Michael Wacha has shined in his first two Red Sox starts
In the weeks before MLB’s grueling three-month lockout this past offseason, the Boston Red Sox signed 30-year-old veteran pitcher Michael Wacha to a 1-year, $7 million contract in the hopes the righty could build upon an impressive run that began over the course of his last several starts in 2021, as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
After all but dropping an ineffective cutter (opponents were hitting .375 against it last year, per Baseball Savant), Wacha began relying predominately on a two-seam fastball and changeup while also began mixing in his curveball more. Thanks to the repertoire change, Wacha posted a 2.88 ERA in his last seven appearances of the season, ending his year with 10 straight scoreless innings against the Yankees and Astros.
Though he ended the year with a 5.05 ERA, his performance in the latter half of the season, along with a 3.91 xFIP and 4.00 SIERA, suggested that Wacha had found a way to unlock at least a fraction of what it was that made him one of the best starters of the mid-2010s — from 2013 to 2015, Wacha went 26-14, with a 3.21 ERA, 312 strikeouts in 353 innings, and a 118 ERA+.
Even through the injuries that have contributed to much of his ineffectiveness since, Wacha performed well on the mound in 2018, ultimately making only 15 starts, but pitching to a 3.20 ERA and 121 ERA+.
After the departure of Eduardo Rodriguez to the Tigers, much of the discussion about Red Sox pitching revolved around the uncertainty of what the eventually injured Chris Sale (and later, James Paxton) would bring to the rotation, if Nick Pivetta could build on a breakout year, and what the roles of Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock would be going forward. The looming lockout created a sense of urgency around the free agent pitching market, and before long, the Red Sox had inked Wacha to the biggest payday of his career.
Wacha performed well enough throughout spring training to be named to the starting rotation. Sure enough, Wacha has been the most impressive starting pitcher on the Red Sox not named Nathan Eovaldi or Tanner Houck.
While Rich Hill pitched well enough in his first start of the year to help get the Red Sox a win in Detroit, he labored through his Patriot’s Day start against Minnesota (80 pitches in 4.2 innings, 4 earned runs), and Pivetta has been effectively brutal through his first 7.2 innings (8 earned runs, 5 walks, 3 home runs).
In Wacha’s first two starts, he has gone 9 1/3 innings, allowing only one run, and striking out 9. His fastball velocity has been down from where it was last season (a sign of the shortened spring training), hovering around 91 mph instead of 93-94 mph, but the decrease in velocity has not had any impact on the effectiveness of his changeup. In Wacha’s last start on Easter Sunday against the Twins, he leaned more heavily on his changeup, throwing 24 changeups to 22 fastballs, and ultimately allowing only one hit in his 5 innings.
Of course, it is only April, and the rotation has only turned over twice. But, it’s hard not to like what Wacha has brought to the Red Sox rotation so far. Wacha has been as advertised, continuing to build on the positive adjustments made last season, and showing the craftiness that only certain types of veterans can work with. His biggest test of the young season will be tomorrow night, as he takes the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays, facing the organization where he seemingly found part of himself again.