Orioles Interested In Michael Wacha

The Orioles are showing interest in free agent starter Michael Wacha, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link). They’re the first team of the offseason known to be checking in on the right-hander, who’s coming off a decent season with the division-rival Red Sox.

Wacha, 31, inked a one-year, $7MM deal with Boston last offseason. He’d posted a 5.05 ERA in 124 2/3 innings with the Rays the year before and hadn’t found much success keeping runs off the board since 2018. The Red Sox nevertheless took on a flier on a bounceback, placing their faith in a fastball that sat around 94 MPH and a swinging strike rate that had been north of 11% in each of the preceding two seasons.

The former first-round pick rewarded them with his most successful year in a while. Wacha made 23 starts and tallied 127 1/3 innings, pitching to a quality 3.32 ERA. He landed on the injured list twice — first with a left intercostal strain, then with inflammation in his throwing shoulder — but generally kept runs off the board when healthy. Wacha allowed three or fewer runs in 17 of his outings while holding opponents to a .233/.283/.410 line in 515 plate appearances.

Strong control helped him keep runners off base, as he walked only 6% of opponents. Wacha has established himself as a quality strike-thrower, but there also seems to have been a decent amount of fortune in this year’s results. Opponents hit just .260 on their balls in play against him, the lowest BABIP he’d allowed in five years. Wacha’s 20.2% strikeout rate and 41% ground-ball percentage were each slightly lower than the league average.

The Texas A&M product also saw minor dips in his swinging strike number and velocity. He generated whiffs on 9.5% of his pitches, below his 2020-21 levels. Wacha’s average fastball speed also lost a tick, dipping from 93.8 MPH in 2021 to an even 93 MPH this year. ERA estimators like FIP (4.14) and SIERA (4.07) each pegged his true talent a bit north of 4.00 — still useful production, but not quite as impressive as his actual ERA might suggest.

Even if Wacha’s run prevention regresses somewhat, he’s a sensible target for clubs seeking rotation help. Wacha has ten seasons of MLB experience under his belt, and he carries a 4.05 ERA in over 1100 career innings. Other than a brief spike in walks towards the end of his time in St. Louis, he’s shown consistently plus control. That kind of reliability makes him a fine fit at the back half of a contending club’s rotation.

The Orioles entered the offseason searching for rotation help. Jordan Lyles was the only Baltimore pitcher to top 23 starts this past season, and the O’s bought out an $11MM club option at year’s end to send him to the open market. Dean KremerAustin VothTyler Wells and Spenser Watkins all posted serviceable or better ERA’s over 15-plus starts, but Voth was the only one with a strikeout rate around league average. Kyle Bradish had a decent strikeout rate but an ERA pushing 5.00. Mike Baumann and DL Hall joined Bradish in seeing some MLB action as rookies, while top prospect Grayson Rodriguez may well have debuted this year if not for a lat injury.

The O’s had a number of internal options to compete for jobs on Brandon Hyde’s starting staff, but everyone in the mix had either limited or no track record of MLB success. Baltimore thus brought in Kyle Gibson on a one-year, $10MM deal last month to add some veteran stability. They’re still expected to add another starter, and Wacha’s one of the remaining options in a free agent class that’s rapidly thinning. MLBTR predicted Wacha for a two-year, $16MM deal at the start of the offseason. He’s one of five unsigned starting pitchers who’d secured a spot on MLBTR’s top 50 free agents, alongside Carlos RodónNathan EovaldiCorey Kluber and Drew Rucinski.

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