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8.09.2006

Wright Stuffed, or, Hell is Other People 

For some time this year, Giant starter Jamey Wright was reinventing himself. With all that great potential, including a 90-plus-MPH power sinker, a body built for stamina, and a great pick-off move, he was bound to put it all together after so many years of journeyman status, toiling on the margins of pitching staffs in Milwaukee and Colorado. And he seemed to do so in April and May.

But last night Wright sank further back into his true nature, that of barely tolerable fifth starter, the baseball equivalent of Sisyphus, going out every fifth day to roll the boulder up the hill just to watch it roll back again and, as often as not, right over the foot of one of his teammates.

This is fine for a team just looking for warm bodies to help maintain its existence, but a real drag for a team that's trying to create its own essence -- in our team's case, trying to give its fans a cheap thrill by pretending it has a shot at the division title.

Since he beat St. Louis on May 22 with a nifty 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, Wright has had all of three quality starts and gotten past the seventh inning once. According to this morning's game reports, he's starting to question his sinkerball style, noting that a lot of ground balls seem to get through the infield. There's no doubt the turbo-sinker is working: his ratio of GB/FB this year is the highest of his career. He's inducing 2.77 grounders to every fly ball.

Could this be a matter of a painfully slow set of infielders? I'm no defensive-stats whiz, but one measure that appears to address an infielder's ability to reach grounders is zone rating. Based on ZR, Vizquel and Feliz place quite favorably among their major-league peers, Ray Durham not so favorably. (If you know a better statistic for this measure, please chime in.)

Put Orlando Hudson and J.T. Snow on the right side of the infield, and undoubtedly Wright would give up fewer hits. But from watching many of his games, I don't think the little seeing-eye dribblers up the middle are what's killing Wright. He's leaving too many balls up and, in line with his career performance, allowing far too many free passes. He's not giving up a lot of home runs, about one every 10 innings, a very reasonable rate and far from the absurd bagatelles of Beckett.

But when the sinkers don't sink, they get muscled over the infielders' heads or into the outfield gaps. Combine all those hits with all those walks, and 38.3 percent of all batters reach base against him, which is right about his career average. The only Giant starter even close to Wright in OBP against is Noah Lowry, with .371. (Morris .331, Cain .311, Schmidt .302. And if you're wondering: Hennessey .307, Correia .316.)

Whether the infield or Wright's location mistakes are to blame doesn't really matter. It's easier to replace one pitcher than an entire infield defense. I say with no further delay, swap Wright and Correia. Wright becomes the long man, Correia the fifth starter.

Correia is pitching with a lot of confidence these days, and he's shown he can absorb several innings at a time. His game in the humidity of RFK a couple weeks ago -- 4 2/3 IP, 49 pitches, no baserunners at all, 4 Ks -- was a mini-masterpiece. There's really nothing to lose.

Hennessey isn't a bad choice to start, either, but as Felipe pointed out after last night's game, he would need time to readjust to starting now that he's pitching in short relief.

Swapping Correia and Wright is certainly a better plan than bringing Jonathan Sanchez back up immediately, as was floated in today's papers. Sanchez returned to AAA to stretch out his arm as a starter. He's pitched twice. He can always come up to start in September. For now, stuff Wright into the back of the bullpen and see what Correia can do.

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