Coming into the 2016 season, Steven Wright was still unknown to most fans. Following an impressive spring in which he had a 2.66 ERA, Wright won the final spot in the Boston Red Sox rotation. A guy who had posted average minor league numbers finally had his chance to cement himself in a major league rotation, no more bus rides.
Wright is primarily a knuckleball pitcher, throwing it 85.9 percent of the time. His secondary pitches consist of a very hittable low to mid 80s fastball and a curveball that he rarely throws. Wright’s pitch arsenal is very comparable to former Sox fan favorite, Tim Wakefield. However, Wakefield threw his curveball a bit more than Wright. Strong secondary pitches are essential for starting pitchers to succeed at this level as they keep hitters thinking and off balance. However, the knuckleball has proven to be a pitch that one can make a career out of as a starter if they master it, easier said than done. So far, Wright looks to have mastered it and as a result he is pitching like the ace of the staff.
Last night was Wright’s fifth start of the 2016 season. He went six innings, allowing two runs and striking out six batters, including impressive hitting third baseman Todd Frazier twice. This was a strong start to May for Wright following an outstanding April, where he had a 1.37 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 26.1 innings. The numbers have been great for Wright but the most important feature he brings to the table is the ability to eat up innings.
Steven Wright: What Makes Knuckleball Pitchers So Valuable?
Throwing a knuckleball gives a starting pitcher a much better chance at being able to pitch longer in their career. This is because the knuckleball is less stressful on the arm of a pitcher than other off speed pitches such as a slider and curveball. Two examples of the longevity that a knuckleball pitcher can have are Wakefield and Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher, R.A Dickey. Wakefield retired at the age of 45 and Dickey is still pitching at age 41. While both of these guys have never been true aces, beside Dickey’s money making years in the big apple from 2010-2012 wearing a New York Mets uniform, their ability to eat innings and sustain a high pitch count is invaluable to a major league bullpen. Dickey has thrown 200 plus innings in the past five seasons and Wakefield did so five times in his career, while coming just short multiple times. Wright has yet to throw that many innings in a season but has shown the potential to do so in the minor leagues, surpassing 100 innings a few times. Is 2016 the year he finally reaches the 200 inning plateau?
If Wright is healthy, that is a very likely scenario for him. While the sub 2.00 ERA may not uphold, he will continue eating innings, providing rest for the bullpen. Wright’s season has been very impressive thus far and he may very well be the next Wakefield in Sox Nation, possibly even better. Get to know who Wright is and embrace the knuckleball again as he is here to stay, pitching like a man on a mission to stay off those buses.