For tonight’s purposes, let’s say this is the current Red Sox 2022 projected rotation:
Eovaldi, Sale, ________, Pivetta, Wacha
Signing Michael Wacha for a year is fine. He can give you starts, innings, and he does some things nicely. He’s fine. However, for me at least, heading into this offseason I thought the Red Sox were past the point of signing a pitcher like this to a guaranteed 26-man roster spot, most likely in the rotation. A pitcher you’re hoping to figure out a combination of tweaks for that will make him not terrible, a combination of fixes the Rays spent last season searching for.
I’m sure the Red Sox think they have a good plan for him; maybe they figure it out and have a serious bargain, maybe they don’t and a bunch of his fly balls still end up getting caught in center and right at Fenway and it works out anyway. The Sox will probably give him some leash like they did with Richards and Perez, see what happens, and maybe have a quicker trigger on swapping in Houck or Whitlock for him if need be.
That presumes the Sox are still after a much more impactful starter, though things feel different now than they did entering the winter. A month ago, there seemed to be more hope for a Gausman addition, or thinking there was a good shot at bringing back Rodriguez and signing someone like Matz or Gray. A rotation of Eovaldi, Sale, Rodriguez, Matz, and Pivetta — or similar — would have been formidable.
Over the past 3 seasons, 70 pitchers have thrown 285+ innings. Wacha’s ERA ranks 67th, xERA 66th, FIP 67th, and xFIP 50th.
He’s gone from being a strong ground ball pitcher to keeping the ball on the ground less than average, this year only posting a 39.5% GB%. He ranks 70th/70 in home runs per fly ball over the past 3 years, with fly balls leaving the yard at a startling 19.9% rate. 1.8 HR/9 between 2019-21 and 1.7 HR/9 in 2021 with Tampa. This is the major concern, especially pitching in the AL East.
This past year, Wacha struck out 23% of batters faced, which ranked 52nd/96 pitchers that threw 120 innings. That’s fine. He walked 6% of batters faced, which ranked 22nd/96, so that’s nice.
The Rays got Wacha to a point where he created more outside the strike zone chasing than at any point in his career, ranking in the 92nd percentile. However, even with that type of dominance, when balls were batted off of him an alarming 17% were either barrels or solid contacts. As Wacha was closing out his 2021 season with an impressive final 8 appearances, his fastball continued being crushed. The Rays outfield defense cleaned up a bunch of deep flies and his BABIP was .240 in that final stretch, but he did strikeout 45 in 39 innings.
From a quick glance online, it seems the general tone around his signing is that of rallying around the hope that he truly figured something out at the end of 2021. We’ll find out just how much his new pitch mix and results carry over into next year. Maybe the Sox still have a Stroman surprise to come, or a trade out of the clouds. Until then, penciling Wacha in for some innings is fine.