When the projection series started back in January, it was unlikely that one would have been done for Michael Wacha, who seemed likely to get most of his work done in 2020 pitching long relief out of the pen. But the injury to Noah Syndergaard gives him a clear path to a gig as a starting pitcher, which is allegedly what the Mets promised him he would be when they were recruiting him as a free agent.
The Mets should have picked Wacha back in the 2012 Draft, opting instead for Gavin Cecchini, who never made much of an impact for them. And Wacha cruised to the majors, making his MLB debut late in the 2013 season. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops for Wacha. His first three seasons in the majors were great. Since then, it’s been a different story, although injuries have certainly played a major role.
In 64 games between 2013-2015, Wacha posted 26-14 record with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.187 WHIP. And even in this span when things were going good, Wacha spent time on the DL with a shoulder injury. That same injury cropped up again in August of 2016, keeping him to 24 starts that season. An oblique injury torpedoed his 2018 campaign and he was done in by knee and shoulder injuries last year.
From 2016-2019, Wacha posted a 4.39 ERA and a 1.420 WHIP.
Wacha’s numbers were even worse than that when healthy in 2019, as he finished with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.563 WHIP. His underwhelming work had him busted to the bullpen two separate times last year but it’s not like he fared better working out of the pen. In five games as a reliever, Wacha posted a 5.68 ERA and a 1.816 WHIP.
Earlier in this offseason, it was declared that Rick Porcello would be a starter and that Steven Matz and Wacha would battle it out for the final spot in the rotation. And the reason given was that the latter two had previous experience working out of the pen. Now, it may have been the correct decision. But with experience like Wacha had last year, let’s not pretend that it was good experience.
But now it looks like both Matz and Wacha will be in the rotation. Now the question is how Wacha will do, assuming he can stay healthy. Let’s check in on what the computer models forecasted for him in 2020. Please note that the Marcel projections for the year are no longer displayed at Baseball-Reference:
ATC – 90 IP, 4.47 ERA, 79 Ks, 35 BB, 13 HR
Steamer – 145 IP, 4.72 ERA, 125 Ks, 57 BB, 22 HR
THE BAT – 155 IP, 4.87 ERA, 127 Ks, 63 BB, 24 HR
ZiPS – 118 IP, 4.42 ERA, 106 Ks, 47 BB, 17 HR
ATC had him primarily as a reliever, with 30 of his 40 appearances coming out of the pen. The other three systems had him mainly as a starter, with Steamer and THE BAT having him with five relief appearances and ZiPS with three. All of the forecasts have him much more like the guy he was in 2019, rather than the one from 2013-15.
When Wacha first made the majors, his BB/9 were under 3.00 but last year his walk rate was 3.91, which certainly contributed to his poor overall numbers. But what really did him in last year was a HR rate double of what it was previously. After four straight seasons with a HR/9 in the 0.90s, Wacha’s HR rate last year was 1.85, as he allowed 26 HR in 126.2 IP.
Wacha allowed just 1 ER in 7.2 IP before Grapefruit League action was canceled. But he allowed 4 BB in that span, leading to a 1.565 WHIP, or pretty much what he did in 2019. Can he continue to keep the ball in the park and work on his walks? That’s the path to success but it’s much easier said than done. Here’s my totally biased forecast for Wacha in a 162-game season:
You’ll have more credibility if you chime in now with what you think Wacha will do this year. Next up to undergo the forecast microscope will be J.D. Davis.