Lost in the Red Sox’ comeback victory Sunday behind Dustin Pedroia’s surprising go-ahead home run and an even more shocking Clay Buchholz appearance, was Steven Wright’s start.
As much as the Red Sox have all the momentum heading into Seattle Monday night, John Farrell and the his staff have to realize Wright’s miraculous run is coming to an end.
And doesn’t mean he’s become a bad starter, and quite frankly, that doesn’t matter at this point. They need whatever he has.
Still, the harsh reality is starting to come to fruition -- he can’t be relied on to be dominant.
Now July could’ve just been an off month, but the way knuckleballers tend to trend, it’s not likely.
Wright’s Sunday start ended after only five inning. He gave up all three runs in his final inning. However, that could’ve easily been five runs -- or more -- had it not been for Yunel Esobar’s lazy running and quick work by Ryan Hanigan on a passed ball in the first.
Since the All-Star break, Wright (12-5, 3.20 ERA) has an ERA of 5.70 -- 6.23 in July -- and has given up 26 hits over 23 1/3 innings, vs. the 95 hits in 114 innings before the break.
In July, opponents had a .303 batting average against Wright.
The second-highest opponent batting average wasn’t even close -- .222 in June.
And that boils down to opponents laying off Wright’s knuckleball.
Now his swing-and-miss percentage in July was tied for his best of any month (12 percent) and 18 percent of his strikes were looking -- the same rate as May and June. Also, his overall strike percentage has stayed around 63 percent all season.
It’s clear that these numbers have been fairly consistent. So, something must be different about the pitches batters are hitting.
Which brings to mind a discussion with Buchholz just over a month ago when he attempted his return to the starting rotation.
“There’s a tons of video that these hitters can look at,” he said on June 19 after his first bullpen stint. “They can look back as many years as they want to and see what you throw, see what it looks like coming in, see what count you throw it in.”
And while Wright hasn’t pitched in the major’s for a long time, he lives off one pitch.
And while it’s an inconsistent pitch, hitters have a lot more video to work from.
Shockingly, there is a stat that backs that up too, thanks to Brooks Baseball.
In April, opponents batted .198 against Wright’s knuckleball, .205 in May and .232 in June.
As you may have already guessed, they did much better in July, hitting .293 against him.
Furthermore, Brooks also shows that opponents have a .388 slugging percentage off his knuckleball in July, vs. .313 in June, .284 in May and .244 in April.
So instead of swinging at those knuckleballs that start in the strike zone and drop out, hitters seem to be letting them go -- which forces Wright to be in the zone more often, and use his fastball in situations where he might not normally.
Now, hitters are learning the “flight pattern” of his knuckleball, and getting in swings on pitches where they don’t seem to be fooled as often.
This team has talked all year about making adjustment. Now, it’s either time for Wright to do a little tinkering, or the team needs to prepare themselves for what could become a Tim Wakefield-esque roller-coaster ride from their unlikely All-Star pitcher.