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May 31, 1999

AL Central Notebook

Something Just Isn't Wright

by Joe Sheehan

Something Just Isn't Wright

Jaret Wright avoided a suspension in the aftermath of the May 22nd brawl at Jacobs Field. The right-hander, with a five-game suspension already on his record this year, drew only a fine from the league office. More curious is AL president Gene Budig's request for an audience with Wright, to discuss his "deportment on the mound." It will be interesting to see what comes of this; Wright clearly has a penchant for the more direct method of intentionally walking batters:

American League, 1997: 1 HBP every 29.7 IP
Jaret Wright, 1997: 1 HBP every 18.1 IP

American League, 1998: 1 HBP every 26.4 IP Jaret Wright, 1998: 1 HBP every 17.5 IP

American League, 1999: 1 HBP every 24.5 IP Jaret Wright, 1999: 1 HBP every 14.3 IP

I don't know if I would have called the guy into the league office, but I have a real hard time disapproving of the idea.

Wright was quick to use Budig's unusual move as an excuse for his poor start Friday night, in which he coughed up eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. Sounds like a reach, though: entering the start, Wright had an ERA of 6.07, he hadn't posted a quality start since prior to his suspension and his K/BB ratio was well under 2 to 1. In fact, Wright hasn't pitched well since June of 1998, calling into question his status as one of the game's bright young pitching stars.

Wright, June 1997-June 1998:
33 starts, 4.26 ERA, 6.45 K/9

Wright, July 1998-present: 25 starts, 6.03 ERA, 6.22 K/9

Now, this could just be a young pitcher struggling to get his stuff together, or it could stretch all the way back to the extra work the he got in October of 1997. Wright was the toast of Cleveland that autumn, beating the New York Yankees twice in the Division Series to help the Indians get within a game of the World Series.

But he may now be paying the price. Just 21 that summer, Wright threw 99 innings while blowing through Double- and Triple-A. Called up by the Indians in June, he tossed 90 1/3 innings--averaging about 5 2/3 innings per start--in the regular season. Then in the postseason, he started five times--including twice on three days' rest--for a total of 31 1/3 innings. For the season, he started 36 times and tossed 220 2/3 innings, totals that are well into the danger zone for a 21-year-old.

So has Wright been a victim of abuse? He certainly wasn't treated the way, say, Jim Leyland treated Livan Hernandez. If his lack of development is a function of that workload, a function of his role in getting the Indians to within a half-inning of a world championship, it is difficult to place blame. In some cases, the goals of winning titles and developing talents conflict in ways that are difficult to reconcile. This was one of them.

So Wright's problem isn't hitting batters, although he could stand to be a bit more judicious in that regard. It's the ones he's not hitting, the ones who are walking and roping doubles into the gap...those are the ones he has issues with. It may be time to check his arm for signs of wear, before any damage becomes too much to repair with a few hours under an arthroscope and a few months of rest.

Notes

The Minnesota Twins, with a young, developing offense and a young, brutal pitching staff, have caught and passed the Orioles for the worst record in the American League. Key to their 17-31 start is the tremendous power disparity between them and their opponents: through May 29, the Twins had hit just 34 home runs, while allowing 79. The last team to give up twice as many homers as they hit? The 1986 St. Louis Cardinals, who hit just 58 while serving up 135. The Twins aren't new to a performance like this: they just missed in 1996, hitting 118 bombs to their opponents' 233.... Jeff Weaver's great run continues unabated. After facing poor offensive teams in five of his first six starts, he won consecutive outings against the Indians, alowing just three runs in 12 innings. In his last start, May 27 against the White Sox, Weaver broke 100 pitches for just the first time. Kudos to Larry Parrish for his continued excellent handling of his prize starter.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Jaret Wright

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