Michael Joseph Wacha
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 6", Weight 195 lb.
- School Texas A&M University
- High School Pleasant Grove High School (Texarkana)
- Debut May 30, 2013
Wacha was twice All-State in high school. He was 16-3 as a junior and 6-3 as a senior. As a college freshman, he was 9-2 with a 2.90 ERA and 97 K to 22 BB in 105 2/3 IP. He was among the Big 12 Conference leaders in wins (tied for 5th), ERA (6th), strikeouts (tied for 6th) and innings pitched (tied for third). As a sophomore, he had a 9-4, 2.29 record, striking out 123 in 129 2/3 innings. He tied for 5th in the Big 12 in wins, led in hits allowed (117), was second to Taylor Jungmann in innings pitched and was second in Ks, 3 behind Jungmann. He was 59th in NCAA Division I in ERA and 14th in strikeouts. His junior year, he was even sharper at 9-1, 2.26 with a .228 opponent average, 116 strikeouts and 20 walks in 113 1/3 IP. He was third in the Big 12 in ERA (behind Andrew Heaney and Josh Turley), tied for third in wins and fourth in strikeouts. He made All-Conference alongside Heaney, Turley and Ross Stripling but did not make any first-team All-American picks. Heaney was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year. In NCAA Division I, he was 24th in ERA and tied for 37th in wins.
He was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft with the 19th overall selection (between Corey Seager and Chris Stratton). He soon signed with the team and made his pro debut with the GCL Cardinals on July 11th. He quickly moved up to the Palm Beach Cardinals and Springfield Cardinals, reaching AA by year's end. Overall, he fanned 53.3% of the batters he faced and had 40 K to 4 BB in 21 IP, allowing only two earned runs. He then tossed two shutout innings in the Texas League playoffs, fanning five. Baseball America rared him as having the best changeup in the Cards chain, as being their #6 prospect and as being the 76th-best prospect in baseball. He began 2013 with the Memphis Redbirds and continued to excel in the pro ranks (4-0, 2.05, .95 WHIP after 9 games). With St. Louis facing a slew of injured starters and already having turned to two lesser prospects (John Gast and Tyler Lyons), Wacha was called up.
Less than a year after having been drafted, he made his major league debut with the Cardinals on May 30, 2013 as the starting pitcher against the Kansas City Royals. He had a great debut, giving up only 1 run on 2 hits and no walks while striking out 6 in 7 innings. He left with a 2-1 lead but had a no-decision as the Royals rallied for three runs against Mitchell Boggs and Victor Marte in the 9th inning for a 4-2 win. Wacha also got his first major league hit that day, singling off Jeremy Guthrie. He was the second first-rounder from the 2012 draft to make his big league debut, following Kevin Gausman by only a week. He earned his first major league win on June 11th when he defeated the New York Mets, 9-2, after giving up a pair of 1st-inning runs. He was sent back to AAA on June 14th, when Jake Westbrook came off the disabled list. He was named the best player for the Pacific Coast League in the 2013 AAA All-Star Game as he retired all five batters he faced. Back with the Cardinals in early August, Wacha was used as a reliever for the remainder of that month before returning to the starting rotation in September. His record stood at 3-1, 3.21 when he flirted with history in his 9th start on September 24th. Facing the Washington Nationals, he had only allowed three baserunners when entered the 9th inning, two on walks and one who reached on an error. He retired the first two batters of the inning as Steve Lombardozzi grounded out and Denard Span was called out on strikes - Wacha's 9th K of the game - but Ryan Zimmerman spoiled the no-hit bid with a ball that bounced over Wacha's head and settled on the grass behind the mound; SS Pete Kozma attempted to grab the ball bare-handed and throw to 1B David Adams all in one motion, but the throw was late and pulled Adams off the bag. Having reached 112 pitches, Wacha was removed from the game and Trevor Rosenthal got the last out in a 2-0 win.
That outstanding performance convinced Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to insert Wacha in his starting rotation in the postseason, and the choice proved to be inspired. In Game 4 of the NLDS, with the Cards facing elimination at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Michael gave up only one hit in 7 1/3 innings - a solo homer by Pedro Alvarez - and won, 2-1. He then pitched 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball in Game 2 of the NLCS to defeat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers, 1-0, and in Game 6, pitched another 7 shutout innings, allowing only two hits, as the Cards won, 9-0, to punch their ticket into the 2013 World Series. Wacha was named the MVP of the NLCS in recognition of his two excellent starts. He continued his amazing postseason by winning Game 2 of the World Series, 4-2, over the Boston Red Sox, but was the loser when the Sox clinched the title with a 4-1 win in Game 6.
Wacha struck out 10 in a four-inning loss on April 23, 2014. He became only the fourth pitcher since 1900 to fan that many in four innings or less, but the third in two years, following Smoky Joe Wood (1909), Felix Hernandez (2013) and Danny Salazar (2014). There was a lot of hope placed in him given his postseason heroics the previous year, but injuries limited him to 19 starts, during which he went 5-6, although his 3.20 ERA was solid. He pitched 107 innings and struck out 94, against 33 walks. Given his health issues, he was not a part of the Cardinals' starting rotation in the postseason and did not see any action until Game 5 of the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. That appearance came in a high pressure situation, as the Cards were one loss away from elimination, and the score was tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the 9th inning. He did not do well, allowing a lead-off walk and a single to put two runners on before Travis Ishikawa launched one of his pitches beyond the left-field wall at AT&T Park for a three-run walk-off homer that sent the Giants to the 2014 World Series.
He was back in full health at the start of the 2015 season and started off extremely well. By defeating the New York Mets, 10-2, on May 19th, he pushed his record to 6-0, tying him for most wins in the majors with Bartolo Colon and Felix Hernandez and also exceeding his win total of the previous year. His ERA stood at 2.13 at that point. On May 24th, a 6-1 win over the Kansas City Royals ended a three-game losing streak by the Cardinals and made him the first seven-game winner in the National League. he made the All-Star team for the first time of his career that season and finished at 17-7, 3.38 as the Cards posted the best record in the majors. However, he lost his only postseason start as the Cardinals were upset by the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series. He gave up 4 runs in 4 1/3 innings in losing Game 3, 8-6, on October 12th.
He had a poor season in 2016 as his record was just 7-7 and his ERA ballooned to 5.09. While he appeared in 27 games and made 24 starts, he was not fully healthy and pitched just 138 innings. he bounced back to some extent in 2017, when he went 12-9, 4.13 in 30 games. He recorded the first shutout and complete game of his career on July 18th when he defeated the New York Mets, 5-0, on a three-hitter in his first start after the All-Star break. He went 4-1, 1.93 in July in what was clearly his best month. He then started the 2018 season very well as he went 7-1, 2.41 in his first 12 starts. On June 3rd, he pitched 8 no-hit innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates before giving up a single to pinch-hitter Colin Moran leading off the 9th. Having already made 111 pitches, he then gave way to Jordan Hicks who recorded the final three outs for a combined one-hitter. He finished that season at 8-2, 3.20 as he went on the injured list with an oblique strain on June 21st and was never able to return that season. He then had a disappointing year in 2019, as he was 6-7, 4.76 in 29 games as the Cardinals returned to the postseason. He was not added to the postseason roster, however, and became a free agent after the World Series.
On December 13, 2019, he signed a one-year contract with the New York Mets, hoping to rebuild his value, but he was limited to 8 games, 7 starts, in 2020 as the season was shortened by the Coronavirus pandemic. He was not particularly effective when he was able to take his turn on the mound, going 1-4, 6.62. On December 18th, he signed another one-year contract, this time with the Tampa Bay Rays. 2021 was another disappointing season as he finished at 3-5, 5.05 in 29 games (23 starts) in spite of pitching in front of a good team (the Rays won 100 games that year). The one was positive was his K/W ratio of 121/31 in 124 2/3 innings, but it did not translate into results. He did return to the postseason after a five-year absence but only pitched once, in relief, in the Division Series, giving up 6 runs in 2 2/3 innings in a mop-up role against the Boston Red Sox in a 14-6 loss in Game 2 on October 8th. Another one-year contract followed in 2022, this one with the Boston Red Sox, and he finally managed to put together a good season in spite of being on a last-place team: he went 12-2, 3.32 in 23 starts, logging 127 1/3 innings and striking out 104 batters. He recorded one shutout, only the second of his career, with a three-hitter against the Los Angeles Angels in a 1-0 win on June 6th, and it was enough to give him a share of the major league lead as no pitcher managed the feat more than once that season.
On February 14, 2023, he signed a contract with the San Diego Padres that could be for as many as four years but also included a chance for him to opt out after one season. No team had wanted to give him a guaranteed multi-year contract in spite of his coming off a successful season, because of his spotty track record over the preceding five years, which explains why it took so long for him to find a team and why the terms of the deal were not more favorable. While he may not have been the Padres' highest-profile signing that winter, he was one the best ones, as he was named the National League Pitcher of the Month for May. During the month, he went 3-0, 0.84 with 26 strikeouts in 32 innings. He had started the year slowly, with an ERA of 6.75 in April, before he turned things around. His former teammate with the Red Sox, Nathan Eovaldi simultaneously won the award in the AL while pitching for the Texas Rangers.
Wacha's brother, Lucas, was a senior linebacker for the University of Wyoming football team in 2016.
- NL All-Star (2015)
- 2013 NLCS MVP
- AL Shutouts Leader (2022)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2015)
- AJ Cassavell: "Padres agree to deal with Michael Wacha", mlb.com, February 14, 2023.