21 March 2018

Can Mike Wright Put It All Together?

This is a guest post by Jakob Lucas. You can follow him on Twitter here. Note: This post was written before the O's signed Alex Cobb. There's good information in it, so we're still running it.

After traveling the Norfolk shuttle over the past three years, Mike Wright is out of minor league options. He is competing for the fifth starting spot with Nestor Cortes and Miguel Castro, but he could also start the season in the bullpen. With Chris Tillman's awful spring, it's possible that his spot is up for grabs, too.

The Orioles don't have a very talented rotation or depth to it. Wright told Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com that while his goal is to make the team, he feels he can contribute more as a starter than as a reliever. Wright has consistently put up good numbers in AAA, but that performance hasn't translated to the majors yet.

Across 144.1 innings in the major leagues, Wright has pitched to a 5.86/5.46/5.16 ERA/FIP/xFIP line. In his career, he has struggled against lefties, allowing a .328/.384/.578 line to them. He has pitched much better against righties, only allowing a .247/.332/.447 line. The consensus opinion was that he may be able to survive as a reliever, but he needs a new pitch to be able to pitch against lefties and succeed as a starter.

When Wright was first called up to the majors, he was a 4-seam pitcher, throwing a fastball 54.8% of the time. In 2015, he had 12 appearances, 9 of which were starts, and got busted up to the tune of a 6.04/6.13/5.70 ERA/FIP/xFIP. He returned to the majors in 2016, making 18 appearances (12 starts), producing an improved but still poor line of 5.79/5.30/5.29. His pitch mix was still dominated by the fastball, throwing it 47.3% of the time.

In 2017, Wright pitched exclusively as a multi-inning reliever, pitching 25 innings in 13 games. He reduced his fastball usage to an even split with his 2-seamer and slider. His ERA wasn’t pretty (5.76), but for the first time in the majors, he had good peripherals. A 25.7% strikeout rate and a 6.4% walk rate were good for a 4.72 FIP and 3.83 xFIP.

Pitch Info (Velocity) - Fangraphs
SeasonFB% (4-seam)SI% (2-seam)CH%SL%CU%
201554.8 (94.8)14.5 (92.5)11.1 (81.3)16.9 (84.0)2.7 (77.1)
201647.3 (94.9)22.9 (93.2)8.0 (81.8)18.5 (83.7)3.5 (79.6)
201730.0 (94.1)31.2 (93.1)7.0 (85.5)31.9 (86.5)2.7 (78.9)

As Wright has moved away from the 4-seamer and towards the 2-seamer, his groundball rate has increased slightly, from 37.7% to 43.7%. The 2-seamer produces groundballs, which inversely means fewer flyballs. Groundballs are valued at a premium in Camden Yards, a hitter’s park. With his previous home run issues, groundballs are even more valuable.

Ghiroli also noted that Wright started throwing a new pitch in the minors in 2017, a cutter. He has continued throwing it this spring. In five games, he’s pitched 14.2 innings, struck out 9, walked 3, and given up 1 home run. A more diverse pitch mix is helpful, especially for a starter. There aren’t any starters who had a pitch usage similar to Wright’s in 2017. At this point, we do not know if his will be a successful pitch cocktail. That is not to say that he won’t succeed as a starter; there just isn’t a reliable starter comp at this point.

There are, however, some reliable reliever comps. If Wright continues with the cutter, he could be in the company of Pedro Strop, Roberto Osuna, Bud Norris, and Steven Okert. This group throws a fastball, cutter, sinker, and slider ~20-30% of the time. Okert has pitched 41 innings in the major leagues and has yet to separate himself from the pack. Strop has been a consistently good middle reliever throughout his career, but he only started to use a cutter last season. Osuna has established himself as the Blue Jays' closer in three major league seasons. Norris reestablished himself as a decent reliever after two lost seasons in 2015 and 2016.

Wright has similar velocity to the other pitchers, within ~1 mph. There haven’t been any reports of his velocity in spring training, but hopefully his cutter is a good 90+ mph pitch.

2017 Pitch Velocity - Fangraphs
Mike Wright94.1N/A93.186.5
Roberto Osuna95.090.794.786.1
Pedro Strop96.189.596.485.2
Bud Norris94.490.294.685.3
Steven Okert92.488.892.285.7

Wright pitches in the zone 45.6% of the time, which is in line with Osuna and Norris, at 43.7%. Osuna gets significantly more O-Sw% (38.2%) than Wright (29.5%) or Norris (29.9%). Wright falls behind Osuna and Norris in O-Con%, with 64.2% opposed to Osuna’s 49% and Norris’ 49.7%. Wright also has the lowest SwStr% of the trio. Wright and Norris look to be very similar, with the major difference being their O-Con%.

These are Wright’s numbers before adding a cutter. The rest of the pitchers in this group already throw one. Based on this data, rising up to Norris’ level doesn’t seem out of the question, and while becoming an elite closer like Osuna may not be probable, it is possible.

2017 Plate Discipline Data - Fangraphs
Mike Wright29.5%65.3%45.8%64.2%83.9%77%45.6%10.6%
Roberto Osuna38.2%69.9%52.1%49.0%81.6%68.1%43.7%16.8%
Pedro Strop32.7%62.1%45.2%40.6%82.5%65.1%65.1%15.5%
Bud Norris29.9%66.9%46.1%49.7%85.4%72.3%43.7%12.5%
Steven Okert28.2%65.6%48.6%66.1%83.5%78.9%54.5%9.8%

Starting pitching is still the biggest need for the 2018 Orioles. But with the impending loss of Zach Britton and Brad Brach after 2018, and Darren O’Day after 2019, the bullpen is also running thin.

The above data shows us that there is precedence for Wright’s potential success as a reliever. But he has work to do.

Data via Fangraphs

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