Steven Wright- ace up the sleeve... Amiright?!?!?

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Wasn't even thinking of the catching issue, but intriguing to consider whether (or maybe to what extent) catching is a limitation on how effective a knuckler can become.
 

mfried

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Wright has at least two speeds for his knuckler. In Monday's game he used the slow version (maybe even slower than Wake's) late in the game, creating utter chaos among the Orioles. Maybe Dickey was this effective in his Cy Young year.
 

Buzzkill Pauley

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Wasn't even thinking of the catching issue, but intriguing to consider whether (or maybe to what extent) catching is a limitation on how effective a knuckler can become.
Human umpires present a much larger limitation. They don't know where the ball is going, either. Just like the pitcher, hitter, and catcher.

The knuckleball would be the perfect pitch, if only robots called balls and strikes.
 

Harry Hooper

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I hope and expect that this is a much better version of that rotation (Price isn't better than Clemens, career-wise, obviously). But it is Vaughan Eshelman, not Zane.
I believe that was a mash-up of Zane Smith and Vaughn Eshelman in the 5th spot of the 1995 staff.
 

derekson

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If the book Ball Four is accurate, I'd say that Wilhelm threw a "slow" knuckler and Niekro was slightly faster. Bouton used a different grip, threw harder than both of them and had different action. (Their knucklers "danced" and Bouton's had a late break.)

All things being equal, the harder you throw it, the greater the movement. Of course, keeping spin off the ball is more important than throwing hard. And the biggest reason that most knuckleballers don't throw that hard is that the tendency to overthrow will put spin on the ball.

Dickey and Wright represent a refining of the art to the point where they throw consistently harder with no spin. The next step forward is to master the ability to change speeds without a noticeable change in spin.

The knuckler is so difficult to control that it will probably never happen, but if a pitcher could master a knuckleball and a "knuckle change" it would change the sport, IMO.


FWIW, Dickey was doing this very well when he was in CY form. He would throw a low 70s one and a high 70s one that were basically two different pitches.
 

m0ckduck

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I hope and expect that this is a much better version of that rotation (Price isn't better than Clemens, career-wise, obviously). But it is Vaughan Eshelman, not Zane.
I was purposefully conflating Vaughn Eshelman and Zane Smith into one compound starter.

Edit: as detected by Harry Hooper
 

Larry Gardner

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I believe that was a mash-up of Zane Smith and Vaughn Eshelman in the 5th spot of the 1995 staff.
Eshelman wasn't very friendly. I talked to him in the bullpen in Detroit and asked him to sign my ball (and I had a Sox jersey on), and when he didn't want to, I said something like "Hey, how many other people in this stadium even know who Vaughn Eshelman is?", and then he signed. Vaughn, sorry I bugged you......
 

Harry Hooper

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Eshelman wasn't very friendly. I talked to him in the bullpen in Detroit and asked him to sign my ball (and I had a Sox jersey on), and when he didn't want to, I said something like "Hey, how many other people in this stadium even know who Vaughn Eshelman is?", and then he signed. Vaughn, sorry I bugged you......

Great story.
 

Monbo Jumbo

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Four charts showing Steven Wright's evolving mastery of pitch speed from 2013 to his last start.



July 2013.





Sep 2014 vs Yankees - some slow knuckles added to the 2 pitch repertoire.





May 2015.



May 2016. - Instead of having 2, or even 3 speeds, it's as if he has an analog dial with infinite settings.
 

iayork

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Wright has at least two speeds for his knuckler. In Monday's game he used the slow version (maybe even slower than Wake's) late in the game, creating utter chaos among the Orioles. Maybe Dickey was this effective in his Cy Young year.
Looking at his PITCHf/x, it seems to me that almost all his very-slow pitches are actually curves -- they cluster a lot more tightly in break angle and movement than his knuckleballs do. There are a handful of funky pitches that fall outside the "curve" category, but only a very few of them.
 

Max Venerable

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Would it be legal to move a fielder behind the catcher in situations where Wright is on the hill and a lone runner is at 3B in a tight game?

Figuring out the run expectancy would be difficult, but I could see certain cases where perhaps it would make sense.
 

tomdeplonty

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Fielders (other than the catcher) are supposed to be in fair territory when a pitch is made.
 

GreenMonster49

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Would it be legal to move a fielder behind the catcher in situations where Wright is on the hill and a lone runner is at 3B in a tight game?
No, according to Rule 5.02: "When the ball is put in play at the start of, or during a game, all fielders other than the catcher shall be on fair territory."
 

Harry Hooper

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Yes, that is the long-stablished rule in MLB, although it's fair to question why such a prohibition is necessary.
 

alwyn96

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Yes, that is the long-stablished rule in MLB, although it's fair to question why such a prohibition is necessary.
There are some odd rules in the rulebook. I'd love to see this one called someday, just to draw attention to how insane it is:

4.06 (3.09) No Fraternization - Players in uniform shall not address or mingle with spectators, nor sit in the stands before, during, or after a game. No manager, coach or player shall address any spectator before or during a game. Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.
 

BaseballJones

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There are some odd rules in the rulebook. I'd love to see this one called someday, just to draw attention to how insane it is:

4.06 (3.09) No Fraternization - Players in uniform shall not address or mingle with spectators, nor sit in the stands before, during, or after a game. No manager, coach or player shall address any spectator before or during a game. Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.
Ha that's hilarious. That's pretty much all players do nowadays. Any time a guy gets to first, the runner and first baseman are chumming it up.
 

In my lifetime

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Otherwise my favorite book as a kid could never have been written

Wow. That brought memories. I still remember almost 50 years ago, getting my book report back from my 3rd grade teacher with the one correction throughout the paper --- .1000 not 1.000. I am guessing that teacher was not a math major.
 

BaseballJones

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I have no idea how everyone calculates WAR, but I find this to be very interesting. Looking at espn.com's stats page, I see these two pitchers right under one another when you sort by ERA.

Salazar, Cle: 74.0 ip, 7-3, 2.19 era, 1.14 whip
Wright, Bos: 89.1 ip, 8-4, 2.22 era, 1.12 whip

Wright's era is virtually identical, with a virtually identical whip and W-L record. But Wright has pitched 15 innings more, making him more valuable, worth more. Salazar has averaged 6.17 innings per start, while Wright has averaged 6.87 innings per start.

Yet here are their espn WAR numbers:

Salazar: 3.4
Wright: 2.2

If you have two guys who have produced at virtually the exact same rate, how can the guy who has pitched 15+ fewer innings have a significantly better WAR? How does that make any sense?

EDIT: FWIW, they have Salazar's WAR higher than the following guys as well:

- Arrieta: 87.0 ip, 10-1, 1.86 era, 0.85 whip
- Lester: 85.2 ip, 8-3, 1.89 era, 0.95 whip
- Syndergaard: 85.0 ip, 7-2, 1.91 era, 0.96 whip
- Bumgarner: 94.0 ip, 8-2, 1.91 era, 1.03 whip
- Cueto: 102.2 ip, 10-1, 2.10 era, 1.00 whip

I don't get it.

DOUBLE EDIT: To Adrian's Dome's point below this, I thought of that. Then I saw that Arrieta, Syndergaard, Bumgarner, and Cueto all have more Ks than Salazar does, some by a sizable margin. So take Bumgarner. Here's how he stacks up vs. Salazar:

20 more innings pitched
ERA 0.28 better
18 more strikeouts
WHIP 0.11 better

Yet Salazar's WAR is 3.4 while Bumgarner's is 2.7. That's 26% higher than Bumgarner's. Which seems totally insane considering that Bumgarner is better than Salazar in every meaningful statistical way.
 
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Adrian's Dome

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I have no idea how everyone calculates WAR, but I find this to be very interesting. Looking at espn.com's stats page, I see these two pitchers right under one another when you sort by ERA.

Salazar, Cle: 74.0 ip, 7-3, 2.19 era, 1.14 whip
Wright, Bos: 89.1 ip, 8-4, 2.22 era, 1.12 whip

Wright's era is virtually identical, with a virtually identical whip and W-L record. But Wright has pitched 15 innings more, making him more valuable, worth more. Salazar has averaged 6.17 innings per start, while Wright has averaged 6.87 innings per start.

Yet here are their espn WAR numbers:

Salazar: 3.4
Wright: 2.2

If you have two guys who have produced at virtually the exact same rate, how can the guy who has pitched 15+ fewer innings have a significantly better WAR? How does that make any sense?
Probably strikeouts.

Not that it makes much sense, since outs are outs, but that's the biggest difference between the two guys.
 

BaseballJones

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BRef handles war differently than Fangraphs. The difference is likely due to differing schedules, defensive rankings, and park factors.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_pitch.shtml
Or stadium and league effects.
Thanks, that's helpful. I won't take this any further other than to say that I think the formula must need some tweaking, because Salazar cannot really (it doesn't seem to me) be worth 0.7 wins more than Bumgarner, when he's pitched far less with worse numbers, regardless of park effects, defense, or competition. But oh well, that's why those stat guys get the big bucks, I guess, and I'm just a random fan out there.

Back on topic: Wright has been awesome and I hope he gets to start the ASG. That would be very cool.
 

foulkehampshire

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Thanks, that's helpful. I won't take this any further other than to say that I think the formula must need some tweaking, because Salazar cannot really (it doesn't seem to me) be worth 0.7 wins more than Bumgarner, when he's pitched far less with worse numbers, regardless of park effects, defense, or competition. But oh well, that's why those stat guys get the big bucks, I guess, and I'm just a random fan out there.

Back on topic: Wright has been awesome and I hope he gets to start the ASG. That would be very cool.
This is why many tend to use fangraphs, who's WAR calculations try to mitigate uncontrollable variables (like defense) by leaning heavily on FIP (fielding independent pitching). However, this system tends to overrate and reward guys that have fluky low HR rates (like Wright, currently).

Salazar and Wright are in the same ballpark (1.8, 1.9 WAR) in fangraphs due to a few reasons.
  • Wright has 15 more innings.
  • Wright has an absurdly low 4.8% HR/FB rate.
  • Salazar has a very high BB/9 (4.5), which FIP penalizes.
  • Salazar has a higher HR/FB rate (7.9%).
Personally I don't think Wright is even close to Salazar's level (pure stuff aside) but it's been pretty awesome seeing Wright soak up innings and dazzle with that knuckler on a weekly basis.
 

benhogan

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Thanks, that's helpful. I won't take this any further other than to say that I think the formula must need some tweaking, because Salazar cannot really (it doesn't seem to me) be worth 0.7 wins more than Bumgarner, when he's pitched far less with worse numbers, regardless of park effects, defense, or competition. But oh well, that's why those stat guys get the big bucks, I guess, and I'm just a random fan out there.

Back on topic: Wright has been awesome and I hope he gets to start the ASG. That would be very cool.
I'd like to add a few things that differentiate Wright and Salazar: Wright has allowed 8 unearned runs vs Salazar 0 unearned runs. Not sure how that effects WAR, but most of those unearned runs are due to passed balls/wild pitches which is part of the package of a knuckleball pitcher. In addition to that Wright is probably easier to run on. That should have some effect on his Win replacement level.

Now the positive of a knuckleball pitcher of Wrights caliber: if he keeps up this production (huge IF) he could be our #1 come playoff time and I'm guessing (probably more like HOPING) he would be able to pitch on less rest without a production drop. Another benefit along this line (more use of Wright with no production drop), we may get 'better bang for our buck' by trading for bullpen help rather then a starter.

Wrights 'increased usage question' is something that I'd like to be addressed by the team/player and considered since it could effect potential deals and rotation set up.
 
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Aug 8, 2014
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As I understand it, RA9 WAR should be used for knuckleball pitchers. In Steven Wright's case that would be 2.9, fWAR, which would be tops in the AL. That's not even considering the possible knuckleball hangover effect which might be 0.2 or 0.3 WAR.
 
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nighthob

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Sandy Leon Trotsky

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The most frustrating thing with Lars was that he was more highly regarded than Rizzo, and only because of draft position bias...
We could have kept Rizzo and sent Lars in the Adrian Gonzalez deal
 

O Captain! My Captain!

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Huh? Rizzo was a sixth round pick and Lars wasnt taken until the 18th round.
Lars was picked late because he had signability issues. He got an 825k signing bonus, which was then equivalent to a supplemental 1st round pick (between 1st and 2nd rounds of the draft)
 

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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Sure. Lars came out of the draft as guy who expected to be first rounder a year later. The prospect rankings still have a bias to them- Rizzo was outperforming Lars in every category but Lars continuously was ranked higher because of the signing bonus and where that puts them in the minds of BA and BP (and Sox Prospects) people. We were just told that any moment now, Lars would find that power swing... any minute now....
 

Merkle's Boner

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Saw a tweet that said Wright is on pace to be first pitcher since 1923 to have a SO/BB of under 2.25 and an ERA+ of over 200. Probably means his season may not be sustainable.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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Saw a tweet that said Wright is on pace to be first pitcher since 1923 to have a SO/BB of under 2.25 and an ERA+ of over 200. Probably means his season may not be sustainable.
The vagaries of the knuckleball at play. His K/BB is low because he walks a few more than average and his ERA is low because his more frequent passed balls lead to unearned runs (like the one last night) that benefit the stat but not necessarily the team. It's possible he could sustain that pace, but it wouldn't necessarily mean he's still pitching as effectively as he is at present.
 

Hoodie Sleeves

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Saw a tweet that said Wright is on pace to be first pitcher since 1923 to have a SO/BB of under 2.25 and an ERA+ of over 200. Probably means his season may not be sustainable.
I'd certainly agree if he was anything but a knuckleballer. Tim Wakefield's BABIP was 'unsustainable' his whole career, and his performance poorly tracked his peripherals - there are a lot of assumptions that go into what is 'normal' with pitching, and some of those assumptions may not hold true with a fundamentally different pitching style.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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The wrong side of the bridge....
Saw a tweet that said Wright is on pace to be first pitcher since 1923 to have a SO/BB of under 2.25 and an ERA+ of over 200. Probably means his season may not be sustainable.
Yes, but there have only been 20 qualifying seasons with an ERA+ over 200 since 1920, and 9 of the 20 were by either Pedro, Clemens or Maddux. Bob Gibson and Lefty Grove only did it once. Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver never did it. So we're using an edge case as a benchmark here; an ERA+ over 200 at midseason is likely unsustainable regardless of K/BB ratio.
 

Merkle's Boner

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Yes, but there have only been 20 qualifying seasons with an ERA+ over 200 since 1920, and 9 of the 20 were by either Pedro, Clemens or Maddux. Bob Gibson and Lefty Grove only did it once. Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver never did it. So we're using an edge case as a benchmark here; an ERA+ over 200 at midseason is likely unsustainable regardless of K/BB ratio.
Fair point. In some ways that makes his season all the more impressive. Anytime you're in the same conversation as Pedro and Maddux...
 

Chainsaw318

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This is a perfect knuckleball.
On the excellently stat-y Effectively Wild podcast, they did an interview this week with a physics professor and baseball writer about that specific pitch.

The professor said it was possibly the most visible example of a knuckleball breaking twice that he has seen. It's a decent interview, although not actually much about Wright.