Michael Wacha’s late-season struggles cast doubt on Red Sox return
Should the Red Sox bring Michael Wacha back in 2023?
A month ago, Michael Wacha looked like a lock to receive a Qualifying Offer from the Boston Red Sox.
Over 17 starts between the beginning of the season and the end of August, he’d posted a 2.56 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and held opposing batters to a .205/.265/.337 line. He’d thrown at least five innings in 13 of his games, including the complete-game shutout of his career.
But over six starts since, he has a 5.57 ERA and 5.16 FIP. 32 1/3 innings is a much smaller sample size (approximately 1/3), but lineups are raking against him to the tune of .310/.336/.605. He hasn’t made it into the fifth inning in either of his last two starts, and allowed 11 earned runs over the pair of games. In late September, Mike Petriello noted that Wacha’s K% dropped by 3% and the velocity on his four-seamer is down 0.7 mph from last year.
It’s concerning that Wacha is looking more like the pitcher he’s been over the last few seasons, which suggests this year could be an aberration, not a sign of improvement. Between 2019-21, he posted a 5.11 ERA, 5.07 FIP, and 1.451 WHIP over 66 games (54 starts); this is only the second season in the last seven that he’s posted an ERA under 4, and usually, it’s much higher. Opposing batters hit .274/.333/.451 against him and while his %walk is lower than league average, so is his strikeout rate, and his HR% is above average. The advanced metrics don’t paint a pretty picture, either. Baseball Savant‘s percentile rankings for the year have him as well below average in almost every metric.
Workload is also a concern, as Wacha hasn’t reached 130 innings in a season since 2017, and only once in his 10-year career has he thrown more than 165 frames. He was one of several pitchers who missed time this year due to injury.
The Qualifying Offer is a one-year deal that carries a salary that is the average of the top 25 salaries in the league. It will likely be a bit higher than last year’s $18.4M. Is Wacha worth that much when so many metrics point to him regressing next year?