Why the Suspension of Steven Wright Hurts the Red Sox More Than People Think

Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright's been popped with an 80-game suspension for PED usage. How bad does this hurt the team?

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On Wednesday of last week, it was reported by Mark Feinsand and confirmed that Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright was to be suspended for 80-games without pay after testing positive for PEDs.

This is Wright’s second suspension in two seasons as last year he was banned for 15 games following a Domestic Violence incident that took place in late 2017.

With now 95-games worth of suspension under his belt between 2018 and now 2019, Wright has proven to be somewhat unreliable. While he does deny knowingly taking the PED which releases Peptide 2, (GHRP-2), the fact of the matter remains, Wright’s own actions have made him unavailable to the team for an extended amount of time.

With Wright now being taken out of the conversation for nearly half of 2019, how does it affect the Red Sox already shaky bullpen?

I’ve had this conversation now with quite a few people and while some of them are angry that Wright’s put the team in this position, it seems as though the consensus among them is that his loss isn’t something that we should turn our heads at. And my question is; why?

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While 2018 was a World Series championship season and Alex Cora managed the relievers perfectly throughout the playoffs, the most worrisome part of the team from end to end was the pen. Nobody, and I mean nobody, bought into them and believed that Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, and Ryan Brasier–who most people didn’t know existed until midway through the season–could take you to the ultimate goal. That was until the rookie manager decided to go the unconventional route and make things work the way he did.

Ultimately, the depth wasn’t there and neither was the reliability. If there’s one word to describe most of the relief arms on the Boston Red Sox, it’s “inconsistent”. Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Tyler Thornburg aren’t the poster children for “trust” when you need to hold a one-run lead.

And unfortunately, with all of that being said, the one relief pitcher that I was eager to see from start to finish, coming through the doors out in right field was Steven Wright.

Do the words trust and consistent generally coincide with a knuckleballer? No. Actually, not at all. You never know what you’re going to get for the most part, but with Steven Wright, he was as close to consistent as you could get in that category.

Still battling injury in 2018–which is where I believe the PED usage comes into play–Wright was on and off the field. But for a majority of the time, when he was on the rubber, you could expect a strong outing and opposing runs to remain off of the board.

In 20 appearances and 53.2 IP–including four starts–Wright allowed at least one earned run across the board just six times. And two of those games came when he first returned to the diamond in May. Once he settled in, he looked as good as ever and had only one real bomb of a night where he surrendered 10 runs in a game that he started in June against the Seattle Mariners. Aside from those three appearances, there were three times where he gave up one run.

His total ERA for 2018 finished off at 2.68 with a WHIP of 1.25.

Advantages of having Wright in the bullpen? The Red Sox have a top of the line pitching staff and that’s tough to dispute. But even so, some of their top five arms have proven to show some inconsistent tendencies. Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, and Eduardo Rodriguez have rough nights of their own. Steven Wright is someone who has proven to be a successful starter in the past. If Alex Cora feels the need to pull someone off the mound in the fourth inning, having someone like Wright as insurance is an incredibly undervalued piece to his game that isn’t discussed enough.

Who else do you want going out there if you need someone to cover three or four innings? With all due respect, I would take Steven Wright over Hector Velazquez or Brian Johnson in a second to fill that role because realistically, aren’t those your other two options?

In 2018, Velazquez’s ERA was 3.18 and Johnson’s was 4.17. 

And I’m sorry to break it to you, but Nathan Eovaldi or Rick Porcello aren’t coming through those bullpen doors during a regular season game before that idea gets tossed around. This isn’t the postseason. This is the regular season.

(Fort Myers, FL, 02/22/17) Boston Red Sox pitchers Marcus Walden, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes and Tyler Thornburg gather under cover as it rains during Red Sox Spring Training on Wednesday, February 22, 2017 Staff photo by Matt Stone

The number one thing as I said before that this bullpen lacked last year and probably will lack this year is consistency. There were little to no moves made over the offseason that will improve this bullpen aside from the addition of some veterans on minor league deals–including Carson Smith who I expect to see on the major league roster near the start of the season.

If anything, the bullpen got significantly worse. While he had his yearly downfall, Joe Kelly turned it on when it counted to start the year–so much so that people wanted to make him the solidified eighth-inning man. Kelly has been removed from the equation and took his heart attack talents to Los Angeles. And the obvious departure, there will be no Craig Kimbrel–as of right now–to close things out.

With these two major departures and a lack of any significant addition, the Red Sox need the consistency that Steven Wright brought to the table. Not to mention, he was a veteran presence that you could have in that bullpen which is a massive component to any roster during a 162-game regular season.

And in case anyone needed a reminder of how solid and surprising Wright was in 2016 before he was injured running the base paths thanks to the one and only John Farrell, over 24 starts Wright went 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA.

The suspension of Steven Wright is being underplayed and not discussed enough. With a bullpen filled with question marks and little expectation, Wright seemed to be the only arm that I would trust in the middle of games wholeheartedly. His suspension means a lack of depth and a lack of consistent, solid performances for 80 games. And who knows how he’ll look upon return?

Losing Steven Wright to suspension takes a much bigger shot to the heart of the Red Sox bullpen than what people are making it out to be.

Also, keep in mind that with this suspension means he is ineligible to participate in the postseason should the Red Sox make it.

Wright can return to action in June.

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Nick Quaglia

Nick Quaglia is a Content Coordinator at the CLNS Media Network. Nick has been with the network since 2016 managing the Boston Red Sox Newsfeed and providing written contributions and on-scene coverage on the Red Sox and New England Patriots. Nick is a graduate of Framingham State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. He is the CEO of Couch Guy Sports. Twitter: @NickQuag