After the first couple weeks of the season and a few starts from Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright, there was much talk about his success. Some said at the time it wouldn’t last and a few others were ready to jump on the Wright train. Almost at the halfway point of the 2016 season, if you haven’t jumped on the Wright bandwagon, what are you waiting for?
Wright has been on a roll this 2016 season. In 12 starts he has had only one hiccup, where he allowed five earned runs against the Houston Astros in May, which was the first time he has given up more than three earned runs since July 20th of last season. Without that game against the Astros in May, he would have an ERA under 2.00, which just goes to show how dominate he has truly been.
However, despite all of his promising performances, there are still many people sitting on the edge of their seats every time he takes the mound waiting for his collapse. Well, he is leading the American League with a 2.09 ERA and most certainly will be earning a chance to represent the Red Sox in the All-Star Game, so this collapse may not be happening for a while.
Looking deeper into his stats, one can see that there are some numbers that show he can potentially keep up this pace.
Wright has seen a reduction in his fly ball rate from last year, falling from 43.2% all the way down to 33.8%. Letting up only three home runs in 82 innings has helped him have a 0.33 HR/9 to go along with an HR/FB rate of 3.9%, significantly lower than his 12.3% from last year.
He is giving up fewer home runs and hard hit balls, all while keeping the ball on the ground. A possible key to his recent success can coincidently be a result of Wright throwing a variety of pitches. This year he is actually throwing his trademark pitch only 82.1% of the time, unlike last year where he threw it with almost 90% frequency. He has added a curveball that he didn’t throw last year to go along with his fastball. Having three pitches that vary from low 70’s to mid 80’s MPH have noticeably kept batters more off balanced than ever before, as his swinging strikes have increased from 9.3% last year to 11.4%.
The biggest takeaway is that Wright is giving up more soft contact and fewer fly balls, which has subsequently helped him keep the ball in the yard and given his fielders behind him a chance to make plays. It is most certainly not guaranteed that he will keep it up, but as long as he keeps mixing up his pitches and keeping the ball out of the air, there is little reason as to why his success shouldn’t continue.
Wright has most certainly not won everyone over, as there are still the doubters out there, but for me I jumped on the Wright train a long time ago, and I highly suggest climbing aboard. Even if he has regression during the second half, it is safe to say that he has definitely gone above expectations and now we know for sure that Steven Wright has the capability of pitching like an ace in the back end of a rotation. And if he ever finds himself in a time of possible struggle, be patient and always remember the type of knuckleball pitcher he can be.