Red Sox: Can Steven Wright follow Tim Wakefield’s career path?

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 29: Steven Wright
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 29: Steven Wright /

The Boston Red Sox analysis for 2018 will soon commence at full steam as the construction process begins. What about Steven Wright? Will Wright morph into Tim Wakefield?

Steven Wright was a huge loss for the 2017 season.  The knee injury (hopefully) will have been repaired to endure the rigors of pitching. The loss of Wright was crucial for the Red Sox with his dual ability as a starter and out of the bullpen. What will his role be in 2018? Can history give an answer?

Will Wright become Tim Wakefield?

Wakefield came to Boston with no illusions of becoming the long-term resident he became. His first season with the Red Sox was remarkable and may have been his best in the 17 seasons he was with the team. Wakefield finished the 1995 season at 16-8 with a 2.95 ERA in 27 starts. How good was it?  Wakefield finished third for the Cy Young Award. I will omit a horrendous start in the American League Division Series.

More from BoSox Injection

In 1996, Wakefield finished on the north side of won/lost with a 14-13 record, but his ERA bumped up to 5.14.  More alarming was Wake’s propensity for issuing home runs with a 1.6 HR/9 compared to a 1.0 HR/9 the previous season. Wakefield – as usual – was reliable with 32 starts and 211.2 innings pitched.

The beginning of 2017 was certainly memorable for Wright.  Simply put, Wright was a batting practice pitcher.  Wright allowed a staggering nine home runs in just 24 innings. His ERA finished at 8.25 and he allowed 40 hits that have contributed to a 1.875 WHIP. A stark contrast to last spring training.

Spring training usually can give an indicator of performance and in the case of Wright, it proved nothing. In the Florida circuit, Wright was the best on the staff with a 2-0 record in 13.1 innings. Wright allowed no home runs, posted a 0.68 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and batters tee off at a .133 clip.

The immediate reaction to Wright’s early failures in 2017 was this is so typical of a knuckleball pitcher, but with Wright, the truth is all in a knee that needed reconstruction – at least that becomes the hope for 2018. That may not be the case.

K-Ball pitchers are notorious for slumps – weather, mechanics, bad karma – all seem to conspire for blocks of games or the occasional inning. This is like batters that go on a hot streak and then suddenly vanish for weeks at a time – Jackie Bradley appears to be one such hitter. Knuckleball pitchers have the same and Wakefield often spoke about it and fans who have watched him for years often know it is either the good or bad Wake who will show up.

More from Red Sox News

Wakefield also bottomed out after a few seasons in the rotation and in 1997 Wakefield led the American League in losses (15). Wakefield eventually had a mid-Boston career of a few seasons where he became somewhat of a pitching hybrid – starting, long relief, short relief and even as a closer, once saving 15 games. Eventually, Wakefield returned to the rotation starting 30+ games seven times in his last nine seasons.

Wright could conceivably follow a similar hybrid slot, especially with his multiple inning abilities. The return of Carson Smith and the up in the air status of Tyler Thornburg could force such a move. A few innings of a K-Ball can certainly make a Joe Kelly or Craig Kimbrel fastball appear with a bit extra giddy-up.

Next: Red Sox potential free agent target: J.D. Martinez

Wright is not the type of pitcher to dismiss quickly.  I may not be much of a fan for the knuckleball, but when the pitch is reasonably “on” you are looking at a win. As with Wakefield, Wright may – even at 32-years-old – put in another ten seasons with Boston or elsewhere. I have not given up on Wright nor should Red Sox fans – he will provide value.