Could the Verducci Effect turn Wacha from rescuer to rescued?

Some gain insight from the Verducci Effect, while others have been critical of the annual work from Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci. In a nutshell, the theory is that young pitchers who throw an increased workload in year one compared to prior years are more likely to suffer injury in year two.

Among the 10 Major League hurlers aged 20-25 on Verducci’s recently-released watch list for 2014 is St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha.

As most know, the club rationed the 22-year-old’s innings during last summer, his first full season as a professional. The result was a well-rested and dominant arm that took front and center stage in the post-season as the Cardinals came to within two wins of taking the World Series.

Wacha’s spectacular run lost its steam in Game 6 against Boston. Perhaps not coincidentally, at that point he had reached the maximum innings level for which the team had planned. It was 45 2/3 innings higher than his 2012 workload.

I am not here to debate “The Year-After Effect,” but instead to wonder how it might affect the 2014 Cardinals – if it would come to pass. I am not necessarily speaking in terms of a serious injury, but more like Shelby Miller’s 2013. In other words, what if Wacha is strong all season long, but as he approaches the normal 200-inning workload of a healthy Major League starter, he hits the wall?

After all, given Wacha’s late-season success, hopes for him in 2014 are sky-high. He was given rock star treatment by fans at Winter Warm-Up, for example. Perhaps those expectations have become unrealistic.

As recently as last week, the question of a six-man rotation was posed. General manager John Mozeliak admitted it had been considered, but “the odds are low” for it to become reality, he said. Mo noted several of the starters want to work every fifth day and not have their routines disrupted. The GM did suggest they may have some members of the rotation “skip a start or two” down the stretch.

I understand why the club wants Adam Wainwright to pitch every fifth day. Yet with so many other young arms on the roster, here is hoping they develop and properly execute a reasonable workload management plan that strikes a balance between protection and winning.

I explained in a recent article how the Cardinals could elect to deploy hard-throwing Carlos Martinez in a “save the bullets” approach in 2014. The final step in such a plan would be similar to how Wacha ascended into the rotation late last season as Miller and Jake Westbrook faded.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if 2013 rescuer Wacha turns out to be the one who ends up needing late-season rescue himself in 2014?

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