COMMENTARY | When the St. Louis Cardinals had their backs against the wall in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was Michael Wacha who bailed them out with a dazzling performance that turned heads around the country.
Wacha's postseason magic was not done there as the 2012 first-round pick out of Texas A&M out-dueled two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw not once in the NLCS but twice, in helping the Cardinals advance to the World Series.
So where does Wacha rank among the elite young pitchers across the bigs?
There are several stud pitchers that can still be considered young. Kershaw is still young at the ripe age of 25. Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants has logged three full seasons of more than 200 innings at the age of 25. Even Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals is just 25 years of age.
But among the young stars who have less than two years of experience -- a list that includes Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, Gerrit Cole of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Wacha's own teammate Shelby Miller of the Cardinals -- there are several reasons to believe that Wacha is the best of them all.
Pin-point control with a mid-90s fastball. Wacha has already shown an uncanny ability to control the zone, painting the blacks of plate with his mid-90s fastball that he occasionally can dial up to be even faster. Wacha struggled with some walks in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, but otherwise has shown that he can establish his fastball in non-hitter friendly zones, as evidenced by his 1.098 WHIP during the regular season and 0.913 WHIP throughout October.
The plane. Not only does Wacha have pin-point control with his explosive fastball, but it is also difficult for opponents to react to it because of his 6-foot-6-inch frame. Wacha hides the ball well and his height makes it feel as though he is bearing down on hitters. His over-the-top throwing motion creates a downward trajectory as it comes toward home plate, resulting in plenty of ground balls and poor contact.
Best changeup in baseball. While Wacha's throwing plane and fastball make it difficult enough for hitters to time him, he also may possess the best changeup in all of baseball. Wacha gets unbelievable downward movement on his changeup, which generally sits in the mid-80s. Catcher Yadier Molina is not afraid to call it in any situation or in any count, either, which keeps hitters continually guessing and off balance.
Unbelievable poise. Young players are being tested more and more early in their careers during high-pressure situations. But how many guys have answered the bell the way Wacha did in the 2013 postseason? Wacha carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of an elimination game on the road in a hostile environment in Pittsburgh. He out-pitched Kershaw twice in a single playoff series. That is the definition of poise and composure.
Even the best and most experienced aces can wilt under pressure, and Wacha has already shown that he can perform at a high level when the stakes are at their highest.
Room for improvement. Wacha has already shown that he can dominate most MLB hitters, but there are holes in his repertoire that can still be improved. Wacha has an average curve ball at best, which figures to get better over time. If he can improve and refine that pitch and possibly add a cut fastball to his arsenal, he could become even more deadly as a pitcher that hitters hate to face.
Baseball is littered with a group of outstanding young starting pitchers, led by the likes of Harvey and Cole, who are supremely talented and have extremely bright futures for their respective teams.
But Michael Wacha looks to be a special case because of his stuff, his size, his poise and his ceiling and likely has the brightest future of them all.
Corey Rudd is owner/editor of StlSportsMinute.com and co-host of Fan Interference on CBS Sports 920 AM in St. Louis. Rudd writes about the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Rams and Missouri Tigers football team as a contributor for Yahoo Sports. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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