From Phil Niekro to Tim Wakefield to R.A. Dickey, the knuckleballer has been just as confounding to baseball fans as it has been to hitters.
In a time where velocity is king and it seems like every team has a pitching staff full of guys who can routinely throw in the upper 90’s, watching a team roll out a knuckleballer who throws 70-75 mph puffballs that should be put into orbit, yet rarely find the barrel, is utterly baffling. Next in line to become the next great knuckleballer is Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox.
Sox nation were familiar with Steven Wright at the beginning of the 2016 season. Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 2006 draft, Wright began his career as a conventional pitcher. It was not until 2011 that he made the switch to knuckleballer, and even then it took until the 2013 season for Wright to make his MLB debut as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Wright started his career being shuttled back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket. He did not make lasting contributions until the 2015 season. In 2015, Wright pitched in 16 games and started 9 of them. He posted a 4.09 ERA and a 5-4 record in 72.2 innings pitched. His 2015 year was hardly spectacular, but it showed that he was ready to make a serious contribution to the Boston Red Sox. However, just like with one of Wright’s knuckleballs, few could predict what direction his career would take next.
Wright has gotten off to a blazing hot start in the 2016 season, with an 8-4 record and a 2.22 ERA, good for best in the American League. Wright is almost considered a lock for the American League All-Star roster, and is in strong contention to start in the Mid-Summer Classic. With this seemingly overnight success, Steven Wright has danced – not burst – on the scene as one of the top pitchers in the league this season. While he primarily utilizes his 75 mph knuckleball, which is 10 mph faster than that of Tim Wakefield, who also pitched for the Red Sox, Wright will sometimes mix in an 83 mph sinker in order to keep hitters guessing. Whether Wright will continue his success and carry the torch for the next generation of knuckleballers or fall away into obscurity is anyone’s guess. However, we should all take notice and enjoy the fact that it is not impossible to get hitters out with a pitch whose velocity is on par with a BP fastball.