A lot of things had to go wrong for the Orioles to finish with a 47-115 record in the 2018 season. It’s more than just that: A lot of things went wrong before the season even started because they had a bad plan that was probably never going to work out. One of the signs of that bad plan was one that counted on Mike Wright Jr. to be a part of the pitching staff. This was always going to go poorly.
There is nothing revolutionary in observing that Wright has never gotten good results over a season while pitching for the Orioles. It is much like stating that the Earth revolves around the sun. The fact was proven long ago. You can comfortably go about your day-to-day existence confident that this will never change.
It seems everyone has gotten that memo except for whoever was running the Orioles this past season. Not even the flurry of late-spring training free agent signings and the weird Rule 5 obsession could dislodge Wright from a roster spot; once the season began, no amount of poor performance could send him packing, either.
Many a blowout became more of a blowout thanks to Wright’s intervention in 2018. It didn’t matter, because this season was so terrible in so many ways that nothing really mattered, but it was still frustrating to see it again and again.
No one reasonable would ever fault a blind person for being unable to see. In a similar way, perhaps you can’t fault Wright for being a poor pitcher at the MLB level. It’s not his fault the Orioles have, for whatever reason, continued to convince themselves that he might be worth anything. Some people just aren’t good at this. That’s what makes the good MLB players so special: You have to be freakishly good at baseball to make it.
Maybe the Orioles aren’t even wrong. Maybe there is something resembling an acceptable MLB pitcher somewhere in there, and maybe the Orioles have just been too loaded with backwards-thinking dunderheads in their pitching development program to unearth the best version of Wright.
Consider the very recent example of Wade Miley, as thorough of a failure in 2016 and 2017 as you will ever see shuffle through these parts. Miley was terrible, so terrible here it seemed that he could not possibly have any redeeming quality whatsoever, and he just managed to have a successful half-season with the Brewers that saw him pitch in three games in the just-concluded NLCS.
The best you can say about Wright is maybe he could see such a transformation if someone who ever has a clue got to speaking to him. The worst that you can say about him is how he pitched in 2018.
This was supposed to be his time. Freed from the team stubbornly continuing to miscast him as a starting pitcher, Wright was supposed to be able to unleash his arsenal in a new way as a reliever. As the team went down in flames around him, the opportunity was there to seize a late-inning relief role.
That was the theory. Instead, Wright walked more batters than ever, got fewer ground balls than ever, pitched with no extra velocity compared to his time as a starting pitcher, and was as prone to dugout tantrums as ever. This was all too familiar, or even worse than that.
You can’t judge a pitcher solely by his ERA, but for me, just looking at Wright’s 5.55 ERA over 84.1 innings is just too much. I don’t want to hear the excuses. It might be that it was bad defense. After all, Wright’s BABIP jumped to .344 - well above the average. It’s tough to accept that even one of MLB’s best defenses, rather than one of MLB’s worst, could have transformed him into even a mediocre relief pitcher.
The Fielding Independent Pitching stat, which attempts to remove quality of defense from evaluating a pitcher, puts Wright at a 4.79. That still sucks for a relief pitcher, and it would suck for a starting pitcher too on most teams that aren’t the Orioles.
It’s not like this is an aberration for Wright’s MLB career. His ERAs in his career are: 6.04, 5.79, 5.76, and 5.55. FIP has never indicated he deserved much better than this. A generous Orioles TV and radio commentator might remark, “Wright has shown improvement every year of his career!” The informed listener would laugh. Wright will be 29 years old in January. This is probably who he is and who he always will be.
Presumably, the old Orioles regime had some strange, inexplicable fondness for Wright that led them to give him so many chances. There will soon be a new sheriff in town whose identity we do not yet know. Not much from Wright’s career is likely to result in this person taking over the reins, peering at Wright, and thinking, “Yes, that’s the guy we need to keep around.”
On the other hand, maybe the new group won’t be able to resist giving him one more chance. Wright’s already here, and it’s not like there’s some bumper crop of high-minors pitching talent waiting to finally push him into the discard pile.
That’s part of the Orioles problem. Wright himself is whatever. Sometimes you call up a guy and he’s not good enough. It happens. He earned a shot, no harm in giving it to him. The fact that the Orioles could do no better than Wright over several years is the kind of thing that should have cost a GM his job - and perhaps was part of why Dan Duquette has lost his job. A functioning organization doesn’t need to keep giving guys like this a chance.
Is there really so much upside remaining? I have been wrong on this website before and will be wrong on it again, but nonetheless, I don’t expect to regret making this assessment: Wright will never be a good or even acceptable MLB pitcher over any large sample size. To support this argument, I offer his career, especially his 2018 season.