Braves: Is there any reason to believe Kyle Wright can’t be one of the best pitchers in baseball?

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I pegged Kyle Wright as the Braves’ breakout star before the season, but I don’t think anybody saw this coming. Through four starts, Wright has easily been the best pitcher on the roster, and there’s an argument that he’s been the best pitcher in all of baseball. After plenty of ups and downs to begin his career, the 2017 5th overall pick out of Vanderbilt looks to finally be realizing his full potential, giving the Braves another weapon atop their rotation. However, it’s early, and pitching is often volatile, so is there any reason to believe Wright can’t continue to be one of the best arms in the league?

Obviously, some sort of regression is in line. There’s no way Wright will complete the season without allowing a single home run and a 1.13 ERA. Still, for several reasons, I see him continuing to excel for the rest of the year and beyond. There’s a real chance he ends up being the best pitcher on the staff in the future.

The adjustments Wright has made to his repertoire are significant, and they are paying substantial dividends. When Wright first joined the Braves, he was primarily a fastball/slider pitcher. He still throws those pitches, but at a much lesser rate. His go-to offering now is a filthy Charlie Morton-esque curveball that he throws over a third of the time. Wright’s main secondary offerings are actually his fastball and sinker, which he throws at very similar rates, and he also mixes in a changeup and an occasional slider.

Those improved sinker/curveball offerings have made all the difference, but it wouldn’t matter if Wright wasn’t displaying more control and confidence on the mound. Through four starts, Wright is walking just 2.3 batters per nine innings — well below his career average of 5.2 batters per nine innings. And it’s overwhelmingly apparent that the confidence he gained during last year’s World Series has carried over to this season. Wright has earned the entire organization’s trust, and there was no better display of that trust than when Brian Snitker came out to the mound with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning against the Marlins and opted to keep Wright in the game for one last out. Wright ended up forcing a groundout right back to him, finishing the night with six shutout innings and eleven strikeouts.

Then there are Wright’s peripherals, which scream ace. Check out these numbers from Baseball Savant:

  • Hard Hit % — 70th percentile 
  • xwOBA — 89th percentile 
  • xERA — 89th percentile 
  • xBA — 85th percentile 
  • xSLG — 92nd percentile 
  • Barrel % — 85th percentile 
  • K% — 93rd percentile 
  • Whiff % — 79th percentile 
  • Chase Rate — 83rd percentile 

Those are downright silly. Wright is either elite or borderline elite in nearly every category. And finally, there’s the eye test, which he passes with flying colors. His poise on the mound is light years better than it was a couple of seasons ago, and the stuff itself has hitters flailing all over the place and heading back to the dugout befuddled.

There’s nothing that suggests Wright’s start to the 2022 season is a fluke. Now, it’s up to him to keep it all together. As long as he continues to throw strikes and feel confident, there’s no reason Wright can’t be in the NL Cy Young conversation a few months from now.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

 

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