning toward Carpenter and Wacha. I also had Gonzo, Tulo and Elsbury, but they don’t have the same value compared to their price as the cardinal players.

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  7. Whydidilose says:

    Good article, Brad.

    Do you expect the Cardinals to cap Wacha’s IP in 2014 (like they did with Shelby Miller 2013)? In a H2H league, would Greinke and Sanchez be more valuable, since they will be pitching come fantasy playoff time (barring injury)?

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  8. cs3 says:

    Brad, just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to respond to basically every comment in a well thought manner. Appreciate the time you put into it and look forward to more excellent articles in the future such as this one.

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