It feels like a lifetime ago, but there was a time that Michael Wacha was viewed as a high upside starter. Back in 2015 with the Cardinals he went 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA, but he’s never really come close to that level in the years since. After a disastrous 2020 that saw him posted a 6.62 ERA over 34.0 IP, Wacha will now get a chance to reestablish his career in Tampa Bay.
Obviously when the Rays get involved people take notice and wonder what they see in him. What do they see, despite the flaws, to make them think they can get him back on track.
The biggest issue over the past two seasons has been home runs, something that wasn’t the case before. The owners of a career 45.4% groundball rate, that number plummeted to 35.5% in 2020 as it was the second straight season the ball consistently flew over the wall (HR/9):
- 2019 – 1.85
- 2020 – 2.38
Interestingly he wasn’t generating nearly as many groundballs on his fourseam fastball last season (28.89% GB/BIP). He also virtually eliminated the usage of his curveball (1.15%), instead throwing his cut-fastball a career high 27.05% of the time. That pitch also didn’t generate many groundballs (34.48% GB/BIP), so it makes sense that there were issues.
You would think Tampa Bay would look to rectify this issue, and things should get better. However pitching in the AL East, with regular matchups against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox, certainly adds to the concern.
Of course the lack of groundballs came with an increase in his strikeout rate, posting a career high 9.79 K/9 in ’20. His changeup is a swing and miss pitch (22.35% Whiff%) and he threw the pitch a career high 29.34% of the time last season. That said, does the alteration justify a jump of nearly 2 K per nine innings?
That would seem unlikely, and a regression back towards his career mark when coupled with the new home run issues create a huge red flag.
Obviously things will get better, considering his .366 BABIP and 68.4% strand rate in ’20. He also has solid control (3.07 career BB/9), but that’s simply not enough. The bad outweighs the good, and while the move to Tampa Bay could spark some interest it’s not enough to roll the dice.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball