ERA Watch: Steven Wright

Steven Wright on Monday had a no-decision, but an impressive stat line of 9 IP, 5 hits, 1 run (unearned), 3 BBs and 6 Ks. His ERA dropped 0.21 to a nifty 2.01.

Steven Wright ’16 vs Pedro Martinez ’00

Steven Wright has had a fantastic 2016 season thus far and is at, or near, the top of the AL in most pitching categories. His 2.22 ERA ranks 2nd in the AL and got me thinking about the last time a Red Sox starter posted an ERA under 2.30 for a season*. Not surprisingly, Pedro Martinez was the last starter to finish a full season with an ERA under 2.30 and he did it 4 out of 5 years from 1999 to 2003. How do the two pitchers compare (over 1 season, not a career)?

For the sake of comparison, I looked at Pedro’s 2000 season, arguably one of the best pitching performances in recent baseball history and Wright’s 2016 numbers, projected out for the full season. Disclaimer: I’m not trying to say Steven Wright is as good as Pedro or will have half the career Pedro had, because that would be moronic. I don’t expect Wright to continue his torrid early season pace throughout the entire season, but what if he does?

Now for those of you who hate numbers or charts, let me summarize. If Wright were to remain on his current pace through 13 starts, he would end the season as the best pitcher in the AL and have a legitimate Cy Young case. He would have one of the best seasons in recent history for the Red Sox, but, spoiler alert, he would not upend Pedro even at this pace. In fairness to Wright and every other pitcher who has, and will, don the Red Sox uniform, it’s likely no one will ever have a better season than 2000 Pedro given how baseball has changed over the last 15+ years, not to mention a better 5-year span.

All of these numbers are just to say: Steven Wright is more than just a nice storyline. He is having a historic season thus far. As with any pitcher, but especially a knuckleballer, it could all fall apart the next time he toes the rubber, but for now, Wright is a serious contender for the best pitcher in the AL.

*Buchholz had a 1.74 ERA in 2013, but he only pitched in 16 games.
+2016 Projected numbers are based on 32-33 starts this season, keeping the ERA and hits/9 IP steady, and increasing his HR/9 IP slightly.
++2016 Projected rank is based on where Wright would have ranked in the AL for the 2015 season.

Are the Red Sox a Legitimate Contender?

The short answer: No.

The longer answer begins with looking at the first 62 games of the season. On their third off-day in a week, the Red Sox sit at 36-26, tied for 1st place in the AL East with the Baltimore Orioles. On the surface, that’s a strong place to be 1/3 of the way through the year. Sitting atop a perennially great division while tied for the 2nd best record in the AL is reason to get excited, but the Red Sox roster still has several concerning holes.

We all know the Red Sox offense can score runs in bunches. They have scored 6+ runs in 30 games this year and eclipsed the double-digit mark 8 times, including 4 straight 10+ run games in early May. The bats have leveled off a little in June, but the lineup is potent top to bottom with different guys who can come up big on any given day. If everyone can stay healthy and no one dives into a deep slump (besides Travis Shaw’s current landslide) this offense is good enough to make a deep playoff run. The bigger concern is the pitching staff.

I know it’s been said 1,348,484 times this season already, but it’s still true: The Red Sox desperately need a top-tier starting pitcher. David Price has begun to look better as of late and hopefully is rounding into his ace self. Steven Wright has pitched like an ace, but we all know how finicky the knuckleball can be, especially over long periods of time. Rick Porcello has had some early success, but has allowed 3+ earned runs in 9 of his 13 starts and has been knocked out of the game before the 7th inning in 4 of his last 6 starts. After that, it’s a jumble of crap.

Eduardo Rodriguez has the potential to be great, but after coming back from his spring training injury, has not been the savior Red Sox nation had hoped. Clay Buchholz is in the bullpen because he is terrible, Joe Kelly is back in Pawtucket for the same reason, and the Red Sox have yet to name a 5th starter for this week because there is no obvious choice waiting in the wing.

The bullpen has been decent this year, but incredibly overtaxed. John Farrell is putting 41-year old Koji Uehara on the mound significantly more than he would like and placing Matt Barnes in high-leverage situations because he has no other choice. Craig Kimbrel has been very good this year, collecting 14 saves, but deep into the season and postseason, who bridges the gap to him? Will Koji and Tazawa have anything left in the tank? With the loss of Carson Smith, the Red Sox also need a late-innings bullpen arm to relieve the pressure.

All of this amounts to trouble the remainder of the season and certainly in the postseason unless some moves are made by the deadline. A common refrain is pitching wins championships and it tends to be true. Hitting can cover-up for mediocre pitching during the regular season, but the postseason exposes those weaknesses. 

In order to win a divisional series you need a strong 1-2 with a solid late-inning bullpen, but to win a championship series or World Series you need 3 strong starters and a deep, strong bullpen. The Red Sox have holes in both the rotation and bullpen. They have a ways to go before I declare them a legitimate contender.