Red Sox: Battle for the fifth rotation spot down to three candidates
Logically, Wright would seem to make the most sense as a ‘pen option. Unlike the other two, he has experience in that role and proved effective. Having a knuckleballer available for relief could be a huge advantage late in games when the Red Sox need to throw opponents off. We know, from his work as a starter and because he throws the soft stuff, that Wright can go multiple innings and would be perfect as a long reliever. If his health is still an issue, the bullpen could protect him over the long season.
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Wright has logged far more time as a starter than as a reliever, but Fangraphs shows his stats in either role are about equal. The kicker is that he puts up his best numbers when the pressure is on. Opponents hit .246 and .260 against him in low and medium-leverage situations, and just .229 in high-leverage situations.
He also gets significantly worse as opponents see him more. In his first and second trips through opposing lineups, he owns career 3.92 and 2.56 ERAs, respectively. In the third go-around, he’s put up an ugly 5.55 ERA. His numbers indicate that the bullpen could not only protect him from the situations that hurt him most but also place him in those that play to his strengths.
Still, the prospect of a healthy Wright in the rotation has its allure. We saw what he’s capable of in his improbable 2016 campaign. His one-two punch of the knuckler and blistering (relatively speaking) fastball set opponents spinning like so many tops. If he can find that magic again, Johnson and Rodriguez would have to be stellar to keep him out of the rotation.
The decision turns, more likely than not, on Wright’s health. A freak shoulder injury suffered while running the bases effectively sort him the last two months of 2016, and a knee injury stole 2017 from him.
Wright has since been involved in a domestic incident with his wife, to which the police were called. That sort of conduct, no matter how minor, cannot be excused, but Wright and his wife are working through it together.
The point is, right now, Steven could use a shot at redemption on the field. If he brings that motivation to his spring opportunities, he’ll be the fifth starter.
Next: Predictions for biggest roster battles of spring training
Whatever the result, this will be an exciting competition to watch this spring. Rodriguez will probably walk away with the job, at least initially, but either Johnson or Wright could push him. That, in turn, should make all three better. One thing is certain: the Red Sox rotational depth is an obvious strength at this point.