The Tampa Bay Rays are coming off a World Series run and are in desperate need of innings after they declined to keep ALCS Game 7 hero Charlie Morton on the roster. As constructed the fifth pitcher in the rotation was likely Brent Honeywell Jr. who had his fourth elbow surgery this offseason.
And so the Rays have turned to RHP Michael Wacha, an oft injured starter who pitched poorly for the Mets in 2020 as he experimented with adding new pitches. The Rays will use $3 million to see if they can harness what he’s learned.
Wacha, 29, is a veteran of eight Major League seasons, having spent most of his career with the St Louis Cardinals. He was originally drafted in the first round (19th overall) in the 2012 by St Louis and surged through their system to make his big league debut the following year in 2013.
During his time with St Louis, Wacha was in the middle of their rotation. His best campaign came during the 2017 season in which he finished the season with a 4.13 ERA / 3.63 FIP over 165 2⁄3 innings pitched.
Injuries have taken their toll on Wacha throughout his career and have certainly been detrimental to his success on the mound. Rare injuries like stress fractures in a shoulder can derail a career (Brandon McCarthy comes to mind) but at this price point this is the best the Rays can do.
As noted above, Wacha spent this past season with the New York Mets, with whom he pitched in eight games and finished with a 6.62 ERA / 5.25 FIP over 34 innings pitched, as he pitched into the zone but also gave up plenty of longballs in the short season. According to FanGraphs, his swing-and-miss rate of 11.3% was his highest since 2013 (11.4) and he generated swings on a career-high 34.3% of pitches outside the strike zone.
On the whole, his fastball and change up played well, and the breaking ball showed promise, so both the player and team are betting the Rays Way can turn a lot of good pieces into something new.
Michael Wacha is 29. His stuff last year with the Mets was very good. He’s the sort of guy who goes to the Rays for a year, huffs their pixie dust and emerges a far better pitcher. The $3M salary looks light, but as one person put it, “Going (to TB) is an investment in himself.”— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 18, 2020
Wacha’s most exciting feature is a change up that trades typical velo separation for significant movement. You can get away with some bad pitches when movement is above average, and when it’s not dependent on fooling batters into thinking it’s a fastball it becomes a change you can throw without setting it up.
According to the team press release, Wacha has “six career postseason starts, five of which came as a rookie in 2013 when the Cardinals won the National League pennant. This included two scoreless starts opposite Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series. He remains one of four rookies to win Most Valuable Player of a League Championship Series, along with Randy Arozarena in 2020, Liván Hernández of the Florida Marlins in 1997 and Mike Boddicker of the Baltimore Orioles in 1983.”