Perhaps some of you reading this spent yesterday at Camden Yards for what is, in my opinion, the best day of the year. If you’re like me, you enjoyed a crabcake, some Natty Boh’s, and beautiful weather on a day that marked the unofficial start of summer. The on-field happenings started very nicely. New players were introduced, Joe Angel threw out the first pitch, O’s legends were in attendance, the Orioles jumped out to a quick lead, and Alex Cobb pitched well.
And then Mike Wright Jr. happened.
After relieving Cobb with two outs in the sixth with a 4-2 lead, Wright allowed two singles and then got ahead of Gleyber Torres 0-2 in the count. He then grooved a fastball that Torres hit into the seats to give the Yankees a lead that they would not relinquish. Jesus Sucre’s target on the pitch was low and away. The pitch was letter high right down the middle. Sucre’s reaction immediately after the ball was struck says it all.
While Wright’s roster spot has been the subject of debate in the past, it is a fresh topic in my mind because he ruined my favorite day of the year. Wright’s story is similar to many holdovers from the previous regime. Will the new front office staff think his talent can be molded a major league quality pitcher? Or won’t they see what the previous staff saw and decide to move on?
Wright has pitched in four games this year, an incredibly small sample size. He combined to throw 1.2 scoreless innings over his first two outings and earned a save. The next two appearances have been very bad: five earned runs and five hits while retiring a total of three hitters. That leaves his season ERA at 16.88 and WHIP at an even 3.00. It is early, but those numbers are not pretty.
Not including yesterday’s performance, Wright’s career ERA and WHIP are 5.76 and 1.517 respectively. He received extended looks as both a starter (23 starts) and reliever (94 total games) and has not seized either opportunity. Wright is out of minor league options, which is presumably one of the reasons why he is in the Orioles bullpen right now.
How much longer will he remain there? Yes, we can’t put much stock in numbers that cover four 2019 appearances. But since Wright debuted in 2015, he has shown very few extended periods of success that would give reason to think he can be a quality pitcher. As Mike Elias decides what Wright’s future will be, there are several red flags that will present themselves. First is the fact that he is already 29 years old. While not a rule, it has started to click with most successful players by that age.
Also concerning is Wright’s lack of strikeouts despite a fastball velocity that has averaged nearly 95 MPH over his career. Wright has struck out 7.1 batters per nine innings throughout his time in the majors. That nearly mirrors his minor league rate of 7.2, showing that he has never been a strikeout pitcher.
Despite the Orioles’ 4-3 start, wins and losses aren’t that important this season and Wright’s struggles aren’t a huge problem. One of the benefits of being in this position is that the new staff can give players like Mike Wright a serious look with minimal negative consequences. The new field staff and analytics department may find a way to improve Wright’s performance and turn him into a successful bullpen piece. They should be given the opportunity to do that.
With that said, such tinkering and tweaking would have started in Sarasota and the results haven’t shown to this point. In addition to Wright’s poor numbers in the regular season, spring training was rough. Despite pitching to an ERA of 3.32 in Florida, his WHIP was 1.431, he gave up over two home runs per nine innings, and his strikeout rate was well under his career average. Any changes made by the new staff may take some time to bear fruit, but it is fair to say that that hasn’t happened yet.
Wright’s lack of minor league options will give him every opportunity to figure things out in Baltimore. But if his numbers don’t improve upon what he’s shown to be thus far in his career, Elias will have to make a decision at some point. Tanner Scott, Evan Phillips, and Branden Kline are all currently in Norfolk’s bullpen. 2019 is clearly about development and none of that trio will be brought to the majors if not deemed ready. But all three are soon reaching the point where their next development needs to happen in the majors. So while Mike Wright doesn’t have competition beating down the door, there are some relievers who are approaching the door.
There have been multiple examples of Mike Elias not relying on the scouting and player development of the last front office, with Pedro Araujo being designated for assignment as the most recent example. I’m very curious as to whether Elias thinks Wright can be improved. Outings like yesterday’s certainly aren’t helping his cause.