The Steven Wright Thread

Monbo Jumbo

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It's time for Steven Wright to have a thread that's not in the Prospect Forum.
 
 
 
Here's a vine of a sick knuckleball. 
 
 
Last two outings.  2-0.
 
 
15 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 17 SO, 2 HR, 0.93 WHIP, 1.80 ERA.
 
 
and a question for the PitchFX geeks.  Wright says he throws a Knuckle, a Fastball, and a Slow Knuckle. Pitch FX calls that slow knuckle a curve.  Why?
 

StupendousMan

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Well, let's take a look at his pitches from a recent game: last night's game, I think (I'm in Tokyo and my sense of date is all screwed up, so this might be wrong).
 

View attachment 1239
 
How many different groups do you see here?  I see two, really: the fastballs, in the upper-left corner, and then ... everything else.  The knuckleball has so wide a range of properties that it really just fills diagrams like this.
 
(digression: the method by which software tries to fit the trajectory of a ball and extract quantities such as "horizontal break" and "spin" works pretty well when a ball is spinning -- but not so well when the ball is floating.  Beware the values in diagrams like this for spin-less balls)
 
Now, an ordinary curveball thrown by a right-handed pitcher will be slow (in the lower portion of the diagram), and break toward first base (to the right in this diagram).  An automated pitch-classifying program would look for pitches in the lower-right section of the diagram, and call them "curves".  Here, there ARE some pitches in that region, but they are probably just extreme knuckleballs. 
 
A person looking at this diagram would probably say, "Oh, that's a knuckle-ball pitcher.  So, I see a 'fastball' group, and the rest is all 'knuckleball'."  But a program doesn't draw the same conclusion, and ends up with spurious curves.
 
That's my guess.
 
 

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iayork

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I think I see three clusters, but it's easier if you look at more dimensions.  Here's a chart I made after Wright's first start this year (more charts here).  
 
 
On the one hand, the red dots do separate themselves from the bulk of the knuckleballs, so they do form a cluster that justifies a name.  They don't form a tight cluster in terms of break angle or length, as a true curve would, but it's reasonable for PITCHf/x's algorithms to identify them as something that needs a name.  Most of them have enough break that "curve" isn't immediately silly, curves are often the slowest pitch in an arsenal,  and "knuckleball" is already taken here, so it's not crazy to call it a curve.  It wouldn't surprise me to see those renamed in subsequent starts, through human intervention, perhaps to "knuckle curve" or something like that.
 

grimshaw

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I saw a quick bit about Wakefield meeting with him in the pen before his previous start at Fenway.  Wonder if he had some pointers that stuck with him.
I know Wake went to Niekro any time he had been struggling and it seemed to help get him back on track.
 

soxhop411

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“@brianmacp: Why did knuckleball move so much? Wright: ”I don’t know. It’s a knuckleball.“”
 

soxhop411

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grimshaw said:
I saw a quick bit about Wakefield meeting with him in the pen before his previous start at Fenway.  Wonder if he had some pointers that stuck with him.
I know Wake went to Niekro any time he had been struggling and it seemed to help get him back on track.
“@IanMBrowne: Coincidence or not, these last two starts by Wright have come after Wakefield monitored his side session at Fenway.”
 

SpokaneSoxFan

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Sorry, I can't read the chart as I'm colorblind, but watching him tonight it almost seemed like he was more effective when the ball was up in the strike zone.  That was probably just a small sample size of when I was actually watching, but I used to cringe and close my eyes anytime Wake pitched one in at the belt or higher.
 

HomeRunBaker

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grimshaw said:
I saw a quick bit about Wakefield meeting with him in the pen before his previous start at Fenway.  Wonder if he had some pointers that stuck with him.
I know Wake went to Niekro any time he had been struggling and it seemed to help get him back on track.
It's a fraternity these knuckleballers and having Wakefield here in Boston with him has to be a very big advantage for Wright.
 

Max Venerable

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Maybe its just been a while since I've seen Wakefield video, but the highlights from the game make it look like he throws much harder and gets much sharper movement on his better pitches.  They almost look like whiffleball pitches at times.  The fact that he can also sneak in a 89 MPH fastball seems like a helluva weapon as well. 
 
 
Edit:
Yeah I mean holy shit, totally different arsenal. 
 
Wright tonight
http://m.mlb.com/bos/video/topic/8878860/v336165483/?c_id=bos
 
Late Career Wake
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aisFw9GcsP4
 
 
He's closer to R.A. Dickey's velocity, but with movement that seems to match Wakefield's
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPh4VKjUOQw
 
Holy crap.
 

chrisfont9

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I don't think there's any data that will tell us much about where this is going, but they need to keep him in the rotation and find out. I mean, it's a matter of developing consistency, and he's either going to do it or he isn't. But he saved the pen tonight, as Wakefield did so many times. Gotta see what he can do.
 

Lowrielicious

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Max Venerable said:
 
He's closer to R.A. Dickey's velocity, but with movement that seems to match Wakefield's
 
 
Article here about that velocity difference (Wright much closer to Dickey than Wake):
http://www.masslive.com/redsox/index.ssf/2015/05/boston_red_soxs_steven_wright_1.html
 
extracts:
 
"When Steven Wright was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 2012, he described his knuckleball as being more similar to R.A. Dickey's than Tim Wakefield's.  "I still feel like my knuckleball is a little bit more like R.A.'s as far as velocity ... but I'm trying to pitch like Wakefield as far as adding and subtracting to the velocity of the pitch," Wright said."
 
"Dickey's knuckleball has averaged 75.7 mph throughout his career while Wright's has averaged 74.6 mph and Wakefield's averaged 66.5 mph from 2002-11, according to FanGraphs.com."
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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From watching highlights, it's amazing how dejected the MFYs looked after swinging and missing - like the ball was moving so much they has no chance of making contact.

I don't think there's any data that will tell us much about where this is going, but they need to keep him in the rotation and find out. I mean, it's a matter of developing consistency, and he's either going to do it or he isn't. But he saved the pen tonight, as Wakefield did so many times. Gotta see what he can do.
I think Wright should pitch too but using the words consistency to describe a knuckleballer seems a bit, well, inconsistent.
 

SouthernBoSox

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Honestly, I think his ceiling is higher than Wake's.   Wake ranged from slightly above to slightly below average his entire career with 2002 being a clear outlier where he was unreal with a 162 ERA+ over 163 innings. Much of that work coming out of the pen as well.  As a full time starter he never demonstrated an impressive K/9, W/9, or WHIP.  His value was tide to the fact he was cheap, he was durable, and he was a great teammate.
 
I think Steven Wright can miss bats.  Knuckleballs are so different and it scares people.  I think we you stop looking at a knuckle ball as a knuckle ball and just look at it as a pitch in a pitchers arsenal it helps get you over the mental block of it.  It isn't a trick pitch.  Think of it as Koji's splitter.  It has deception, it has movement, it can be controlled, and hitters know it's coming but still can't pick it up.  
 
While I'd never predict Wright to have a career anywhere close to Wakefield's, I think his peaks seasons might be more interesting given the huge differential in the two's velocity, both on the fastball and knuckle. 
 

The Gray Eagle

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In his first 102 big league innings, Wright is 7-5, 3.97 with a 103 ERA+. He is under team control through 2020 and isn't even arb eligible till 2018. 
 
If he continues at around the same effectiveness, he would be an ideal 5th starter who could give you 200+ IP at around a 4.00 or so ERA.
 
Even if he can't keep up this level regularly, he would be an ideal long reliever who can save the rest of the bullpen anytime you need him to, and also be a spot starter when needed.
 

FanSinceBoggs

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I would love to see Wright pitch well for the rest of the season and lock down a rotation spot for 2016.
 
2016 five man rotation:
1. ??? free agent starter
2. Rodriguez
3, ??? trade
4. Porcello
5. Wright (will be out of options next year)
 
--With Owens and Johnson providing depth at AAA.
--Use the middling Wade Miley (along with prospects) as trade chips to acquire a better SP.
--Only pick up Buchholz's option if the Red Sox believe they can trade him.  If they can't trade him, decline the option.  For me, Buchholz is not part of the solution; he is part of the problem.
 

Monbo Jumbo

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He seems more composed in the starting role than when he comes out of the pen.
 
Some support for that in the numbers - SSS obviously.
 
WHIP as starter - 1.14
WHIP as reliever - 1.66
 

WenZink

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SouthernBoSox said:
Honestly, I think his ceiling is higher than Wake's.   Wake ranged from slightly above to slightly below average his entire career with 2002 being a clear outlier where he was unreal with a 162 ERA+ over 163 innings. Much of that work coming out of the pen as well.  As a full time starter he never demonstrated an impressive K/9, W/9, or WHIP.  His value was tide to the fact he was cheap, he was durable, and he was a great teammate.
 
I think Steven Wright can miss bats.  Knuckleballs are so different and it scares people.  I think we you stop looking at a knuckle ball as a knuckle ball and just look at it as a pitch in a pitchers arsenal it helps get you over the mental block of it.  It isn't a trick pitch.  Think of it as Koji's splitter.  It has deception, it has movement, it can be controlled, and hitters know it's coming but still can't pick it up.  
 
While I'd never predict Wright to have a career anywhere close to Wakefield's, I think his peaks seasons might be more interesting given the huge differential in the two's velocity, both on the fastball and knuckle. 
 
Wakefield had the most amazing peaks for any knuckle ball startting pitcher.  His ERA+ in 1992, 1995 and 2002 were all above 160.  I think Phil Niekro is the only other starting knuckler to have one season with an ERA+ over 160. (R.A. Dickey's Cy Young season was only at 139 ERA+.)  I would be pleasantly shocked if Wright were able to surpass Wakefield's peak periods.
 
But we all know the drill.  Knucklers can be "staff-savers" as innings eaters, but they can also be terribly frustrating.  There is great fluctuation from season to season, game to game, inning to inning.  In reality, it's probably not as bad as the career of Clay Buchholz, but because of the uniqueness of the knuckler, it drives many fans, pitching coaches and managers to the brink of insanity.  I'm all for giving Wright a long leash, but don't expect smooth sailing.
 

chrisfont9

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wade boggs chicken dinner said:
From watching highlights, it's amazing how dejected the MFYs looked after swinging and missing - like the ball was moving so much they has no chance of making contact.


I think Wright should pitch too but using the words consistency to describe a knuckleballer seems a bit, well, inconsistent.
Ha yes, but in the relative sense. I.e., Wakefield in 2001-03, when he wasn't terrifying all of us.
 

geoduck no quahog

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I'll say it again - most impressive stat his last 2 games: 2 walks in each.
 
2nd most impressive stat: 1 stolen base
 
I feel sorry for whoever has to catch him. If Wake has given Wright great pointers, Mirabelli needs to step up and tutor one of the catchers.
 

alwyn96

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wade boggs chicken dinner said:
From watching highlights, it's amazing how dejected the MFYs looked after swinging and missing - like the ball was moving so much they has no chance of making contact.


I think Wright should pitch too but using the words consistency to describe a knuckleballer seems a bit, well, inconsistent.
 
Oddly enough, season-to-season, Wakefield was probably one of the most consistent starters the Red Sox had. Had two really good years (1995, 2002), three lousy years (2000, 2010, 2011), but in the other 12 years generally wasn't too far from league average. Within game and season it seemed like he varied quite a bit, but at the end of the year it usually evened out. 
 

alwyn96

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geoduck no quahog said:
I'll say it again - most impressive stat his last 2 games: 2 walks in each.
 
2nd most impressive stat: 1 stolen base
 
I feel sorry for whoever has to catch him. If Wake has given Wright great pointers, Mirabelli needs to step up and tutor one of the catchers.
 
I feel like Swihart's done a decent job, although he clearly still has a lot to learn about going deep and chicken parms
 

Monbo Jumbo

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geoduck no quahog said:
I'll say it again - most impressive stat his last 2 games: 2 walks in each.
 
2nd most impressive stat: 1 stolen base
 
I feel sorry for whoever has to catch him. If Wake has given Wright great pointers, Mirabelli needs to step up and tutor one of the catchers.
 
 
SpokaneSoxFan said:
Sorry, I can't read the chart as I'm colorblind, but watching him tonight it almost seemed like he was more effective when the ball was up in the strike zone.  That was probably just a small sample size of when I was actually watching, but I used to cringe and close my eyes anytime Wake pitched one in at the belt or higher.
 
 

 
I've been following Wright fairly closely for a while, though admittedly I'm not a baseball stat geek.
 
The low walk rate is not new.  That's what has always stood out, that he can consistently throw the knuckle for strikes.  Last year, he was inducing lots of ground balls. 
 
As noted above, he seems more effective up in the zone.  My observation is that he made some changes this year - picked up a tiny bit of velocity on his knuckle, and perhaps he gained move movement. I haven't looked at PitchFX to back that up.  But is also seems he gave up some of that control, notice the higher walk rate this year (yeah SSS). I was somewhat dissappointed in the changes he made. But now it's looking like he took one step back in order to take additional steps forward.
 
The game that really caught my eye was in Pawtucket on June 26, an 87 pitch complete game gem (though a loss, 1-0).  But here's the thing - he threw 70 strikes and 17 balls. Hello?  80% strikes from a knuckleballer?  Are you kidding me?  Yeah, it's AAA, but still. 
 
He's obviously benefited from Wake's tutelage.  The 2014 groundball-inducing Wright was very consistent.  It remains to be seen if Wright 2.0 can achieve that as well.  I just think they need to run him out every fifth game from here on out.  Heck, he's got 2 wins in the bidet this year!
 
That 89 mph fastball last night was an outlier.  His fastball sits at about 84.