Red Sox

Something’s not Wright as knuckleballer’s numbers trend downward


Something’s not Wright as knuckleballer’s numbers trend downward

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.

Red Sox, Yankees working to play in London in 2019

Red Sox, Yankees working to play in London in 2019

Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge are about to go global.

Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy on Monday confirmed the Sox are interested to play the Yankees in London during next year's regular season. Bloomberg reported the clubs are nearing an agreement to play two games there in June 2019. Discussions are indeed taking place, but a deal is not done.

MORE - Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

“We would love to participate in a series in London against the Yankees but this is a decision that MLB and the MLBPA will make," Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said.

Bloomberg reported the games would be played at London Stadium, which was the main facility for the 2012 summer Olympics.

MLB has not played any games in Europe before. The Red Sox have made trips before, including to Japan before the 2008 season.


Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Blake Swihart’s strong spring seems to have the Red Sox more inclined to deal one of their natural utility infielders, such as Brock Holt or Deven Marrero, rather than Swihart, a converted catcher with high upside who's getting a look in other roles.
"Sounds like they’re holding Swihart to open," a rival executive said. "More likely to move a utility guy."
A true utility guy, that is.


The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported Sunday that Marrero has been drawing interest from other teams.

"We do have depth with our middle infielders," Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "However, [I] would not get into potential trade discussions."
Swihart, who turns 26 on April 3, is most valuable as a catcher. But he could still be useful in a bench role for the 2018 Red Sox, and a win-now mentality may be the driving force here. (It is possible, as well, that there is nothing available via trade for Swihart that has piqued the Sox’ interest. Marrero or Holt wouldn’t require as much in return.)
The potential drawback is that Swihart won’t grow much if he’s not playing every day -- and in particular, if he's not catching every day. But the Sox may be be at a juncture where they feel his bat is a worthwhile experiment off the bench, at least for this season. They can figure out his future -- and their future at backstop -- later.
"He’s a great athlete," Cora told reporters on Sunday. "We’ve seen it in the batter’s box. It’s not only the results, but the way he’s driving the ball to left field as a left-hander, the quality of at-bats as a right-hander. [On Saturday], as a pinch-hitter, that kid was throwing 99 and he throws a breaking ball and squares a ball up."
Swihart entered Monday with a .283 average in Grapefruit League play, with a .905 OPS and a pair of home runs. But he does not have the infield experience that Marrero or Holt has, and the Red Sox essentially have to carry one of those two to start the year. 
Eduardo Nunez, the temporary replacement for Dustin Pedroia, is coming off a knee injury, and a sure-handed infielder -- Marrero’s glove is particularly good -- is a must. Rafael Devers is still coming into his own at third base. 
Tzu-Wei Lin is available in the minors too, and the Sox could see some redundancy with him, Holt and Marrero. Lin, unlike Marrero, has minor league options remaining. Lin also has some limited outfield experience.
The way the Sox roster looks now, they have two spots available for the three guys: Marrero, Holt and Swihart. Health can change that. Holt, despite being the most veteran of the group, has minor league options remaining, so he theoretically could go to Triple-A to start the season. But if the Sox don't see a role for him on this year's team any way, they'd be wiser trading him, considering he's due to make $2.225 million. It also would be kindest choice for Holt, to let him have an opportunity elsewhere, if one exists.


Swihart has played first base, third base and left field in addition to catching this spring. Perhaps, in time, there will be a way to work Swihart in behind the plate for the Sox. At the least, retaining him would be insurance if Christian Vazquez or Sandy Leon do not perform well offensively.
There was a clear personal-catcher system for the Red Sox in 2017. Leon was Chris Sale’s guy, for example. Manager Alex Cora said he is not taking that approach. As an auxiliary effect, moving away from a personal-catcher system might make it easier for Swihart to receive more time behind the plate, if called on.
"Whoever I feel comfortable with that day behind the plate, he'll catch," Cora told reporters in Florida. "Christian already caught him. Sandy's going to catch him today. And then the next turn, Christian's going to catch him. Everybody's going to work with everybody."