Four Realistic Free Agents That Could Make The Pittsburgh Pirates Playoff Contenders

These free agents should be within the Pirates' price range, and could push them into being potential contenders in 2024.

Sep 18, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52)
Sep 18, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) / Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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RHP Michael Wacha

The second free agent I’d love the Pirates to sign is Michael Wacha. Wacha was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals for seven seasons, so the Bucs are more than familiar with Wacha. But Wacha, after coming off of two quality seasons, the first with the Boston Red Sox and the second with the Padres, would be a great middle of the rotation fit for the Pirates next season.

Wacha pitched 134.1 innings, pitching to a 3.22 ERA, 3.89 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP. Wacha’s 22.4% strikeout rate was roughly league average, but he still had a better than average 7.8% walk rate, and a HR/of of 1.00. Wacha’s bottom line was extremely similar to Lugo. They had a near identical FIP, an ERA within a half-run of each other, Lugo allowed fewer walks and struck out more batters, but Wacha was better at limiting home runs, but all were still relatively close to each other.

One thing that Wacha did significantly better than Lugo was limit hard hit baseballs. He had an 88.1 MPH exit velo, 7.3% walk rate, and 35.5% hard hit rate. Both his exit velo and hard hit rate were in the 70th or better percentile, while his barrel rate was in the 61st percentile. 

Wacha’s underlying estimators are not as kind to him, however. Wacha clocked in with a 4.47 xFIP, and 4.43 SIERA last year. In the two seasons prior to 2023, he had a combined 3.95 xFIP and 4.03 SIERA. Granted, he also over-pitched his xFIP (3.99) and SIERA (4.07) in 2022, working to a 3.32 ERA, so it’s not out of the question if he can do it a third time.

Wacha is slightly younger than Lugo. Next year, he will only be 32. Wacha has pitched at least 120 innings with 23 or more starts in each full season since 2019. Sure, there’s been a handful of ups and downs in that stretch, but in the last two years, he’s posted an ERA+ of 127 (27% better than average). Even if his underlying numbers aren’t fantastic, he has consistently overperformed said numbers, even at his peak.