Braves 2020 Player Review: Kyle Wright

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If the glass is half full, he finally got on the board with his first two big league wins, and showed some signs of consistency down the stretch for the first time in his young career. He earned his way into the postseason rotation for the Braves, and threw six shutout innings in the clinching game of the NLDS sweep over the Marlins. He started to flash some of the potential we’ve heard about for years, and should be in position to at least compete for a spot in the 2021 starting rotation come spring training.

If the glass is half empty, he failed to make it past the fourth inning in half of his eight starts in the regular season. His overall numbers for the campaign still left a lot to be desired, including a 5.21 ERA. His command was a problem most of the year too, finishing the season with a 5.68 BB/9 ratio. And of course, there was that one inning in Arlington.

On the whole, his season was probably a net positive. There was more good than bad, more reasons for optimism about his future than pessimism. If anything, his season was probably defined by a few big inflection points more than anything else.

The Slow Start:

Wright’s first five outings of the season certainly fell into the negative bucket. He had one start each against the Rays, Mets and Phillies with a pair of starts against the Marlins. Wright allowed 17 earned runs in 19 innings across these five starts. His walks outnumbered his strikeouts by an 18-16 margin, and opposing hitters had a ghastly .312/.442/.558 slashline against him through this one of the season.

To put it bluntly, he had an awful start to his 2020. By this point he was more than two years removed from his MLB debut, and still searching for that elusive first career win. But almost on a dime, everything changed.

The breakthrough:

On a Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park—with Max Scherzer toeing the rubber for Washington no less—Wright finally found that first career win. Wright found much better command—especially on his sinker and slider—and allowed three earned runs in six innings. The offense came through four runs in the sixth to give him the lead, and just like that Wright was on the board. And once he found the first win, it didn’t take long for the first hot streak of his career.

Wright turned around from the win over the Nationals to beat the Mets at Citi Field a week later, and this time he was even better. He picked up his regular-season high six strikeouts and only allowed two baserunners in 6 ⅓ innings of shutout baseball. And he picked up a hard-luck no-decision in his longest outing of the season in the final home series of the season, 6 ⅔ innings of two-run baseball against the Red Sox.

This three-start stretch vaulted him into Brian Snitker’s October plans, and was the first time he really lived up to his billing as a key cog in this young rotation’s future.

The Playoff Win:

Wright took the ball for game three of the NLDS against the Marlins, looking to send the Braves to the NLCS for the first time since he was a 6-year-old kid. And not only did he keep his momentum going, he had the best start of his career. Wright struck out seven Marlins in six innings, surrendering just three hits and carrying the series-clincher through to the bullpen.

In less than a month he went from a pitcher without a single career win to one with the most important win for the franchise in almost two decades.

The Inning:

There’s no point in dwelling on it, but it does have to be mentioned. Wright is a young pitcher who ran into a buzzsaw of a lineup in one terrible inning in game three of the NLCS, putting a sour note on his improvement at the end of the year. The Dodgers scored seven runs in ⅔ of an inning against Wright, putting up 11 for the frame in total to put the game out of reach immediately.

Wright absolutely has better days ahead, but that one is going to linger in his mind for a while. Hopefully he can use it as motivation going into next season, and maybe even next October.

The Outlook:

Obviously the status of free agency is up in the air right now, but as things stand the Braves should have three spots in the starting rotation locked down between Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Ian Anderson. Maybe Alex Anthopolous will make a move for another starting pitcher, maybe he won’t. That’s for him to know and quite literally only him to know; we know how close he keeps his cards to his vest.

But even if he makes one signing, it’s unlikely he’ll go out and sign two starting pitchers given the slew of young starters already in the organization and the (likely) attempt to invest capital in re-signing Marcell Ozuna. So there should be at least one spot in the rotation up for grabs, and Wright will be in the mix for it.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where Wright engages in a spring training battle with Bryse Wilson (and maybe Tucker Davidson?) for a spot or two in the starting rotation next season. Maybe he would win that battle, maybe he wouldn’t. But it’s important to remember that over the course of what should be a full season there will inevitably be injuries or struggles. Even if Wright doesn’t start the season in the rotation, he could still work his way into it, and of course vice versa. But his bottom line remains simple.

Pitch the way he did in his last three starts of the regular season as well as his NLDS one, and he’ll be right in the mix.

13 thoughts on “Braves 2020 Player Review: Kyle Wright”

  1. @ Alan Cole,

    Do you think the 11 million dollar contract for Smyly is a “come try out and maybe you get to start?” Barring injury, he already fills one slot of the 5 man rotation.

    And, with Wright, Wilson, and the significant at least moderately talented upper minors pitching (Ynoa, De La Cruz, Weigel, Davidson, etc.), there is no reason to go get a pitcher. Even if one seemingly “falls to you” on better financial terms than appropriate (Say Bauer at 4 years by 25 million per), even thought that would objectively be a good deal, the money needs to go to (1) A SINGLE bat, and (2) bench and (3) maybe an experienced reliever or 2 BEFORE another starter.

  2. Yeah, Smyly has a slot in the rotation locked down (barring injury). With the caveat that an extra slot may be open early while Soroka gets back up to speed, there should be one rotation slot left for the likes of Wright, Wilson and (maybe) Davidson.

    As far as Wright goes specifically, it’s certainly a positive that he seemed to get some things figured out down the stretch. I’m not guessing he’s gonna go back to being the guy who refused to throw a fastball and refused to throw any pitch in the strike zone that he was before that happened. However, I think it would be way too much to assume he’s raised himself above a No. 4 or 5 starter. It’ll be interesting to see what he does early next year in a situation where he’s likely gonna have to win a spot in spring training and maybe a handful of starts in April (until Soroka gets back).

  3. This is a very fair review of Kyle’s season. Much appreciated. As Braves Journal’s Biggest Kyle Wright Critic, I do have a few squabbles:

    -A 3-start stretch is not a breakthrough. It’s 3 good starts.
    -The buzzsaw that is the Dodgers lineup was adequately negotiated by many Braves pitchers. So I’m not sure if it was the Dodgers’ lineup so much as the person on the mound.
    -If there is not a backup plan past Wright getting 30 starts, then AA is guilty of malpractice.

    I do think Wright had enough good in his season to merit some optimism, and that was well-summarized, but you just can’t hand the 5th spot to Kyle Wright after what he’s shown. Just my $0.02.

  4. Gosh, Rob, I think you’re going out on a limb there. I don’t see how anyone could watch Kyle Wright’s 2020 season with his 5.21 regular season ERA and 94.50 postseason ERA and not think he’s fully ready for a rotation spot. Personally, I’m ready to hand him a rotation spot on a silver platter and I can’t understand anyone feeling differently.

  5. @4

    Which is why the signing of another starting pitcher was such a must-have. Squabble with the front office’s eventual decision on who to give that spot to all you want, but we had to have somebody. Now, Wright and Wilson will have to beat each other and possibly the likes of Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson and whoever else out for that spot.

  6. Yeah, right now I would have to say that Wilson is in front of Wright for the 5th starter spot, but those guys are not very far in front of the other possibilities ( Newcomb, Folty, Mueller, Davidson, Touki, Weigel, …). Any of the others could appear to put things together over the winter and win a rotation spot.

  7. Braves finished first in the division for the 3rd straight year and lost 80% of their rotation. IMO, y’all are being too rough. The 5th spot in the rotation should definitely go to one of Wright or Wilson out the gate. It’s imperative that Anthopoulos find out if Wilson’s new curve is there to stick or if Wright’s move to the to the far left (or right, depending on how
    you look at it) of the rubber was the real key to unlocking movement.

    Small samples are great to utilize when it comes to young guys. Wright looked changed when he came back and then jittery and awful in the playoff game. Bryse looked mediocre at best in season (with no offspeed) and then brought a new curve to the playoffs and looked like a complete pitcher.

    Sure, go sign a vet starter on a ST invite and give it a go, but at some point, these guys need innings at the top level.

  8. Ya know, if the greatest debate is over to whom goes the 5th starter job, then I’d say we have a good squad.

    I vote Charlie Morton for the 5th spot.

  9. @11 – trading for Snell? Yes, please, absolutely: Fried, Snell, Soroka, Anderson, Smyly. What’s not to like?

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