Michael Wacha or Sonny Gray: Who was better?

Michael Wacha missing a no-hitter by thaaat much.
Michael Wacha missing a no-hitter by thaaat much.

Rookies Sonny Gray of the Oakland Athletics and Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals have each made a great start this postseason. Gray went eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, going toe-to-toe with ace Justin Verlander, and helping the A’s even the series.

Wacha took a no hitter into the 8th against the Pittsburgh Pirates, helping the Cardinals stave off elimination and force Game 5 of the NLDS.

So which young phenom had the better outing? First, compare the lines for each pitcher.

  • Michael Wacha: 7.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
  • Sonny Gray: 8.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K

Game Score, a simple pitching metric which awards pluses and minuses the events listed in a traditional box score gives Gray 81, and Wacha 79. Verlander also recorded a 79 in his duel against Gray, but nobody has scored higher than the two rookies. Based on Game Score, it’s too close to determine who had the better start.

Beyond Game Score, I’ll take a look at their raw stuff.

Using BrooksBaseballwe can see how their stuff played out. While Wacha at 6’6″ and Gray at 5’11” are very different sizes, they both possess excellent fastball velocity. Each of them reached back for something more in the playoffs. Wacha’s fastball reached 98, and averaged 95, up 1.5 mph from where it sat during the season. Gray got up to 97 and averaged 94.5, up from 93 during the regular season.

During the regular season, Michael Wacha and Sonny Gray would each throw their fastball on 65 percent of their pitches, and lean heavily on one off-speed pitch. Gray prefers his 12-6 curveball and sprinkles in a changeup now and then. Wacha would throw his change on 25 percent of pitches, and occasionally show a curveball.

Gray held to form, and his curveball produced five whiffs. Overall, Gray had just nine whiffs, all against righties, on 111 pitches, an 8.1 percent rate that was below his regular season rate of 9.5 percent. While he didn’t have loads of whiffs, he made up for this by inducing 11 groundballs. Righties were 2-15 against Gray with seven strikeouts and one walk.

With six right-handed hitters in the Pirates starting lineup, Wacha utilized his curveball almost as often as his change-up, throwing it exclusively against righties. It got three whiffs on 14 pitches, which is one more whiff than it tallied on 52 offerings during the regular season. The changeup chipped in with four whiffs. Perhaps most impressive was the eight whiffs generated by Wacha’s four-seam fastball. Even in the 8th, Wacha was dialing up his fastball and blowing it by hitters. On 96 pitches, Wacha had 15 whiffs. That 15.6 percent rate outclassed Gray, and surpassed his 11.4 percent regular season rate.

Both were marvelous starts, but in terms of dominant stuff, it was Michael Wacha has the upper hand over Sonny Gray. Wacha featured three pitches, and was dominant against both righties and lefties. For the second start in a row, he yielded just one hit. Baseball fans can only hope that a World Series matchup of these two young pitching phenoms is in the future.

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