We are lucky to have a guy like David Lee to allow us to crosspost some of his Braves pieces here at Braves Journal. Today’s piece, while lengthy, discusses back to back pitching performances from Kyle Wright. It’s lengthy, but it’s very much worth it.
Kyle Wright Breakdown, 9/8
As we often hear when a pitcher struggles, goes to Triple-A and later returns, the Braves talked about positive results and adjustments made by Kyle Wright as he came back from the alternate site for Tuesday’s start.
Obviously nothing changed in the results at the major league level. Wright gave up five runs on seven hits in four innings, including three home runs. His ERA is now over 8.
But is there anything positive that can be taken from this outing when considering Kyle Wright’s future? Yes and no.
The first obvious change was foot placement on the rubber. Wright previously worked left-middle on the rubber, basically in the middle. In this outing, he was extreme left side with pretty much just his toes on the rubber. This goes hand in hand with the next observation.
Wright was noticeably trying to work inside more and establish the inner half. Working from the first base side of the rubber allows him to create angle going inside on right-handed batters. This is a declaration to hitters that I’m going to try to own the arm side. It potentially opens up half the plate and allows hitters to key in on fewer zones, but it works when the pitcher commands his fastball to that corner and has the secondaries to play off it by tunneling and working down with off-speed.
This approach also requires a lively fastball that runs underneath the barrel, similar to Mike Soroka’s power sinker. Wright’s two-seamer has not consistently been that pitch in the past, because it shows early and the sink lacks effective, late bite. However, in Tuesday’s start, it appeared tighter, and the sink was more explosive and came later in its path. It was perhaps the most lively two-seamer I’ve seen from Wright, resulting in a 75 mph average exit velocity and a max of just 91 among 29 pitches thrown (compared to 85 mph average exit velocity in his previous start). The four-seamer, on the other hand, had the same average velo of 95 as the two-seamer but was timed more easily and hit harder, likely the result of lack of movement and not working it to the glove side (which I’ve been yelling for him to do since spring).
Wright’s start only lasted four innings, but there was a noticeable change in pitch usage as the outing progressed. Instead of abandoning his fastball as his pitch count increased, he stuck with the four- and two-seamer both late in the start and in tough spots. He recognized it was his best pitch, it had more life than usual, and he worked to establish it and rely on it. He threw the two-seamer 35 percent of the time and the four-seamer 28 percent. In his previous start Aug. 14, he threw his slider 29 percent, four-seamer 26 percent and two-seamer 18 percent. And, as you can see in the zone maps, it’s clear that the approach was simplified to work the plate with the fastballs. His Tuesday map is much tighter around the zone.
While it was clear that Wright wanted to establish the two-seamer and his fastballs overall, part of this was the result of a lack of slider. The pitch is normally his best, typically sitting above average to plus, but it came out flat with a severe lack of vertical tilt and bite. He only threw six and two were blasted for home runs. In its place was the changeup, which he threw 18 percent of the time and induced consistently weak contact by playing it off the two-seamer well and keeping it on the knees. This isn’t a horrible play, because Wright has a major league changeup. Perhaps it’s a way to keep Wright off the slider. Perhaps it’s a change in approach to simplify his usage and try to work the fastballs and changeup together. Time will tell.
But why was Wright’s slider so ineffective? It could be that he just didn’t have it that night, but it could also be tweaks rendering it less effective. Notice the change in release point from Aug. 14 to Tuesday. The massive horizontal shift is the result of changing his placement on the rubber. But he also came out looking slightly taller during his stride. His vertical point is a touch higher, and it was especially higher in the first couple innings. When I think of trying to stay taller and coming from a touch higher slot, I think of trying to stay on top of the ball and limiting the rotation in the upper half. Wright has a tendency to drop his slot, get on the side of the ball and become erratic as an outing progresses. This could be an attempt to fix that. But is it affecting his slider? Maybe, but I can’t say for sure.
Which brings me to what I think could be Wright’s issue as he gets deeper into his outings. Look at his vertical release point inning by inning mapped over the course of his career dating to his Aug. 14 start. For his four- and two-seamer, his release is all over the map. It tends to stay consistent over the first couple innings, but look how erratic it gets starting with the third inning. No one can expect to maintain major league level command with such a volatile release unless the pitcher has elite-level feel to pitch and can change slots on purpose. If you want to compare Wright’s inning-by-inning release point to get a sense of its inconsistency, check out Jacob deGrom’s or Mike Soroka’s. Obviously it’s unfair to compare Wright to the best pitchers in the game, but it provides context.
A varied release point causes command and control to suffer. Wright has maintained a consistent enough release early in his outings, but it starts to spray the longer he stays on the mound. This can probably be chalked up to arm action and rotation in the upper half of the motion. When he falls into his third- and four-inning bouts of wildness, he struggles syncing his upper half with his arm, and his release suffers.
Can this be fixed? I think trying to get taller during his stride and a touch higher on the release can help. The problem is that he fell back into the same habit as his outing went on Tuesday. When Wright says after the game that he feels close, I understand where he’s coming from. His two-seamer was more explosive with more effective bite, he established inside better, and he seemed to find a comfort in working the changeup off the fastballs. If he thinks he can avoid falling into the same habit as he gains more comfort in his adjustments, it’s understandable for him to feel optimism.
But, as I said on Twitter after his Tuesday start, it’s all about repeating. At some point he has to prove he can repeat his motion to maintain more consistent command. This season is the best chance for him to get reps on a major league mound and try to work through things. But the Braves have a window and, come 2021, patience may start wearing thin.
Kyle Wright Breakdown, 9/13
At the risk of overkill when writing about Kyle Wright, I’m offering another observation post on his second outing since returning from the alternate site. I wasn’t planning on this Monday post focusing on Wright, but he stood out so much and looked so different against the Nationals on Sunday, he forced my hand.
As I wrote on Twitter after his start, this is the Wright whom I’ve projected for a couple years now. Will it continue past this start? I don’t know. He still has to prove he can repeat everything over the course of five-plus innings on a start-by-start basis, which is no small task. But Wright was different Sunday. He’s never looked this good or this close to complete on a major league mound.
For frame of reference, I outlined his adjustments and pitch usage changes after his first start since returning, while also offering a possible explanation for why his command leaves him after the second inning. It comes down this:
- He’s moved to the extreme first base side of the rubber instead of his previous placement toward the middle. This creates angle for his two-seamer working inside on the hands of right-handed batters.
- He’s noticeably working to establish his fastballs early and often. He threw his four- and two-seamer 63 percent of the time in his last start. He threw them 51 percent of the time in this start. These are clear increases for him. He’s not abandoning the pitch in tough spots, either.
- In the past, he has lost his release point after the second inning as a result of failing to sync his body with his arm. It showed in the inning-by-inning release point map I provided in the post linked above. This is a possible explanation for why his command and control would leave him between the third and fifth innings.
Wright showed positive signs in his return start this past Tuesday, but he still fell out of sync and was gone after four innings. I wrote that the adjustments are fine, but at some point the guy has to prove he can repeat his motion. The start Sunday was important in that regard.
And prove he did. Despite an occasional hiccup, Wright had by far his best start mechanically on a major league mound. He stayed in sync for the most part over six innings, beared down in big spots, bounced back from adversity, and overall had his first real complete start.
As I said, Wright combined for 51 percent fastballs. He established them early and continued to show excellent bite on the two-seamer’s sink. The four-seamer was again an occasional trouble spot when he couldn’t get it above the barrel or on the corner, but it was overall more effective than last outing. The two-seamer was a plus pitch when located arm side on the hands of right-handed batters, which he did very well, and he spotted several on the knees for weak ground balls in big spots. His location of the two-seamer was the best I’ve seen from him.
While the two-seamer was necessary and very effective, the slider was the difference-maker. He threw it 22 percent of the time and did an exceptional job of locating it down and glove side. The zone map shows the cluster of sliders spotted in that down and away quadrant. The pitch had strong downward tilt and tight, two-plane break, consistently living above average to plus. His combined called strikes and whiffs totaled 24 percent of sliders thrown, and he averaged a 75 mph exit velocity on the pitch.
I wrote the other day that the move to the first base side of the rubber could have been a reason for the lack of feel for the slider in that Tuesday start. He was getting on the side of it, and it was coming out horizontal with little bite. Kyle Wright made a great adjustment to gain feel for the pitch in his second outing, and it proved to be a weapon. This is a great sign.
A promising development last time out was increased usage and effectiveness of the changeup. That continued in this outing as he threw 13 changeups and maintained weak contact on it by keeping it down and playing it off the two-seamer well. The pitch is quickly becoming a solid third option behind the fastballs and slider, and I think much of this is because of the increased angle from the foot placement on the rubber and increased two-seam effectiveness. He also dropped in several solid curveballs for strikes as a change-of-pace pitch to round out his deep arsenal.
He started strong, as he almost always does, but the question was whether he would maintain his delivery as the start progressed. Instead of completely losing his release because of opening up early or rushing his arm and failing to regain it, there were only flashes of inconsistency in his motion. He held up his arm path and release point at a rate I haven’t seen from him in the majors.
This was especially noticeable in tight situations and in his responses.
In the fourth, he overthrew and lost his release against Juan Soto, resulting in a 3-0 double. The next batter, Asdrubal Cabrera, had ambushed a four-seamer on the plate in their first matchup. Wright located a curve and change away and Cabrera could only fly out. Kurt Suzuki could only beat a fastball on the knees into the ground for a groundout. After losing Eric Thames on a walk, Wright bounced back again by sawing off Carter Kieboom on a two-seamer inside for a weak popup.
The Nationals scored two in the fifth, but Wright made literally one bad pitch, a hittable fastball to Luis Garcia to start the frame. He destroyed Victor Robles’s bat on a slider down and away, he located a solid changeup to Adam Eaton that he bunted for a hit, he got Trea Turner to beat a sinker into the ground, and he got Cabrera to roll over a good curveball for a double play. He made several very good pitches in tough spots in that inning and kept his composure throughout.
Just as important, Kyle Wright came back out for the sixth, continued to look in control, and pitched around a couple two-out singles for a solid inning. That is what a complete performance looks like.
Kyle Wright made big strides as a major league starter in this outing. He applied his adjustments and was able to utilize them throughout because of a more consistent motion. The question now is whether he can show up in five days and build on it. That’s the difference between this being another flash of promise or a huge moment in his development as a starting pitcher.
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