Following the 2017 MLB Draft, the Braves thought for sure they had selected a future rotation ace. Getting Vanderbilt righty Kyle Wright at fifth overall was a boon for a big league club trying to get itself out of a rebuild. We know now that that ’17 season was the final “down” year in Atlanta, as starting in 2018 the Braves have been winning NL East titles ever since. But it hasn’t been because of Wright.
Until recently, Wright hasn’t been able to stick it as a major league starter. There was the six-inning cup of coffee during his debut year in ’18, that still featured two homers and a 4.50 ERA. Then there’s the 2019 experiment that included an 8.69 ERA in 19 2/3, the 5.21 ERA during the shortened 2020 season and of course the 9.95 ERA in 6 1/3 last year. All obviously small samples to parse through, but still a combined 7.08 ERA in exactly 70 major league innings entering the 2022 season. I mean, I wouldn’t write a guy off at that amount of innings, hence Wright still wearing a Braves uniform, but this isn’t too complicated either: Wright has simply been a very bad pitcher in the big leagues.
Until now of course.
Through two starts so far with Atlanta this season, spanning 11 innings overall, Wright has allowed just two runs from seven hits (1.64 ERA), while striking out 15 and walking only one. At no point in his pro career has he been this dominant, and now entering Year 6 of his Braves tenure, it appears the Alabama native has finally figured this whole being good thing.
So how has he done it?
Well, from my extensive research of a whopping two outings, it clearly looks like Wright is actually trusting himself for a change, to put as simply as possible. The kid has always been known for wielding a top-tier repertoire, featuring a two- and four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. The problem was that he never seemed to used them, or consistently use them like he should… or when he should. So far in ’22, that hasn’t been the case, as Wright has befuddled opposing batters with every tool in his tool belt, highlighted by a curve that batters have only managed to go 1 for 14 against (.071 AVG), while whiffing 41.9% of the time.
But it’s not just the breaking ball. One look at Wright’s pitch profile at Baseball Savant and you’ll see a five-pitch mix that’s simply overpowering. The Braves righty has not allowed a single barreled ball thus far as batters seem to be completely clueless as to what’s coming next.
On Friday night against the Padres (his most-recent outing), Wright leaned on his two-seam, a pitch that, when it’s on, can bend to his arm side by nearly 15 inches, per Baseball Savant. And I’ll tell you right now, the pitch was “on”, as last night it looked like he was throwing a frisbee to San Diego batters. And with his two-seam/sinker established early, Wright was able to mix in his curveball and changeup, using the two at an almost identical frequency. The Padres were stuck anticipating 95 MPH, but then all a sudden here comes an 85 MPH breaker or off-speed pitch that’s almost impossible to differentiate. Wicked.
The two-seam, curve and change were Wright’s primary weapons on Friday, after mostly depending on just his two-seam and curve versus the Reds back on April 9. In a matter of one start, the righty has incorporated another offering to keep batters on their toes, and we know three is better than two.
The question is whether Wright can keep this up, though. Historically it has been evident that he can not, but then again, when have we ever seen him like this? Maybe in Triple-A, or during his time coming up through the minors… but never at the big league level. I’m telling ya, the best thing that ever happened to him was getting that World Series start last year – an outing in Game 4 in which he pitched a respectable 4 2/3 innings against the Astros. That kind of stage, and all the pressure that came with it, must’ve really opened Wright’s eyes and showed him that he belongs. Because really… that has seemed to always be the issue, right? Confidence.
But for now Wright seems to have all the confidence in the world. And rightfully so given how well he’s throwing the ball. We’ll see if he can sustain it, but regardless I believe this is more than a fluke performance. I think our boy Wright has turned the corner. And that’s a damn good thing for the Braves.