Steven Wright Needs A Permanent Rotation Spot

The Boston Red Sox are in a tight battle with the New York Yankees for superiority in the AL East, and that won’t change anytime soon. It’s time to stop letting Drew Pomeranz take the mound and give Steven Wright, one of the league’s only knuckleballers, a permanent spot in the starting rotation.

Steven Wright joined the Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2013. After acquiring the Steven Wrightknuckleballer from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Lars Anderson, the Sox only used Wright in ten contests over his first two seasons with the club. Wright found a niche in 2015 as a reliever, going 5-4 with a 4.09 ERA in 16 appearances. After a last-place finish in the AL East that year, the Red Sox entered 2016 with a revamped starting rotation. Wright was a part of this makeover, and he capitalized on his first season as a full-time starter. In 24 starts, he went 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA, 127 strikeouts, and four complete games. Wright’s breakout 2016 season also landed him a spot on the American League All-Star Team.

After consecutive last-place finishes, the Red Sox went 93-69 in 2016 and looked to have mended their rotation with the signing of David Price, the CY Young season of Rick Porcello, and the rise of Boston’s newest knuckleballer. Wright’s reign was short-lived, however. The following May, he underwent surgery to restore cartilage in his left knee and missed the remainder of 2017.

His problems followed him into the 2018 season. In March, the league suspended Wright for 15 games for violating the MLB’s personal conduct policy. Having completed his suspension on May 14,  Wright returned to his ballclub, but without a starting job. The culprit? Drew Pomeranz, who became a starter in Wright’s absence in 2017.

I will give credit where credit is due. In 2017, Drew Pomeranz looked every bit deserving of a spot in the Red Sox rotation. He went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 174 punchouts and was a key cog in helping the Sox replicate their 2016 record of 93-69. And to begin this season, there was no justifiable reason to demote Pomeranz. He pitched as well as Wright did in his All-Star season, if not better.

Steven Wright Got His Groove Back

But now, over 60 games into the year, Steven Wright needs his spot back. Drew Pomeranz has allowed at least two earned runs in every single one of his starts this season. In eight starts, he is 1-3 with a staggering 6.81 ERA. And most recently, the team placed Pomeranz on the 10-day disabled list with tendinitis in his left bicep. Steven Wright made his first start of 2018 on June 5th against the Detroit Tigers. Throwing seven shutout innings with six strikeouts and just two hits, he reminded everyone what they’d been missing out on. On June 11th, Wright followed it up with another scoreless start against the Baltimore Orioles, surrendering just four hits in six innings of work. The knuckleballer has not allowed a run in 22 consecutive innings, and his ERA is down to 1.21 on the season.

The numbers alone are compelling enough. The knuckleball is a rare commodity in today’s MLB, and Wright’s superior numbers and novelty pitch make him all the more worthy of a starting job for this team.

Rotation Run-down: Ryan Dempster

ryan dempster

The rotation run-down continues with Ryan Dempster.

After strong starts to the season from Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, right-hander Ryan Dempster will look to continue the trend of quality outings.  Dempster signed with the Sox back in December and made his debut against the Yankees.  The start didn’t exactly go as planned (4 BB, 101 pitches, 5 IP). But he did manage to strike out eight.  He looked better last night limiting damage despite two errors.  In his first tour in the AL Dempster rode the struggle bus from start to start.  His ERA was no exception to the saying everything is bigger in Texas.  It shot up from 2.25 to a 5.09–he got shelled so bad it looked like the Alamo.

From this torching in Texas many questions arose: Was Dempster just out of gas, his career going downhill? Was he too accustomed to the NL?  The Red Sox believe that the answer to the first question is no, after signing him for two years at 26 million.  But the latter question appeared to be a yes.  Before donning a Ranger uniform, Dempster’s ERA hadn’t climbed above 4.80 since 2003.  But the heavy hitting AL changed that and now it’s up to Dempster to adapt.  After a two solid starts it appears that he has.

Dempster has matched his career averages so far, but one number jumps out.  His strike out per nine ratio (K/9) is an astronomical 13.5.  If you’ve seen any of his starts the high k rate jumps out at you since Dempster hasn’t lasted more than five innings in either start.  While the strike outs are a welcome sight, the high walk rate is like seeing Josh Beckett on the mound last year, fat.

The homers Dempster has let up also may jump out, but the stats suggest some bad luck. Dempster’s high ground ball percentage (GB %), 52%, and his low fly ball percentage (FB %), 34.8%, would suggest he is actually keeping the ball in the park.  Except for his freaky 25% home run to fly ball percentage (HR/FB) begs to differ.  That crooked number should even out and Dempster should find himself back to the 10-11% HR/FB he is used to.

Look for a Redempster season from the man Cubs nation likes to call The Dumpster. But as the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

(Thanks to fangraphs.com for the stats)

Red Sox Rotation Run-down

Red Sox rotation

(This is the second installment of the Red Sox rotation run-down. To view the first one, detailing apparent ace Jon Lester, click here: http://yawkeywayreport.com/red-sox-rotation-run-down/ )

After no-hitters, the similarities between Lester and Clay Buchholz end.  One is an imposing lefty, the other a skinny righty with an over the top style.  They may be different, but both pitchers have proven to be effective.  Buchholz is trying to return to his 2010 All-Star form in which he cruised to a 17-7 record while posting a 2.33 ERA. It appears as though that year may have been a fluke. Since that stellar 2010, he was sidelined in 2011 due to a lower back strain which turned in to a fracture, then in 2012 he posted an 11-8 record with a fat 4.56 ERA–a far cry from the miniscule 2.33.  Certainly a regression from the 2010 season was to be expected, but not to that extent. But Buchholz was not alone–last year’s rotations futility has been well documented.  This season, like it is for so many other Sox pitchers, will be a season of redemption.  It will also be uncharted territory for Buchholz as he projects to be the second in rotation.  He will also be one of the veterans who survived the 2011 collapse.  This puts him in a leader position he has not been in before.

Hopefully, Buchholz embraces his new role and returns close to 2010 form, although don’t expect an ERA below 3. I would expect a stat line of around a 3.5 ERA, a 12-10 record, and 150 punch outs.  These solid stats would keep the Sox in plenty of games which is all they can ask for from Buchholz.

Red Sox Rotation Run-down

red sox rotation

The Red Sox rotation has been a failure the past few seasons, but this season provides the rattled rotation an opportunity for redemption.

John Farrell has unofficially announced Lester as the Opening Day starter, telling reporters to look at the way the rotation has been set up.  This leaves Lester on the rubber for the first game of the season.  Lester was in this same position the last two years, losing both contests. A lot has happened since that first start, including the epic 2011 collapse. Along with the team, Lester has seemingly declined.  His lopsided record and bloated ERA seemingly showed that Lester was not capable of taking on the role of the ace.  But the volatile environment of the Sox clubhouse made it difficult for anyone to succeed. Since then the root of the problem has been chopped off and shipped to LA.  The Sox can finally focus on winning, an environment Lester should thrive in.

The corrupt clubhouse wasn’t the only reason for Lester’s decline though.  Something was off in his mechanics.  He let up a career high 25 homers last year. Why?  The problem was Lester was not locating his fastball, and he was paying for it.  His velocity was still there and his breaking pitches were still effective, but you can’t leave heat over the plate in the Majors. Lester has been working on this with his manager in spring training and there has been noticeable improvement.  Lester has been consistently keeping the ball down by adjusting his mechanics to throw more downhill.  The result is easy ground ball outs and reduced fly outs. This all bodes well for the Sox apparent ace that will be looking for a bounce back season.