Tampa Bay Rays: Michael Wacha showed hints of value in 2020

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 28: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Michael Wacha #45 of the New York Mets in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 28, 2020 in New York City. The Mets defeated the Yankees 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 28: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Michael Wacha #45 of the New York Mets in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on August 28, 2020 in New York City. The Mets defeated the Yankees 6-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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The Tampa Bay Rays have added veteran starter Michael Wacha to the rotation.

The Tampa Bay Rays have signed free agent starting pitcher Michael Wacha, inking him to a one year deal worth $3 million

Wacha isn’t the first, or even second, option many would have considered as a potential signing for the Rays as they look to add veteran depth to their starting rotation after the departure of Charlie Morton, but Michael Wacha did show some hints of being a valuable backend rotation piece during his time with the New York Mets in 2020.

The 29-year-old starter made eight appearances with New York, going 1-4 with a 6.62 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. Obviously, these aren’t numbers Rays fans would be happy to see, but let’s dig a little deeper and find some of these hints that may suggest a decent fourth or fifth starter in Tampa Bay.

More Rays. With eyes towards Montreal. light

Wacha’s xFIP of 4.30 is more than two runs lower than his ERA, similar to his expected ERA of 4.45, according to Baseball Savant. That’s a promising sign which suggests a bit of bad luck and/or bad defense behind him in New York. A .366 BABIP likely had a major contribution here.

Despite logging just 34 innings, Wacha did record a career-high strikeout rate at 23.7%  and walked a career-low 4.5% of hitters he faced. Perhaps with a better defense behind him and a few more groundballs (35% in 2020), Wacha can be a more productive pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays, who are known to be able to get a little more out of many players than other teams, especially with a 6’6″ pitcher who doesn’t walk very many hitters.

Wacha also began to change up his pitch mix a bit last season, incorporating his cutter a bit more and relying less on his four-seam fastball which has routinely been hit well.

But there was a slight improvement with his four-seamer in terms of a few more whiffs and a bit more spin on the ball. There was also a slight uptick in velocity, just under one mph. That isn’t much, but after seeing his fastball velocity dip from 95+ to 93 mph recently, the slight increase could suggest Wacha can unlock a little bit in 2021.

If anything, Wacha still has his changeup to rely on. Just last season, Wacha’s changeup produced a 41% whiff rate and held opponents to a .198 expected batting average. In his previous two seasons, opponents hit just .199 and .172 against his changeup.

Michael Wacha isn’t going to slot in behind Blake Snell and lead the way for the Tampa Bay Rays, but he is a veteran arm in what could end up being a younger starting rotation in 2021 and there are a few signs to suggest he can bounce-back from his down year in New York.

Next. Tampa Bay Rays are spinning their wheels at catcher. dark

As expected, the deal did become official during the writing of this piece. Marc Topkin is reporting that the Tampa Bay Rays are giving Michael Wacha a one-year deal worth $3 million.