Red Sox may have the Wright stuff for 2016


The central focus in the Red Sox pitching department is to upgrade across the board. The various potential trades, free agents and holdovers have been mentioned with their real or perceived liabilities. The same applies to the relief staff that had a dismal season. Names have been tossed around, but one seems to have slipped under the radar for options – Steven Wright.

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Wright’s performance for 2015 was certainly not in the pitching stratosphere of Eduardo Rodriguez, but the 30-year-old right-hander, who is one of the few practitioner of the knuckleball, had a respectable rookie season.

Wright, whose season was shortened with a concussion, finished with a 5-4 record in 16 games (nine starts). Wright was, like a K-ball counterpart, Tim Wakefield, used in a variety of pitching roles – bullpen to starter. Long or short relief. In 72.2 innings, Wright posted a 4.09 ERA and a WHIP of 1.29.

Wright went to his specialty pitch almost exclusively tossing it 89.6% of the time with the remainder pitches being his fastball – if a velocity of 83.4 MPH could be considered a fastball, but Jamie Moyer, a noted breaking ball pitcher, only clocked around 81 MPH for his career.

Wright does have a bit of “heat” on his knuckleball with 74.5 MPH. For comparison, Wakefield tossed his with a 66 MPH average and the occasional fastball at 72.9 MPH. A further comparison is R.A. Dickey who tossed his knuckleball 86.8% of the time in 2015 with a speed of 76.1 MPH. Dickey’s fastball came in at 81.5 MPH, so Dickey and Wright are somewhat similar in use and speed.

I am not a fan of the knuckleball since it is a one trick pony. If an Eduardo Rodriguez has difficulty with one of his three major pitches in his repertoire there are other options. We’ve seen it during the season. The knuckleball goes south serious damage can result – just as Wakefield about giving up six dingers. But I will put my inclination for knuckleball prejudice on the back burner since historically it has had a significant impact.

When the knuckleball is operating at full efficiency even the best of the best with the bat can look like they are trying to swat a whiffle ball and “that pitch” can embarrass the best of them. Dickey mystified the National League to such an extent he walked away with a Cy Young Award in 2012. Others have fluttered their way to the Hall of Fame.

When a knuckleballer comes in the change of pace can have an immediate impact. Some of the best closers in baseball were knuckle ball pitchers such as Wilbur Wood and Hoyt Wilhelm. Wakefield once posted 15 saves operating out of the bullpen for Boston, so sometimes the stealth can be as effective as the smoke and after going three times through a lineup tossing gas in comes the butterfly.

Wright demonstrated his versatility in 2015. The sample is small, but the potential is evident as Wright can be used in multiple roles and is capable of repeated use since the arm stress of the pitch is minimal. But with the pitch comes another liability and just ask any catcher – the passed ball. Blake Swihart had three in one inning during the season as trying to swat down a fly while blindfolded could be a more secure task.

Wright may have a place somewhere on the pitching roster in 2016. All the gloss and hoopla is on the other rookies or younger players who delivered the baseball goods – especially since August. Wright may just prove to me a very valuable addition in 2016.

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