Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo: Padres Back-end Bullies

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Entering the 2023 Major League Baseball season, the San Diego Padres were still riding high on their victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Division Series.

Starting pitching was going to be a problem for the Padres since Sean Manaea and Mike Cleavinger, back of the rotation arms, were not been re-signed in free agency.

However, late in the winter, the Padres made a predictable move by picking up one of the only competent starters left in, ex-Red Sox pitcher Michael Wacha. The veteran right-handed pitcher would be joined in the rotation by career relief pitcher Seth Lugo, formerly of the New York Mets.

Wacha started his career with the St. Louis Cardinals when he was drafted in 2012.

He started his career off on the right foot, recording below a 3.40 Earned Runs Average (ERA) and 1.3 Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP) in each of his first three years. Wacha even made an All-Star appearance in 2015. He then began to struggle in his fourth season, posting a career-high 5.09 ERA. In the next three years, he would settle down and finish his career with St. Louis on a good note.

What had always made Wacha solid was his ability to pitch to weak contact and record ground balls. Once he left St. Louis, he started to get hit hard. Wacha had always allowed over seven hits per nine innings, but it had never come back to him because he would end rallies quickly. However, from 2019-2021 he allowed over 1.5 HR/9 innings. That’s three or more every two starts. Wacha had to bounce back.

Wacha had a good stat line in 2022 with the Red Sox, recording a 3.32 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, going 11-2 in his 13 starts. He also posted a career-high in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and ERA+, an advanced stat that measures the pitchers earned runs against other pitchers in MLB. This is the kind of baseball that San Diego was hoping to get out of him.

Seth Lugo would have a different journey. Drafted in the 34th round in 2011, Seth Lugo was a long way from pitching in the majors. He made his debut in 2016 and began to play more over the next couple of seasons.

Then the Mets organization found out that Lugo was a strikeout artist. From 2018 and beyond, he has struck out over 24% of the batters faced, even reaching a career-high 33% in 2019. MLB average sits around 20-21%. This was great for Lugo as he became a lockdown middle reliever for the Mets, bridging the gap between the starter and closer in his last years in a Mets uniform.

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These two newcomers would make for an interesting start to the 2023 season for the Padres.

Both pitchers got starts against Atlanta and Colorado. They would get challenged by great hitters early, and both pitchers would deliver. In his first start in a Padres uniform, Michael Wacha would struggle a bit and allow four runs in six innings of work and with three walks against the division rival, Colorado Rockies. He would settle down and get the win, due to the Padres’ offense scoring eight runs on the night. Seth Lugo would follow that game with a solid start of his own. He would post seven strikeouts in seven innings and only allow one run.

These two weren’t done; in the next two games, they would combine for twelve innings pitched and fifteen strikeouts, only allowing one run. This included Michael Wacha throwing six innings of shutout baseball while only walking one batter and striking out ten. These two are on fire.

Coming into this season, the Padres were going to need some help from the back end of the rotation. Micahel Wacha and Seth Lugo have both answered the call and have helped the team win all four of their combined starts thus far in 2023. It is yet to be seen if this is what we should come to expect from these two or if hitters will start to figure them out. It is safe to say that for now, the Padres have found two gems at the starting pitcher spot.

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