As promised earlier this week, we are back to talking about Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals. To start the week, we discussed a possible deal that would send Wacha from the Cardinals to the Miami Marlins for Marcell Ozuna, which you can read here. But today we will look at a different angle, one that is certainly worth monitoring if Wacha stays in St. Louis.
As things stand right now, the Cardinals starting rotation is extremely crowded. The starting staff will include the likes of Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake for sure. The final two slots will likely be be taken from two of the following names: Jamie Garcia, Alex Reyes and Lance Lynn. The club also has a new plan for former closer Trevor Rosenthal, whom they plan on extending out to become a starter.
That would leave former 17 game winner Michael Wacha on the outside looking in. Wacha suffered through a rough 2016 season, as he battled his fair share of injuries. At the end of the season Wacha posted a 5.09 ERA, struck out 114 men over the course of 138 innings and had a 1.48 WHIP. He also ended the season coming out of the bullpen after returning from injury.
This leaves Wacha in a position where the club may experiment with using him more out of the pen. He could become a super reliever of sorts. Wacha is still only 25 years old, plus a former top prospect who has had success in the Majors. This leads me to believe he could become a dominant reliever if the Cardinals decide to go all out with the move. It even has me think he could become the next Andrew Miller given the talent he possesses.
For those of you who are unaware of Andrew Miller’s story, he went from unsuccessful starting pitcher to one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball. This past year so him become a dominant force in the Cleveland Indians bullpen, helping the club reach the World Series. But to understand the whole picture, we need to go back to the beginning with Miller.
Miller would begin his career with the Detroit Tigers back in 2006, as a 21-year-old kid. He would go on to start 13 games for the club in 2007, posting a 5.63 ERA over 64 innings. He was the sixth overall draft pick who was rushed to the big leagues, and it certainly showed during his time with Detroit.
Then on December 5, 2007, Miller was on the move for the first time in his career in one of the biggest, and most lopsided trades in Major League Baseball history. Miller, along with Cameron Maybin and other youngsters were shipped to the Florida Marlins in exchange for a guy named Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera and Dontrelle “D-Train” Willis. As you probably know, Miggy has been one of the best players in MLB this generation has seen, and is still an integral part of the Tigers.
Miller would go on to pitch three seasons with the Marlins, flipping between starter and reliever. But Miller never found his groove as a Marlin, with his best ERA being 4.84 in 2009 when he started 14 games. Over the course of those three seasons, Miller would win a combined 10 games, and the Marlins finally had enough.
On November 12, 2010, Miller would be sent to the Boston Red Sox in a very minor deal. The Red Sox would non-tender him and then re-sign him all before the calendar flipped to 2011. Miller would then proceed to pitch three and a half seasons in Boston, which is where things truly began to turn around.
After one more unsuccessful season as a starter, Miller was moved to the pen full-time for the 2012 season. This would become the first season Miller posted a sub-3.50 ERA and sub-1.20 WHIP. By 2014, Miller had gotten his ERA to right around the 2.00 mark and his WHIP below a 1.00. During that season the Red Sox sent Miller to Baltimore for highly regarded pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, in a move the Sox are surely wishing they could have back.
You know the rest of the story. Miller would sign with the New York Yankees the following winter, and then after a year and a half in pinstripes be sent packing once again to Cleveland. But this time he brought the Yankees a large return, and would go on to be a crucial member of an Indians team that won the AL Pennant.
Now back to Mr. Wacha. He has not been around as long as Miller when he finally shifted to the pen. Also Wacha has not endured as many struggles in the rotation as Miller did. But both men have some seriously filthy stuff. Miller has proven how dominant an arm of his, and Wacha’s talent can be in a relief role. Wacha has yet to enter his prime, and we have not seen his best stuff.
Wacha should be entering Spring Training fully healthy this Spring. A healthy Wacha is a scary Wacha, as he know what he is capable of. All you have to do is look back to 2015, where he won 17 of 30 games, struck out 153 batters, and posted a 3.38 ERA. The talent is there, and he is only approaching his prime.
So if the team does indeed move Wacha to the pen for a super reliever role, he could certainly take the role and run with it. It will be interesting to see if the club decides to make this a permanent move. If it is, then Wacha is as capable as anyone to be the next Andrew Miller: A struggling starter turned dominant reliever.