Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

What’s wrong with David Wright?

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Yesterday morning I woke up and read this article and this article about David Wright’s early season struggles.  David Wright is a member of The Wet Bandits, and while I haven’t been paying as much attention this year as I have in the past, I thought he was doing fairly well.  I checked his fantasy numbers at the beginning of yesterday and he was at 0.277 BA, 17 runs, 7 home runs, 22 RBI, and 8 stolen bases; in other words, he was definitely helping the old Bandits. (not that that translates to helping real baseball teams always; hello Juan Pierre!)  Reading the quotes in these stories, I thought Wright was in a huge slump:

Wright won’t admit it, but Citi Field has gotten inside his head and he can’t shake it. If a park can haunt a baseball player, then Citi Field is haunting Wright. How else to explain how it has shrunk Wright’s power since the move over from Shea?

And how about this one:

Early in a game, or early in a count, pitchers are busting him inside with fastballs to knock him off the plate, to make him uncomfortable. And then they spin breaking balls away, or come back inside with fastballs.  Clearly, he is not comfortable at the plate; scouts are noticing that he is flinching at breaking pitches, a tendency that they believe started after Wright was beaned last summer in a game against the Giants.

–snip–

Wright is also striking out more than ever; he currently ranks third in the league in that category, after a year in which he had 140 strikeouts while playing in fewer games. His career high before last season was 118, and although it figures that he’ll make adjustments as this season progresses, his current pace would result in 213 strikeouts in 2010.

I looked a little deeper to see if there were other things that were out of line with his career norms.  His slash line as of today was 0.293/0.417/0.552, which is code for really good.  He’s posting a career-high walk rate (17.4%) and a career high ISO (0.259); as a result he also has a career-high OPS.  One of my first posts was about David Wright’s 2009 season, in which he posted a career-high strikeout rate and BABIP; those rates mirror what he’s doing so far this, except he has re-introduced the home run to his arsenal.  My guess was that his BABIP would come down but he’d hit more home runs and be just as good a hitter.

I was kind of right.  He’s striking out 37(!) percent of the time, which is insanely high for a hitter this good.  It’s almost twice his career-high rate not counting last season.  His batted ball types are roughly the same, except a lot of fly balls have been home runs so far.  This help keeps his batting average up, because lots of fly balls are caught for outs.  If you hit more over the fence, fewer get caught.  He’s among the league leaders in turning fly balls into home runs, but also in turning at-bats into strikeouts.

He’s seeing fewer fastballs than ever before, which makes sense given his current set of teammates.  He’s swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and hitting a lower percentage of them.  Overall, his contact rate is down almost 8 percentage points, despite seeing more pitches in the strike zone than he has since his rookie year.

So far, he’s managed to get away with all of the strikeouts by hitting a lot of home runs and walking a lot.  He’s been one of the most valuable hitters in the game so far, but some of it might be smoke an mirrors.  His strikeout rate is really high, and we can only say “small sample” for so long.  Research has shown that at roughly 150 plate appearances, a player’s strikeout rate has some predictive value for the rest of the season.  Maybe there is something in his head.  Maybe he’s scared of the ball.  Maybe he hates his home park.  Maybe since he’s the best player and third baseman (on a terrible team) in the country’s largest city, he catches too much heat from the media.  Maybe he needs a little outside help.  If I was a Met fan, I know that I’d be worried slightly about Wright, but that I would also take him on my team in a second.  He’ll probably be really frustrating to watch day-in and day-out, but over the long haul, I’d rather have him on my side.

Editor’s Note: While researching the leaderboards for the early season statistics, I found this little gem.  The post where I kiss Chase Utley’s ass for 1,500 words is coming, that I can promise you. Also, it took Juan Pierre 144 plate appearances and Chris Coghlan 106 plate appearances to get their first extra base hits; until then, their batting averages equaled their slugging percentages.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

May 12, 2010 at 10:19 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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