Is It Legit? Michael Wacha and Josh Naylor

What can we expect going forward from these four players?

While everybody is on the hunt for the next great prospect, there are often many veteran players that go ignored. Don’t get lost in the constant parade of flashy names like Corbin Carroll, Elly De La Cruz, Josh Jung, Jordan Walker, Matthew Liberatore, and more. There’s sometimes more than meets the eye with the guys who have been around the block a few extra times.

They can be legit, too.


Michael Wacha, SP, San Diego Padres


By many metrics, Wacha is on pace for the best season of his 11-year major league career. Through 68 innings this season, Wacha is 6-2 with a 3.18 earned-run average, 1.09 WHIP, and 64 strikeouts against 20 walks.

In the past five years, Wacha has embodied the term ‘journeyman’ as he has pitched for five different teams with very mixed results. He had a 4.76 ERA at the end of a seven-year stint in St. Louis, then a 6.62 ERA in 2020 with the Mets, and a 5.05 ERA the next year in Tampa Bay. Boston gave him a chance last season and helped him to an 11-2 record, 3.32 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and a 104:31 K:BB ratio in 127 1/3 innings.

Throughout that time, Wacha has never stopped tinkering with his arsenal.

“Each year I’m trying to work on something different to help out my repertoire, to bolster it or make it better,” Wacha said in an interview with Fangraphs.

Since breaking into the league with basically just two pitches, Wacha now uses five different pitches all between 10-30% of the time.

The four-seam fastball and the changeup are still his most utilized pitches, but he’s backed heavily off the fastball over the years. He threw the four-seamer 64% of the time in 2012 but now it only sees about a 30% usage.

That’s been a good change for Wacha.

The fastball had a .322 batting average against in 2019 when he was still throwing it half the time. He lowered its usage by 10% the next year and even more in subsequent seasons. In its place, he elevated his changeup and started mixing in a cutter, sinker, and curveball.

It’s been slow at times, but Wacha finally seems to be finding a recipe that works.

For the first time in his career, Wacha is leaning on the changeup as his go-to pitch. That’s helping him put his best foot forward. His changeup has a .186 batting average against and an elite 32.3% CSW. That’s in line with what we’ve seen in the past on that pitch but at a much greater volume this season.

The mix has seemingly boosted the four-seamer, as well. The pitch has a .171 batting average against and 27% CSW, which are fairly average numbers but easily the best of his career.

While the cutter, sinker, and curve don’t have quite the same bite, the expanded repertoire has given Wacha a versatility he just did not have in the past. Of that bunch, the curve looks the best with a 34.5% CSW.

Verdict: Legit. Wacha’s resurgence actually started last year in Boston and has only continued into this season with the Padres. Some luck factors have been on his side with a .254 BABIP and near 80% LOB marks that will be difficult to sustain, but overall the ERA estimators mostly agree with his early-season success. As long as he continues to lean on the changeup, success should follow. Hitters are struggling to make contact and the pitch’s 5.94 PLV is among the best in the game. As long as Wacha doesn’t tweak his arsenal back in the wrong direction, the value is there.


Josh Naylor, 1B/OF, Cleveland Guardians


Josh Naylor has been in the big leagues for a long time. Not as long as Wacha, of course, but I only mention it because it came as a surprise to me. This is already Naylor’s sixth year in the show.

And it’s been a good one.

Overall, Naylor is hitting .282/.330/.460 with eight home runs, 48 RBI, 23 runs, and four stolen bases in 57 games. He’s really come alive over the past month, hitting .432 with three homers and 25 RBI in just 80 at-bats.

Overall, Naylor looks to be picking up where he left off last year. In 2022, Naylor was given his first chance to be a full-time player and responded with 20 home runs and 79 RBI though he batted just .256 with a .319 OBP.

Another year and more trust seem to have done wonders for Naylor’s confidence. While he was never much of a power hitter in the minors, Naylor shift in that direction has been notable. He’s improved his launch angle every year in the majors up to a strong 15.7 degrees this year. Combined with a 90.5 average EV, it’s actually a surprise we haven’t seen more dingers from Naylor yet and his 9.7 xHR suggests he’s been a little unlucky in that area.

Best of all, Naylor hasn’t sacrificed in other areas to sell out for power. While his walk rate could still use some fine-tuning, Naylor continues to lower his strikeout rate, which now sits at an above-average 15.6%. He’s making strong, consistent contact with an 11% barrel rate (72nd percentile) and 46.5% hard-hit rate (76th percentile).

Verdict: Legit. Despite all of Naylor’s improvements, his best days might actually be ahead of him this season. Not only has he deserved a few more home runs, he’s been on the wrong side of the luck equation in other areas. He has a .282 batting average but a .302 xBA and .369 xwOBA. For good measure, he’s added four stolen bases, after stealing a career-best six last year. He’s a liability defensively, but that doesn’t matter for our game unless it threatens his playing time. Considering how well he’s hitting the ball, that doesn’t seem very likely.


Jack Flaherty, SP, St. Louis Cardinals


Flaherty’s last full season was in 2019 when he went 11-8 with a 2.75 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 231 strikeouts over 196 1/3 innings. At the time, he appeared poised for stardom only to become completely undone by injuries ever since.

The path to redemption has had many starts and stops over the years for Flaherty and 2023 has been no different. He’s had his ups and downs but is currently pitching quite well. Over the past month, Flaherty is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 33 strikeouts in 30 innings.

Flaherty continues to excel at limiting hard contact. His hard-hit rate and average EV allowed are both in the top quartile of the league. His ability to generate weak ground balls at an above-average rate has helped him escape more than a few self-inflicted jams. Flaherty’s 5.19 BB/9 is by far the worst of all qualified pitchers this season.

Verdict: Not legit. There’s obviously still some talent here, but Flaherty is a lot further away from his previous form than his recent numbers would have you think. The walks are a major problem and they will burn him eventually with an unsustainable .324 BABIP. His pitches just are not elite enough at this point to make a difference. His fastball and slider, which he throws 65% of the time combined, have rated average at best this season (4.91 PLV on the four-seamer, 5.28 PLV on the slider). Try to sell now and hope that other managers don’t know what “BB” means.


Tony Gonsolin, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers


Injuries have cost Gonsolin a lot of missed time in his short major league career. Shoulder inflammation in 2021, forearm strain in 2022, and an ankle injury in spring training this year have seriously hampered Gonsolin’s progress.

Between those issues, Gonsolin has pitched very well. The worst ERA he’s had by the end of a season is 3.23 in 2021 and he’s been under 3.00 every other year. So far this season, Gonsolin is 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings.

But there is a legitimate concern for a player after being beat down by so many maladies. Despite his success this season, Gonsolin has not looked particularly sharp. His strikeout and walk rates are trending in the wrong direction, he’s lost nearly one mph on his fastball, and PLV is highly unimpressed with his overall arsenal at 4.91 (18th percentile).

Verdict: Not legit. Well… probably not legit. His 2.21 ERA is heavily propped up by a .177 BABIP, which is partially why his xERA is 4.57 and his xFIP is 5.26. There’s a legitimate case that the shift ban has caused a lot of harm to Gonsolin’s profile. But this is also a player still working to return from back-to-back-to-back injuries who otherwise had nothing but success at the major league level throughout his career. So I’m going to hedge my bets here. There’s a good chance that some negative regression is coming for Gonsolin very soon, but that will be my buy-low window. I’m betting on history here.



Ryan Loren

Ryan Loren is a baseball writer for Pitcher List and a Detroit sports fan struggling to remember what it's like to root for winning teams.

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