17 September 2015

Velocity Lost: Mike Wright's September Fastball

As the season began, we knew that it would be the final seasons for Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris in an Orioles uniform.  Ultimately, their departure would resolve the issue of having six starting pitchers, but would introduce the need for a fifth starter.  That fifth starter conversation began with internal candidates, such as Zach Davies, Dylan Bundy, and Mike Wright.  Davies was dealt at the deadline for an over-his-head Gerardo Parra.  Bundy suffered elephant arm or something, which resulted in another period of downtime for the long heralded prospect.  Wright has remained somewhat healthy and has been a general disappointment.

To those who follow the Major League club, Mike Wright was a non-entity before the season.  To those who read prospect rankings, he was a deep second tier prospect who profiled as a backend arm or, perhaps, as a middle reliever.  Where Davies had several average pitches and control, Wright had a fastball that occasionally came in loud and not much else.  Control and acceptable secondary pitches eluded him.  Spring training changed that.

In the wake of the ludicrous stories of the second arrival of Branden Kline, a rumble was heard from scouts about Mike Wright.  It was communicated to me that Wright was impressing opposing scouts immensely during his outings.  I was told that his fastball no longer sat around 92, but had bumped up to 96 with some movement.  That increase in quality in turn helped his slider and changeup play even though they were not appreciably better pitches in a vacuum.  The consensus of a few people from different organizations was that he was not a top of the rotation pitcher, but he was now seen as a first division starter prospect.  Wright was someone who other teams would be highly interested in after being told no to Bundy or Hunter Harvey.

In May, injuries and poor performances brought Wright up to Baltimore and into the starting rotation.  His game plan appeared similar to what he was doing during Spring Training, come in hard with a four seam fastball nearly three quarters of the time.  Mix in a few sliders and changeups to keep hitters honest.  It did not work.  Wright's fastball lost three to four miles per hour.  That may not sound like a lot, but one mile per hour is worth about 0.25 to 0.30 in how many runs are scored off a pitcher.  If the pitcher is simply throwing the ball without much movement or mixing pitches effectively, then he can turn from a good pitcher to someone relegated to AAA.

After a few decent starts pounding the strike zone, Wright lost his luster and was hammered in June.  He tried to compensate for batters waiting on the fastball by throwing more changeups and sliders, but that did not resolve his troubles.  A .457 wOBA in June sent him back to Norfolk.  He would not return to Baltimore as a starter until September.  Wright was now someone who was perceived as more valuable to the Orioles than any other club.  Outside the organization, he was seen more or less as a meaningful secondary piece, not much more.  To the Orioles, he was someone who they were very reluctant to let go.

With September and its expanded roster, the Orioles sent for a healthy Mike Wright to close the year out with the club. 

     9-05 4 IP   5.90 FIP  95.9 FB
     9-11 5 IP   8.75 FIP  93.7 FB
     9-16 5 IP 12.15 FIP  93.0 FB

In three starts, Wright has seen things going from bad to worse.  Even as poor as that first start was, there was hope as he flashed the potential that people saw in the spring: a lively fastball.  However, that hope evaporated in his next started as his average fastball velocity not only dipped below 95 mph, but only topped that mark a handful of time.  Last night?  He did not record a single pitch at or above 95 mph.

Also interesting is that his pitch mix has also significantly changed from his previous starting venture with the Orioles.  In May, his mix was roughly 70% 4S / 15% SL / 15% CH.  This month, he has introduced a two seamer, so his mix is now 45% 4S / 25% 2S / 20% SL / 10% CH.  The new use of a two seamer is quite interesting as it is a seeming acknowledgement that perhaps his other pitches are not effective swing and miss pitches.  A two seamer would let him to some degree permit some contact. 

Additionally, as Wright has settled in with a slider, a two seamer is a more natural complementary fastball than a four seamer is.  The reason, I am told, is that an effective slider requires a lower arm slot than what would be most effective for a four seam fastball.  I have not gone in depth with Wright to determine what would be best for him and do not exactly trust myself at that level of mechanical detail.  Assuming all that is true, the introduction of a two seamer may well be showing the club's intention to transition him into a starting pitcher who does not solely rely on a blistering fastball.

That said, the club could always go backwards and raise the arm to generate more velocity if they decide to convert him into a reliever.  A high 90s fastball with a fringe changeup and a fringe slider will work once through a lineup.  For now though, it certainly seems like the club is planning to give Wright a shot at the rotation next Spring.  However, there is a lot of time between then and now.


Philip said...

Is Wilson appreciably better, or more of the same?
It seems we haven't much else, after Dan spent so much time flinging our pitchers to the four corners in return for Norris, Miller, Snider, Parra and-sad face-Feldman.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Wright has the better velocity. Wilson has to move the ball around the zone and keep hitters off-balance. I don't know if we've seen enough from either to say who is better or worse. It's possible that they both end up in the bullpen eventually.