The BoSox Injection staff reflects on the 2016 season by grading each member of the Boston Red Sox based on expectations for them entering the season.
Let’s face it: almost nobody expected Steven Wright to be anything other than pitching fodder for opposing lineups in 2016. He was thrown onto the mound as the Red Sox prayed that their high-powered offense would give him enough run support to squeak out a few wins.
Wright lost his first two starts of 2016 in April, allowing a combined three runs, three walks, and 11 strikeouts against the Toronto Blue Jays. That same team smacked around possible Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello while still being outscored by a hot Red Sox lineup. By May, Wright was only 2-3 and yet he had a 1.67 ERA for his trouble.
Many of Wright’s starts included poor defensive support, as well. In June, three of those games saw Wright give up no earned runs; however, he took the loss each time because of the players behind him making errors, including a nine-inning gem that he pitched only for an error to allow a single run to cross the plate and ruin his night.
Aug 5, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Steven Wright (35) is congratulated by Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) after throwing a complete game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Wright, however, wasn’t completely blameless. Seven of his starts ended at five complete innings or less, serving up a hefty total of runs when his knuckleball didn’t dance how he wanted. Those games just seemed to fade in Red Sox Nation’s memories, as Wright also started six games of eight innings of work or more, including four starts where he completed a full nine innings.
Overall, Wright only lost six decisions, second only to Porcello with at least 20 starts. He struck out 127 batters in 156.2 innings, almost a strikeout in every frame he pitched. Considering that Wright’s purpose to the knuckleball is to have the batter put the ball in play, that is an amazing total.
If it wasn’t for bursitis in his throwing shoulder, Wright would have continued his first All-Star season with the hot hand. Instead, Wright was put on the shelf in the middle of August and, after being activated at the end of the month, he was then sent to the minor leagues to regain his form. He wasn’t activated back to Boston until October.
Wright’s grade has much to do with his past as much as his past. He hasn’t made much money over the years, earning just over $500 thousand for each of the last three seasons. It wasn’t like the team expected him to be as important to the rotation as he was, judging by the fact that he had only started 11 games combined in those three years. Nine of those starts came last season, when he posted a 5-4 record and a 4.09 ERA.
With the season that he just had, one would think that the pressure is now off, with him deflating his ERA significantly, and that he should expect a big payday. However, Wright isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2018 and he can’t even sniff free agency until 2021.
Going from a bullpen hopeful thrown onto the mound to start a few games, Wright ended up as one of the best pitchers in the majors and a big reason why the Red Sox won the American League East division, this year. All of the pressure was on Wright, when Porcello and David Price started the season with inconsistencies and Clay Buchholz, once the dominant pitcher on the Red Sox staff, sent to the bullpen himself. Wright was then expected to bail them out while not earning as much run support as the other Boston starters.
Wright delivered much better than expected, but the pressure is not going away any time soon. Wright will need to bring that same punch next season, as the Red Sox seem to be happy with their staff and don’t necessarily plan on adding any other dominant arms. Anything is possible, but Wright can’t worry about that business; he needs to worry about performing as well in 2017 as the All-Star that he was in 2016. If he can do it, the arbitrator should rule in his favor to finally make a big enough contract to not need to worry about money in the foreseeable future.