For Michael Wacha and his offseason transformation, it all started with videos, mechanics and his dad.
Wacha, 28, signed as a free agent with the Mets in December on a one-year, $3 million deal. But, well before that, his dad, Tom, pulled up videos of Wacha’s starts from his 2019 season with the Cardinals. Together, they looked at his release point, spin rate, arm slot and other mechanics as Wacha welcomed the use of analytics into his groundwork for the upcoming season.
“I’ve always just been like, I’m going to out-compete this guy,” Wacha said earlier this month. “I usually take it on myself and not really understand — OK, that’s a bad pitch because of this, and maybe this will work better because of the spin rate or the ride on this pitch.”
The former NLCS MVP is not one for “analytics stuff,” as Wacha described it. His dad had always been “way more interested” in technology-based training, but that changed this past winter.
After his seventh season in the big leagues, when Wacha went 6-7 on a 4.76 ERA and 1.563 WHIP over 24 starts, he admitted his mechanics had been getting “a little bit out of whack” over the years. A career-low -0.2 fWAR after bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen last season was, in Wacha’s mind, reversible. So he set out to learn more about himself from that final year in St. Louis.
“My dad definitely pulled up quite a bit of the videos,” Wacha said. “He’s got some websites — I don’t even know where he looks it up. He’s got my release points at certain times during the year when I’m not pitching good. He was definitely getting into it this offseason and passing along some information to me. I think it was very helpful for sure.”
Wacha didn’t know it yet, but he was creating an advantage for himself before even signing with the Mets.
By the time Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and assistant pitching coach Jeremy Accardo approached Wacha about his mechanics in spring training, the right-hander already had a head start. Hefner and Accardo looked at video of Wacha’s outings and prepared instructions for him to implement as soon as they got word that he was joining the club.
It wasn’t until Wacha told his pitching coaches about his offseason schooling with his dad that he realized how beneficial technology can be in his routine.
“They said my mechanical changes that I made over the offseason were exactly what they were going to be telling me,” Wacha said of his early conversation with Hefner and Accardo. “Exactly the same type of information or helpful tips that they were trying to get me into, I already made them on my own.”
Despite the head start, this spring featured Wacha’s first time throwing in front of cameras. The Mets recently employed advanced technology — like Edgertronic, TrackMan and Rapsodo — in hopes of it leading to better results from their pitching staff. Wacha, across a few Grapefruit League starts, quickly noticed a difference.
For the first time in his career, Wacha went into the video room after bullpen and live batting practice sessions during spring camp. If he threw a bad curveball during a bullpen, he’d make a note of it so he could go back into the video room and inspect why it slipped out. He found it easy to adapt to a new process of correcting his mechanics.
“Those changes have definitely been a success so far,” Wacha said. “I feel like the ball’s coming out really nice. Arm and body have been feeling great.”
Wacha arrived at Mets camp in competition with Steven Matz and Rick Porcello for a spot in the rotation. That changed when the club announced Noah Syndergaard will miss the 2020 season with a torn UCL that forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery. Following Syndergaard’s injury, Wacha cemented his role in the team’s five-man rotation, but he had already impressed the Mets in backfield simulation games and exhibition outings.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching (Wacha) pitch,” manager Luis Rojas said. “I liked the plane on his fastball and touch on his change-up. It looked like he was creating some contrast with his changeup, so when you get velo, you get swings and misses with your changeup like he did and I think he was pretty firm and had a good angle at the plate.”
Major League Baseball is preparing for the possibility of a shortened or altogether cancelled season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pitchers are expected to have a tough time adjusting to a new schedule, so it’s beneficial that Wacha already picked up on his previous flaws and learned to trust his mechanical changes.
Now he just needs to translate those results into the regular season.
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