Who's the longest tenured Astro?
Who had a quietly productive season last year, one of the best of any Astros pitcher?
Wesley Wright is the answer. Even in just 52 innings, he established himself as a dependable part of the Astros bullpen who can do the one thing he's consistently been called on to do: get left-handed hitters out.
Wesley Wright was drafted in the 7th round of the 2003 draft by the Dodgers. The Astros then selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Dodgers in 2008. He's spent three full seasons with the Astros and struggled a bit in his first two. Wesley only pitched a total of 45 innings between 2010 and 2011 due to other competition among lefties in the bullpen, but he finally turned a corner in 2012, posting his best numbers to date. Wright may not have been on the major league club with Houston for five straight seasons, but he's been in the Houston organization for that long so he should hold some kind of special place in our hearts (right?)
Wright's 2009 season wasn't his first, but probably his worst. It'll give us a good glimpse of his progression, so I'll look at that instead of his 2008. His WHIP was 1.74 and his H/9 was 10.7. In 44.2 innings, he compiled a 5.44 ERA.
Wright took a major step forward last season in pretty much every category that a left-handed specialist aims for. He set career highs in appearances (77), ERA (3.27), BB/9 (2.9) and WHIP (1.185). He also kept left-handed hitters under the Mendoza Line at a .198 average.
Wright did just about everything you can ask for in a left-handed bullpen specialist. He limited baserunners, kept a low ERA, and made plenty of appearances. He allowed 45 hits in 2012, and only 10 went for extra bases, so Wesley limited hard contact that dropped in for hits, something that I'll look more closely at that in a second.
Outlook for 2013
Wright's career-best 2012 consisted of really good numbers for a solid major league LOOGY, but the projection systems aren't as sold on Wright continuing his progression from last year. ZIPS projects Wright for a 3.99 ERA, the only Astros pitcher with an ERA below 4.00 (seriously, go look that those ZIPS; they hammer Astros pitchers) in 58.7 innings with a .248 batting average against. ZIPS is the least forgiving projection system for Wright, as Bill James has Wright at a 3.88 ERA, but with a jump in BAA to .252. Not bad numbers by any means, but not his 2012 numbers either.
If we take a look at Wright's career batting average on balls in play numbers, we also see that his 2012 was closer to, but not exactly an expected level of performance. In his sub par 2009, Wright posted a .296 batting average against, coupled with a high BABIP of .358. In 2012, his BABIP regressed closer to league average, at .289, and his BAA decreased considerably to .225. Since league average BABIP is a little higher than his 2012 number, we can expect a jump in batting average against, which is a point where the projections systems believe he won't match his 2012 numbers.
One indicator of Wright's projected dip in numbers in 2013 comes from his batted ball percentages. In 2009, Wright had a line drive rate of 22.9 percent, just above league average. In 2012 however, Wright induced roughly the same number of line drives, a rate of 21.5 percent. His ability to get batters out and generally pitch better may have come from more ground balls. His 2009 ground ball rate was 42.7 percent, while his 2012 number jumped to 54.9 percent.
This is a good change, because a reliever can use those grounders to induce some double plays, especially when he may enter the game with runners on base, and simply allow for easier putouts. The consistent line drive rates means Wright induced just about the same hard contact he did in his worst year; this is a cause for some concern, and a point of his improbability to replicate his 2012 numbers. But the increase in grounders can help offset his chances of getting really hit around, which is where the projection systems don't see his 2012 as a fluke.
Wesley Wright probably won't put up the same very, very good numbers we saw in 2012, but all signs point to his progression into an above average left-handed reliever with the ability to limit lefties getting on base and making hard contact. Don't expect anything like his first two major league seasons, but do expect Wesley to regress a little from 2012.