by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Injuries towards the end of the season helped to derail what was shaping up to be an excellent campaign for the knuckleballer. It’s easy to get excited about Steven Wright’s prospects moving forward, but how real was the performance? First let’s take a look at his 2016 numbers:
127 Strikeouts (7.30 K/9)
57 Walks (3.27 BB/9)
43.7% Groundball Rate
Obviously it was an impressive season, and you can argue that a 69.3% strand rate shows that it could’ve been even better. That said, do we really want to believe the knuckleballer can maintain these types of numbers?
As we know any knuckleball pitcher can be prone to control issues, and Wright also wasn’t generating many groundballs. It doesn’t mean that he can’t continue throwing strikes, but would it be shocking to see his walk right rise into the 3.50-3.75 range (if not worse)? That would still be respectable, but would obviously cause issues.
Obviously he primarily used his knuckleball, which he threw 81.7% of the time. A tricky pitch, opponents hit just .238 against it (courtesy of a .290 BABIP). Can we expect that to continue or will opponents start to unlock the mystery (as we’ve sen with RA Dickey in recent seasons)? From July 1 moving forward opponents were hitting .284 against the pitch, including 6 HR. That should tell us a lot about the risks involved in utilizing him moving forward.
When a pitcher primarily uses one pitch and opponents start to figure it out, disaster looms. While we can’t say for certain that’s the case (again, there was also an injury), that risk remains. When coupled with the potential control regression, limited strikeout potential and threat of an influx in home runs allowed exactly what are we buying?
Wright was a tremendous story in 2016, but the upside isn’t there pitching in the AL East. You can find much better gambles to take at the tail end of your draft, even in the deepest of formats. As a streaming option than maybe, but don’t expect much more than that in 2017.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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