St. Louis Cardinals

Could Michael Wacha be a sneaky deadline difference maker?

The St. Louis Cardinals are trade deadline buyers, but if they move Michael Wacha could he make a difference for another team?

Entering Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals are one game back in the NL Wild Card race and three games back in the NL Central. So they are trade deadline buyers, but in the case of Michael Wacha they may go the opposite direction.

Wacha has a 5.54 ERA this season over 16 appearances (14 starts; 76.1 innings), with a career-low 7.3 K/9 and a career-worst 4.6 BB/9. He was demoted to the bullpen on May 24, and pitched twice between then and June 10 before being put back into the rotation. His first start back was good, albeit against the feeble Miami Marlins’ offense, but since then he has 5.31 ERA over his last four starts.

Over the weekend, Wacha told reporters he has been removed from the rotation a second time this year. But Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch went a step further, suggesting Wacha, in the final year of his contract and unlikely to be back with the Cardinals next year, could be traded.

For a stretch in 2018, Wacha pitched well (6-0, 1.74 ERA, 23 percent strikeout rate). But an oblique injury limited him to 15 starts, as his form from 2013-2015 got further in the rearview mirror amid injuries in recent years.

But could Wacha be a viable trade deadine addition for another team?

Wacha’s issues seem to come down to two things. He is allowing more home runs (2.1 per nine innings this year), fueled by ceding more fly balls (31.5 percent this year; 27.4 percent in 2018) and what seems to a fair amount of bad fortune (24 percent home run/fly ball rate; 13.6 last year). He’s also throwing his fastball more (49.8 percent) and his curveball less (11.8 percent) than he did last year (43.2 percent and 14.9 percent respectively). And that’s where the second issue comes in.

Wacha’s average fastball velocity peaked at 95.1 mph in 2017, and it’s down to 92.6 mph this year. As expected, the advance metric value of his four-seamer has fallen off a cliff in concert with that drop in velocity. Frankly, throwing an ineffective pitch more often easily yields an ERA over 5.50.

There’s a strong case to be made that Wacha’s best pitch is his changeup right now. But without better separation in velocity compared to his fastball, it’s worth wondering just how effective that pitch can be.

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It’s possible there’s a flaw in Wacha’s mechanics, rooted in his prior injuries, and he could recapture lost fastball velocity with help to fix it. For around $2.7 million over the rest of this season, with no commitment beyond that, a team or two might consider Wacha a worthy trade deadline flier.

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