Fantasy Baseball 2018: Is Michael Wacha underrated?

Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha rebounded from a down 2016. Is he still being underrated entering the 2018 season?

The St. Louis Cardinals have some more competition in the National League Central after the offseason the Milwaukee Brewers had. The Cardinals traded away some pieces but also added some in the process. One piece that will need to perform well is pitcher Michael Wacha.

Wacha posted his highest strikeout rate since his rookie season in 2013. While he did have his highest walk rate, he was able to limit his hits in order to lower his WHIP. Wacha increased his ground ball rate and lowered his line drive rate between seasons. Opposing batters were also making softer contact against Wacha.

He increased the usage of his cut fastball and curveball while keeping his fastball rate roughly the same in both seasons. Wacha also increased his zone percentage by 1.4 percent, his first-pitch strike by 6.7 percent and swinging strike by 1.5 percent. His contact rate dropped by three percent as well.

Lucky for Wacha, and the other Cardinals pitchers for that matter, Busch Stadium ranked in the lower third in home runs and runs and in the bottom half in hits and doubles.

There are a couple of NL Central parks that rank in the upper half in home runs, but Wacha made just six starts in his division opponents’ home parks last year. Pitching in a pitcher-friendly park will help struggling pitchers rebound and get their form back.

Wacha had a down 2016, with a 5.09 ERA/1.478 WHIP/114 K/45 BB line in 27 games. Because of his poor 2016, Wacha fell to the 23rd round in ESPN leagues, 223.5 ADP. Anyone who owned him this season benefitted from a bounce-back season.

He made the third-most starting in the Cardinals rotation with improved stats from the year prior. Over 30 starts, Wacha finished with a 4.13 ERA, 1.358 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 12-9 record. He finished as the No. 63 starting pitcher on the Player Rater.

Wacha is still just 26 years old. He’s been in the league for five seasons already. He was good in his first two seasons, albeit them being partial seasons. His 2015 was a dominant season, earning a spot on the NL All-Star roster.

After his down year in 2016, Wacha improved last year. I think he will continue to get back to his All-Star self. Wacha will likely rank outside my top-60 starting pitchers this season. That doesn’t mean he should be undrafted. If you are looking for a sleeper or a player ready to break out, I feel Michael Wacha is that player.