Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How many innings will Michael Wacha pitch for the Cardinals in 2014?

According to an ESPN report, the Cardinals aren't setting an innings limit on Michael Wacha in 2014 and the Cards pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, stated that Wacha "could be a 200-inning guy this year". 

But is that realistic?

Between the minors, majors and postseason, Wacha logged 180.1 innings in 2013, so 200 innings is not that big of a jump.  

However, that is just the regular season.  Wacha pitched 30.1 innings during the 2013 playoffs.  If he were to pitch that much again in 2014, he would end up at around 230 innings, a 50 innings jump from 2013.

Wacha's innings increase from 2012 to 2013 has already placed him on Tom Verducci's annual "Year-After Effect" list.  Wacha pitched just 134.1 innings in 2012 (between college and the minors).  Thus his 180.1 innings in 2013 represent a 46 inning increase (Verducci identifies anything over 30 innings, for pitchers under 25, as a risk). 

Another season with a increase of over 30 innings would really put Verducci in a tizzy.

Now, there have been studies that have criticized or dispute the "Verducci effect" and there are some who point to his "effect" being correct 75% of the time.  In any case, I just don't see the Cardinals pushing Wacha to 230 innings this year. 

I think the Cardinals will take a more cautious approach, similar to what they did with Shelby Miller.  Miller progressed from 139.2 innings in 2011 to 153.2 in 2012 to 173.1 in 2013, his first full season in the minors.  Miller was then basically shut down in the playoffs, pitching only 1 inning and become the forgotten man.

The Cardinals do not want to face a similar situation with Wacha.  Thus, Wacha could have a "soft" limit of 180-190 innings in the regular season, which would allow him to pitch 20-30 innings in the playoffs without much concern. 

190 innings is not a bad limit for Wacha's first full year.  He will probably make around 32 starts, which, if he averages around 6 innings per start, would put him at 192 (Miller averaged a little over 5.5 innings per start). 

To reach 200 innings for the year, Wacha would have to average about 6.5 innings per start, something he's certainly capable of, but at the same time not something that is a given, especially if the Cardinals try to limit his innings per start so as to reduce his overall innings.

In any case, it will be interesting to see what the Cardinals say in September if Wacha is approaching 200 innings.  Despite what they are saying now, they may have other plans that they are not telling us about.

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