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Kyle Wright: Champ or Chump for Fantasy Baseball?

kyle wright fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups draft sleepers pitchers

Starting pitching has been surprisingly deep so far this season, with multiple arms posting stellar numbers. Kyle Wright might be the most surprising for fantasy purposes. The 26-year-old pitched well in the 2021 World Series for the Atlanta Braves, but he wasn't even on the roster for the other postseason rounds and never did anything worth a look in fantasy. Naturally, he has a 3-0 record, 1.13 ERA, and 2.14 xFIP in 24 IP this season with a 37 K%.

Wright was once a highly regarded prospect, being selected fifth overall in the 2017 Amateur Draft and being the first player in his draft class to debut in MLB. However, lackluster results at the MLB level had caused him to be overtaken by other arms such as Hunter Greene, MacKenzie Gore, Nate Pearson, and Tanner Houck on prospect lists.

The question is obvious: is Wright going to live up to his draft status, or is his early-season success nothing more than a flash in the pan? Let's talk about it.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


All the Wrong Stuff

Wright made his MLB debut way back in 2018, but he only compiled a total of 70 IP before this year. His single longest sample size was the shortened 2020 season, when he pitched to a 5.21 ERA and 5.33 xFIP over 38 IP. His 17.9 K% was way too close to his 14.3 BB%, and fantasy managers dismissed him without a second thought.

Wright didn't see much MLB action last year outside of the postseason with just 6 1/3 IP. He was dreadful, posting a 9.95 ERA, 17.1 K%, and 14.3 BB%. Wright was primarily a sinker/slider guy with a handful of other pitches, none of which graded out as exceptional. Again, fantasy managers had no trouble writing him off.


The Wright Stuff on the Farm

Braves fans will tell you that Wright's success started at Triple-A (Gwinnett) last season, where he pitched to a 3.02 ERA with a 24.2 K% and 8 BB% over 137 IP. His xFIP was considerably higher at 3.75 but still miles ahead of anything he did at the MLB level to that point. These numbers aren't anywhere near what he's currently doing, but at least it's a foundation for something.

Unfortunately, Wright may have had help compiling the numbers above. Gwinnett is one of the most power-unfriendly parks in the International League with an 82 park factor for HR in 2019. As such, Wright's 9.2% HR/FB may have been higher in another park. Gwinnett boosts BABIP with a hits factor of 105, but Wright still posted a nearly average mark of .293 there last year.

All of this matters because Wright's "luck metrics" are off the charts this season. His .286 BABIP is on the low side, and he hasn't allowed a homer yet. He has also stranded an incredible 87% of baserunners. All of these numbers are likely to regress and raise his ERA substantially.


Wright Throws Us a Curveball

The biggest difference between 2022 Wright and all previous incarnations is that he has developed a curve that has become his signature pitch. Comparing to 2020 usage since his 2021 was so short, his curve usage is up from 13.1% to 33.6%. It's easy to see why as well, as the pitch has a 21.5 SwStr%, 60.3 Zone%, and 37.5% chase rate this year. It's virtually unheard of for a pitch to have a SwStr% over 20% and a Zone% above 60%, making the pitch truly elite thus far.

Wright's curve is the real deal, but it would be nearly impossible for it to stay this good. Since Wright has no professional history of throwing a curve so extensively, it's likely taking batters who rely on scouting reports by surprise. That won't happen once he starts seeing teams a second time and an updated scouting report gets around. It will probably still be a solid put-away pitch, but it won't combine elite SwStr% and Zone% rates.


No Other Standout Offerings

Developing an effective curve is good, but one pitch cannot make an ace. Wright is also throwing more fastballs this season (15.7% in 2020 to 25.8%), and some are crediting his improvements to a velo jump from 93.7 mph to 95.4. However, 93.7 is his 2021 mark from a sample of 6 1/3 IP. If you compare his current velocity of 95.4 mph to his 2020 mark of 95.1, there's virtually no change. Furthermore, the pitch's spin rate is down relative to 2020 (2,434 RPM vs. 2,411).

More concerningly, Wright's fastball has a Zone% of just 44.1 this season. He only has a 6.5 BB% since the curve has been so otherworldly, but failure to command his fastball could easily bring back the elevated BB% totals that derailed his previous campaigns. Wright still has a sinker, though he is throwing it less often than he once did (19.7% vs. 32.6% in '20). Its 59.2 Zone% is considerably better than his fastball, but its 7 SwStr% is also a clear step down from the heater's 10.8% mark. Using it more would likely adversely affect his strikeout totals.

Wright has almost completely abandoned his slider with a 5.3% usage rate (24.1% in 2020), and its 5.3 SwStr% and 16.75 chase rate suggest that it's for the best. Wright's changeup is a solid secondary wipeout offering with a 19.6 SwStr%, 39.3 Zone%, and 44.1% chase rate. It's probably his most promising pitch outside of the curve.


Who Is Kyle Wright?

Between his curve and his change, Wright should be able to maintain a plus K% that keeps him from falling into the fantasy obscurity that he endured earlier in his career. At the same time, his curve probably won't remain this good and his fastball could lead to control and command problems as the weather heats up. The best guess is that Wright is a good fantasy option but not a great one, likely pitching to an ERA around 3.50 the rest of the way if his Triple-A numbers are any indication.

Wright's win totals will be dependent on the Braves offense returning to 2021 levels, and this author feels that his WHIP may be elevated due to walks simply because throwing more breaking pitches has never solved that particular problem before. Wright is a Champ relative to what his managers paid for him since he was likely free, but expecting him to produce like he has thus far would make you a Chump.

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