Red Sox SP: Michael Wacha
Throw your best pitch as much as possible. This seems to be an obvious statement, but with many pitchers whose premier offering is something other than a fastball, it takes a while to put that theory into action. Michael Wacha has always had a plus changeup, but for some reason, he kept throwing his low spin, straight fastball, a pitch that opposing hitters had an xSLG of .627 against.
Last year, however, Wacha threw that fastball at a career-low rate and his changeup at a career-high rate. The increased usage did not make his off-speed offering any less effective, as batters hit just .207 against the pitch last season and whiffed 34 percent of the time. This allowed Wacha to strike out batters at a league-average rate despite a low-spin fastball and curveball.
The biggest reason for optimism for the right-hander is the way he finished the 2021 season. After pitching to a 5.88 ERA over his first 16 starts, a performance so bad that he got bounced from the rotation, Wacha posted a 2.88 ERA over his final seven. His final two starts were particularly spectacular, allowing just one hit over ten scoreless innings.
According to Wacha, the key to his late-season success was the elimination of his most ineffective pitch, per MassLive’s Christopher Smith.
"“I felt like the cutter just didn’t have the consistency I wanted to,” said Wacha. “So just kind of scrapped that and started mixing in the curveball.”"
Eliminating a pitch batters hit .375 against is a move that seemed to be a long time coming, and Wacha was a completely different pitcher after the change.
Considering he burst onto the scene in the 2013 postseason, it’s hard to believe that Wacha is only 30 years old. Injuries and inconsistency may have sapped Wacha of his shine, but there is still plenty of time for him to turn it around. There’s a lot to like with the way Wacha finished the 2021 season, and if he can continue to build on his improvements, he can establish himself as a dependable, mid-rotation starter.
Stat Predictions: 10-8, 4.58 ERA, 152 IP, 8.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9