Coming off a breakout 2022 season in which Kyle Wright threw himself into the big league spotlight with a nearly 3 fWAR season, expectations were high for the talented righty. He figured to slot in next to Max Fried, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton atop the Braves’ rotation, giving the club one of the better units in the league. Quite unfortunately, however, a troublesome shoulder kept Kyle out for most of 2023 — and will probably cost him all of 2024, too.
In the midst of a from-the-ground-up rebuild, the Braves took Wright out of Vanderbilt with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. He spent much of 2018-2021 bouncing between the big league club and the minors, pitching horribly in his first 70 major league innings. Then the 2022 breakout happened.
What were the expectations?
Coming off the aforementioned breakout 2022 season, the hope was that Wright would be able to build on the strides he made and continue to establish himself as one of the better starters in the National League. For a player who had bounced back and forth between Atlanta and Gwinnett for the better part of two seasons prior, the Braves had to feel optimistic following his 2022 breakout. Even the least-sanguine projections that figured 2022 was a blip still saw him as a #4 starter type, and as he had already shown, there was a distinct capability to pull off a #2 starter season again.
Due to the shoulder injury, Wright appeared in just seven big league games while also spending time rehabbing in the minors. It was reported that he received an injection in his throwing shoulder in January with the hope it would correct whatever he had going on, but, clearly, the injection was not enough.
Wright was delayed in the spring and never looked comfortable in his handful of starts early in the season before ultimately departing a game in Miami after two-plus innings on April 27. He spent the next three months on the Inured List before beginning a lengthy rehab stint. He actually didn’t pitch too poorly in those five starts, with a 130 ERA- but a 103 FIP- and 94 xFIP-, but it was nowhere near his aggregate 78/91/83 line from 2022, and he was averaging just over four innings a start in the first four starts that he didn’t leave due to injury.
Wright returned to Atlanta in September and seemed to be on the right path (197 ERA-, 174 FIP-, but a 91 xFIP-) while working in a hybrid starter/reliever role, but it was announced just before the postseason he would need surgery on his shoulder and miss all of 2024.
In aggregate, Wright posted 0.0 fWAR in 2023 across 31 innings, with a 157/120/93 line. He clearly carried over some of the pitching gains he made in 2022, but the health and results weren’t there.
What went right?
Very little. From the delayed start in Spring Training to missing most of the regular season to undergoing surgery, it was a lost year for the 28-year-old righty. For the remarkable strides that have been made with the recovery process for elbow injuries, shoulder injuries are pretty terrifying. If you’re looking for something positive, it’s that Wright didn’t pitch all that poorly on a K/BB basis, despite apparently never really being healthy. If not for a HR/FB ratio approaching 30 percent, his 31 innings would’ve provided an okay chunk of value to the Braves.
On April 16, Wright had a nice start against the Royals, going 5 2⁄3 innings with a 6/3 K/BB ratio. The only runs charged to him came on a double play ball and a groundball single after he left the game. After a poor 2023 debut, that game suggested, however briefly, that Wright might be back and relatively healthy, but things didn’t work out that way. He showed flashes of brilliance here and there, like this plate-splitting curve that got him out of a jam against the Astros, but overall it was a rough season for the right-hander:
What went wrong?
Basically everything. The hope is Wright will make a full recovery and return to major league action better than ever in 2025, but there is a long (and steep) hill to climb. The prognosis after major shoulder injuries to pitching arms is rough, and the Braves apparently felt so pessimistic about Wright that they dealt him to the Royals for Jackson Kowar, an arbitration-eligible former prospect that hasn’t really had any success in the majors, on November 17.
There were a number of brutal moments in Wright’s season, beyond just the general dejection around a lost season. There was Rick Kranitz getting heated and walking off the mound before Wright was ultimately pulled from his start and placed on the Injured List (earlier in the game, Wright ostensibly told Kranitz he was fine to continue during a different mound visit, which turned out not to be the case):
Kyle Wright is exiting this game early after a mound visit from Brian Snitker, Rick Kranitz and a Braves trainer. pic.twitter.com/PJ7o1t1byF— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) May 3, 2023
There was Wright’s return to the mound on September 11, where he allowed four runs and retired just three of the nine batters he faced in the first inning, and only lasted for nine total outs while managing just a 3/2 K/BB ratio. And there was just mundane stuff like getting bashed by Yordan Alvarez when facing him for a third time in a game — something made sillier by the fact that A) the Braves had a 1-0 lead at the time and B) Wright was then left in to give up a second two-run homer in the same inning:
Wright will spend the year rehabbing and rebuilding strength in his shoulder. The club announced he will miss the entire 2024 season in early October, which seems highly likely at this point. Let’s all hope the best is yet to come for his sake, though at this point it won’t really matter to the Braves, who cut bait, either way.