Why Did The Red Sox Sign Michael Wacha?
Chaim Bloom has a track record now. Coming from the Rays organization, Bloom loves taking on reclamation projects with the hope that player x failed because team y wasn’t smart enough to deploy him properly. Sometimes it works (Hunter Renfroe) and sometimes it doesn’t (Garrett Richards). Add Michael Wacha to the list.
After losing Eduardo Rodriguez in free agency, the Red Sox had a hole in their starting rotation. To be honest; the Sox had holes in the rotation even if they retained Rodriguez. Boston inked Wacha to a one-year contract for low dollars, but many are wondering why?
I’m not sure if the signing will work but there is a method to the madness here. Wacha spent this past year with the Rays putting together a very mediocre season. Tampa tried their damn best to mess around with Wacha’s pitch sequence but they didn’t have much success. The former All-Star starter with St. Louis posted a 5.05 ERA in 124.2 innings during the 2021 campaign. Wacha was very much below average posting a -0.7 WAR.
Wacha, 30, was an All-Star in 2015 but he’s been mostly terrible since. The Wacha signing won’t make sexy headlines in Boston but there are reasons to be optimistic here. Believe it or not, there is a glimmer of hope with Wacha.
If the Rays can’t fix you, then you should probably avoid that player. Well, that turned out to be the furthest thing from true when it comes to Hunter Renfroe who exploded with Boston. Willy Adames also popped the second he left Tampa. The Rays have been excellent at player development but it’s possible they pulled the plug too soon on the Wacha experiment. They may have been onto something.
One of the many changes Wacha experimented with last year was scrapping his cutter. Hitters flat out destroyed his cutter hitting .375 against it on the season and threw the pitch about 25% of the time. In case you don’t know baseball, let me help you out. Trea Turner led MLB in average last year hitting .328. Things were so bad that he gave up six homers and only notched 12 strikeouts with his cutter. Yeah… Wacha’s cutter got crushed long story short.
During the final month of the season, Wacha totally scrapped the pitch and went fastball heavy. During the month of September, Wacha held batters to a .070 average and .120 slugging percentage. In general, during the final month of the year, notched a tOPS+ of 31. About as good as it gets.
Of course, it’s hard not to view this as a flash in the pan. Changing up the pitch mix drastically during the final month of the season clearly threw hitters off. Furthermore, you’re only getting so far as a starting pitcher featuring just a fastball and changeup. The cheese only sits at 93.8 MPH on average so it’s not earth shattering velocity either. Additionally, the curveball and sinker were featured far less often and those pitches on the season were also hammered.
Oddly enough, despite being lit up for a majority of the season, Wacha still had two important metrics on his side. Wacha ranked in the 92nd percentile in chase rate and 84th percentile in walk rate. Those are probably the two most important things when it comes to pitching. Make hitters chase at pitches outside the zone and limit free base runners. The former Texas A&M product did both of those things last year at an excellent rate.
However, Wacha quite literally ranked in the bottom half of the league in every other metric. There was only one other pitcher in the sport with a worse max exit velocity. Wacha gave up a lot of meatballs. Hitters had no problem barreling Wacha and more often than not the hits he was giving up were rockets.
Does your brain hurt yet? There’s a ton of digging you can do here. Even Wacha’s K zones project hope. It was clear he was getting crushed in the middle inner and outer half of the zone. Probably because his cutter was leaking right over the heart of the plate. Having said that, Boston clearly has a new plan for Wacha that’s hard to project without seeing it on the field first.
Wacha won’t be the last arm that Boston adds this Winter but it might be the weirdest one. The Red Sox are hoping they find magic with Michael Wacha. Chaim Bloom hasn’t been perfect at picking out his reclamation projects, but it’s hard not to trust his intuition at this point.
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