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HRABE: Wacha’s Welcome Foe

Chris Hrabe
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Michael Wacha #74 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches the live hitting session during spring training on February 20, 2013 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Michael Wacha #74 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches the live hitting session during spring training on February 20, 2013 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

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Even though Michael Wacha will make his major league debut on Thursday at Busch Stadium against the Royals, it seems like his name has dominated talk over the past few weeks. There has been buzz about Wacha since his electric spring training, and he will face a major league team less than a year after being drafted. But there are still plenty of unknowns.

So what is expected from Wacha, and what SHOULD be expected from Wacha? Those are completely different questions.

There has been a lot of fanfare about Wacha’s start at AAA this year. After striking out 33 last year in 16 combined High-A and AA innings while surrendering only 1 ER, Wacha’s numbers came back down to earth a bit in Memphis. His strikeouts per nine innings dropped to 5.8 (34 K in 52.2 IP) and his walks were slightly up (15 in 52.2 IP, or 2.6 per nine innings.)

He still gave up only 12 ER, and stranded 86% of his batters that reached base, but what can we surmise from the numbers?

And what can we surmise from the lineup he will face?

At the very least, we know that it’s a very good thing Michael Wacha will make his major league debut against the Kansas City Royals.  The Royals have struggled offensively this year, and at least on the surface, it seems the trends will benefit Wacha.

Let’s take a look at some of those numbers and trends, courtesy of Fangraphs.

Immediately, it sticks out that the Royals rarely walk. They have walked (unintentionally) only 114 times through Wednesday night, the third fewest times in Major League Baseball. That is a 6.6% walk rate, which should benefit Wacha, especially since his own walk numbers were a bit up.

The Royals also aren’t particularly disciplined, shockingly enough. They carry a 31.6 outside the zone swing percentage, seventh highest in MLB.

Kansas City also hits a lot of ground balls, which is another reason their lineup is a welcome sight for pitchers. The Royals have a 48.1% groundball rate (third highest in MLB – not a good thing) and 1.48 groundball to flyball ratio (also third highest in MLB – and also not good.)

When they are hitting the ball in the air, albeit just 32.5% of the time, it is rarely over the fence. The Royals’ meager 6.4% homerun to flyball rate is second to only the Marlins for the worst in MLB.

These numbers certainly benefited Tyler Lyons in his second major league start on Tuesday night in Kansas City. Lyons had the benefit of a welcome double-dip to start his career in the Padres at Petco and KC at Kaufman.

None of this means Wacha will throw a perfect game on Thursday night, or even what Tyler Lyons did on Tuesday in KC. But it does mean that just about every measurable from the Royals should lend itself to a successful night from the rookie.

And all of this doesn’t even take into account the positive Cardinals bring to the table themselves. An impressive run of performances from young pitchers they have developed. A league best 35-17 record and +74 run differential. And Yadier Molina behind the plate.

Who knows how long Wacha will be in the Cardinals rotation, and what the staff will look like for the rest of the year. When asked on Wednesday afternoon what his mentality was, Wacha said, “I’m here to stay.”

The Kansas City Royals might be just the welcoming party for the start of a long stay. That much we’ll know by tonight.

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