Michael Wacha has a 9-3 record through his first 14 starts this season. He also has a 2.85 ERA and 136 ERA+ that stacks him up as the 19th best starting pitcher in baseball this season (among starting pitchers with at least 10 games started). So the question is whether Wacha can continue this pace to become the third different Cardinals pitcher to win 20 games in the last 13 years?
Let’s take a quick glance at the history. In the last 10 years, there have been 23 times a pitcher has posted a season of 20 or more wins. Here is how many wins each had through 14 games.
11 wins (5) – Clayton Kershaw, 2014, R.A. Dickey, 2012; Brandon Webb, 2008; Josh Beckett, 2007; Dontrelle Willis, 2005
10 wins (2) – Max Scherzer, 2013; Cliff Lee, 2008
9 wins (7) – Adam Wainwright, 2014; Gio Gonzalez, 2012; David Price, 2012; Jered Weaver, 2012; Wainwright, 2010; Mike Mussina, 2008; Chris Carpenter, 2005
8 wins (3) – Roy Halladay, 2010; Halladay, 2008; Bartolo Colon, 2005
7 wins (4) – Justin Verlander, 2011; Ian Kennedy, 2011; CC Sabathia, 2010; Roy Oswalt, 2005
6 wins (2) – Johnny Cueto, 2014; Kershaw, 2011
On an unrelated note, it’s pretty impressive that Kershaw only had six wins over his first 14 starts of 2011, but won 15 of the next 19 to finish with 21 wins.
In a matter of Cardinals coincidences, each time a Cardinals’ pitcher has won 20 games in the last 13 seasons, they each had 9 wins through 14 starts.
The final numbers show that in 16 of the 23 seasons (70% where a pitcher won 20 games, they’d won 9 games or less through their first 14 starts of the season. He would seem to be positioned well for a run at it.
For Wacha though, this isn’t the whole story. Wacha will likely be on an innings limit overall for this season, so I would expect them to control how much and how often he pitches more closely down the stretch. While the Cardinals have said that they’re considering backing off the innings limit for Wacha (which I agree with), it will still make it difficult to log enough innings and enough starts to win 20 games. With his performance so far this year, that might be the biggest mountain for him to climb towards 20 games.
The fewest innings any pitcher in the history of baseball has thrown and still won 20 games is the 188 innings thrown by Jered Weaver in 2012. Weaver made 30 starts and won 20 of them. If Wacha continues to throw innings at the pace he has, he too will be at 188 innings through 30 starts, but in 30 starts he is only on pace to win 19 games. Two more starts and Wacha’s pushing the 200 innings plateau.
We know that Mike Matheny likes to give guys the chance at individual accomplishments if it’s possible, so it’s something to pay attention to as the season wears down and we know better whether Wacha might actually win 20 games.
If he does, it would be a heckuva start to a career by doing it in his first full season at the age of 23.