The Boston Red Sox starting rotation seems almost locked. So where does knuckleballer Steven Wright fit in? Why should he get another chance?
Remember 2016? When Steven Wright dominated for the first half of the season in the Boston Red Sox rotation? I’m talking legitimate Cy Young candidate. That seems like a lllooooooonnnnnnngggggg time ago doesn’t it?
With an offseason full of unexpected drama, something that isn’t really being talked about is his possible comeback from injury. On December 8, the pitcher was arrest for domestic assault following an altercation with his wife.
Not even two weeks later, the case was retired, meaning the case will be officially dropped if there are no more offenses in the next 12 months for Wright.
This came after his wife and he released a statement saying the incident was “purely emotional” and he never attempted to hit her.
Still, not the ideal way to end 2017.
This put baseball on the back burner for a little bit. On January 5 though, Wright avoided arbitration with the Red Sox. The $1.1 million payday puts baseball right back to the forefront.
Anyone that knows me, knows I wanted Wright to get a chance years ago (I love me some knuckleball). Knuckleballs – when working correctly – are ridiculously unfair and enjoyable to watch.
You’ve got to love something that makes hitters look so foolish so often.
So when he was part of the rotation to start 2016, I was ecstatic. The year started out great for Wright, as he posted a 10-5 record and 2.68 earned run average by the All-Star break.
His other numbers were incredibly strong as well. Opponents hit just .225 against him, while he struck out 94 and allowed just seven home runs in 114 innings.
Then came the second half, and with it the dreaded pinch-running situation. *Raises fists in the air cursing John Farrell one last time*
Post All-Star break, the knuckleballer posted a 5.06 ERA while opponents hit .262 against him. He also allowed another five home runs in just 42 2/3 innings.
In the end, Wright still posted fantastic numbers in 2016. He went 13-6, throwing 156 2/3 innings over 24 starts (four complete games). Opponents hit .235 against the right-hander, who finished with a 3.33 ERA.
That shoulder injury though – it lingered.
Wright only made five starts in 2017 before being shutdown for the rest of the year. If you don’t remember those five starts, it’s probably a good thing – they weren’t pretty.
In those five starts, Wright managed 24 innings. It seems like a miracle he even clocked those in, as every ball came off the bat looking like it was ready to leave orbit. A lot of them actually did too. The knuckler gave up nine homers in that short stretch.
Opponents slashed an unheard-of .377/.412/.736 while Wright’s walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) sat at 1.88, and his ERA sat at 8.25.
Everybody loves a good comeback story though, right? Of course you do, that’s why you’re a Red Sox fan.
Wright had surgery on the injured shoulder, and is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
Of course, is there really any spot for him?
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If everyone was healthy maybe not in the rotation initially, but that doesn’t mean the 33-year-old can’t have incredible value.
That would be the case at least, if Rodriguez wasn’t recovering from knee surgery and expected to miss the first few weeks.
With this in mind, Wright could very well find himself in the rotation immediately.
The Red Sox could run into bad luck here however. Even though Wright appears to be out of the woods legally, MLB could still decide to hit the knuckler with a suspension. If that’s the case, their backup plan for the fifth starter could need a backup plan himself.
Even if he can’t fill in for Rodriguez though, Wright’s importance to the team could be monumental.
What team led the Majors in innings pitched last season by a wide margin (17 2/3 innings to be exact)? The Boston Red Sox of course. They loved their extra innings in 2017.
The Red Sox never really had any inning-eaters in the bullpen though, or anyone capable of spot-starting already in the Majors.
Due to this, how many times did you tune into a game and hear Don Orsillo Dave O’Brien tell you the starter needed to go deep into the night because the bullpen was spent? I only ask because I stopped counting after the 20th-or-so time.
Cue the knuckleball crusader. Wright can serve as the Red Sox “swing” man in the bullpen. He can eat innings when the bullpen is shot or the starter fails to escape the first few frames. At the same time, he can give Boston a spot-start should they need it.
After a disastrous end to 2016, Steven Wright’s career came off the rails a little bit in 2017. He can get back on track in 2018 though, and give the Boston Red Sox fans those Tim Wakefield flashbacks they all want – and deserve.