Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: RHP Michael Wacha

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 27: Starting pitcher Michael Wacha #52 of the Boston Red Sox pitches at the top of the first inning of the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on September 27, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 27: Starting pitcher Michael Wacha #52 of the Boston Red Sox pitches at the top of the first inning of the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on September 27, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /
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Former long-time division rival starting pitcher Michael Wacha is coming off a decent season in Boston, and could be a potential free agent target for the Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates will likely explore the free-agent market for a starting pitcher. Their starting rotation is relatively young and inexperienced. The most experienced pitcher in the starting pitching staff is Mitch Keller, as of right now. If the Pirates are looking for a veteran rotation anchor, they should look into former division rival Michael Wacha.

The Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans should be plenty familiar with Wacha. The right-hander spent the first seven seasons of his professional career with the division rival St. Louis Cardinals and pitched against the Pirates the third most in his career. Wacha had struggled heavily in the three years prior to 2022, posting a 5.11 ERA, 5.07 FIP, and 1.45 WHIP from 2019 through 2021. However, he had a nice rebound season with the Boston Red Sox.

In 127.1 innings, Wacha pitched to the tune of a 3.32 ERA, 4.14 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP. Wacha has never been a strikeout pitcher, and his 20.2% K% was in line with his career average of 20.9%. But his 6% walk rate was much better than his career average 7.3% rate and the best single-season mark of his career (unless you want to count his 2020 season in which he had a 5.9% walk rate in 34 innings). But his 1.27 HR/9 was poor and one of the worst in his career.

Wacha’s numbers were blown up because of his final three starts of the year. Going into September 22nd, Wacha had a much healthier 2.61 ERA, 3.52 FIP, and 1.03 WHIP. Wacha’s strikeout and walk rate were still about the same as what he would have at the end of the year, but his HR/9 was a much better .87. That’s because Wacha allowed eight home runs through his last three outings, which totaled just 13.1 innings. Wacha was above average when it came to preventing hard-hit baseballs. He was in the top 56th percentile of average exit velocity and 70th percentile of hard-hit rate.

The worrisome aspect of Wacha’s season is his sustainability. Wacha had a 4.07 SIERA, 3.99 xFIP, 4.43 DRA, and 4.56 xERA. Wacha was helped by a generous .260 batting average on balls in play, and while he was above average in limiting hard contact, his 41% ground ball rate was relatively unimpressive, and the Red Sox defense was only marginally better than the Pirates. The Sox had -2 DRS, a -2.3 UZR/150, and -10 outs above average. The Pirates, meanwhile, had -1 DRS, a -3.2 UZR/150, and -20 outs above average.

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But even if Wacha is only a 3.90-4.00 ERA pitcher, he’d be good enough to serve as a back-of-the-rotation arm behind Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Johan Oviedo, and J.T. Brubaker. Wacha has been a mid-to-back rotation starter for most of his career. Even if his 2022 performance is questionable, he would be a good veteran pick-up for the Pirates.

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