It’s almost comical how in-denial Dave Dombrowski is about the state of this bullpen. The “relievers,” and I say this in quotation marks, because no one has ever felt relieved to see any of them enter a game, joined forces to blow a 6-1 lead on Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays, a team 21.5 games out of first. Yet somehow, Dombrowski continues to pretend that there is no problem with the Red Sox bullpen, even though they are now tied for most blown saves in the American League, and second-most in MLB.
It’s even less funny now than it was last week, because Steven Wright is about to make his return to the Majors. The knuckleballer who was suspended for violating the Domestic Violence Policy in 2018 and again this season for violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy, is apparently going to be this bullpen’s saving grace.
Let’s set aside the Domestic Violence Policy thing for a minute, because people who violate it shouldn’t be playing baseball at all. But since he is, we might as well pivot to the plethora of problems with pinning any hopes on Steven Wright.
First and foremost: Steven Wright is not a closer. He has one career save. But this team is so desperate for some new bullpen blood that they will take anyone they can get… for free, of course. Wright, who has a 2.99 ERA in 78 1/3 career innings out of the bullpen, is basically the only hope this team has, because of course, Dombrowski will not go out and get them anyone new. In 16 relief appearances in 2018, Wright posted a 1.52 ERA over 29 2/3 innings, but he was a late scratch from the postseason roster due to recurring knee injuries. Maybe adding him to the bullpen will enable Cora to put Workman or Barnes into more defined roles, but the fact remains that none of them are 9th-inning guys. It’s enough to make one miss Craig Kimbrel, who managed to rack up 42 saves last season, despite being a heart attack for most of the year.
Without Kimbrel, one of the biggest problems with this bullpen has been blown saves, fifteen of them in less than half a season, to be specific. And in high-leverage situations, Steven Wright is not clutch at all. Batters are hitting .281 against him in tie games, and a slightly-better .244 in 1-run games. The Red Sox have blown their fair share of 1-run games this season. Steven Wright probably will not be able to do much to change that.
It’s also interesting to note that Wright pitches better on the road than he does at home, which isn’t ideal for a team currently struggling to win at Fenway. Wright has a 2.99 ERA in 36 away games; at Fenway, he has a 4.53 ERA in 39 games, with just a five-innings-pitched difference. The only really good news is that he’s a better reliever than he is a starter, with his best inning being the 8th, in which he has a career 2.14 ERA over 21 8th-innings, his second-lowest inning ERA.
There’s also the matter of his health. Wright underwent the same knee procedure as Dustin Pedroia. It’s a cruel joke that the beloved second baseman may never play again, but Steven Wright is about to rejoin this team. He’s been declared completely healthy, but he was also healthy for the majority of last season, and then he wasn’t when they needed him the most. The Sox had to pin their hopes on Joe Kelly in October instead. They’re incredibly lucky it worked out.
But the biggest issue is that Wright is not eligible for the postseason this year. So even if he is helpful to the bullpen for the remainder of the season, and that’s a big if, he is useless come October. Of course, that may not matter if the Red Sox don’t go to the postseason, which would be an embarrassing and quite frankly, pathetic outcome in and of itself. But if they do manage to get to the postseason, Steven Wright will not be allowed to pitch. Any player suspended for using PEDs is ineligible. So the Red Sox will be right back where there are right now: with a terrible, unreliable bullpen, and this time, facing teams far more formidable than Toronto.
It’s hard to root for Steven Wright for a lot of reasons, the Domestic Violence issue being the most prominent. I don’t want people like that on my baseball team. But it’s also really hard to keep hoping that the Red Sox will be able to consistently turn their season around, when they can’t seem to keep any momentum going for more than a few games at a time. There have been so many moments that seemed like It, but then they’ve gone right back to playing what can only be described as embarrassing ball.
In short, Steven Wright is, at best, a short-term solution to a long-term problem. He won’t be able to help the team when it matters the most. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, because the team needs to win now in order to get to the postseason, but of course, they will also need to win once they are in the postseason. Wright can only help with the former, and if Dombrowski doesn’t look for someone else, it won’t end up mattering at all.
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