Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bounce Back or Continued Decline? David Wright Edition

Having long been one of my favorite players, David Wright is facing a year where much of his future career hangs in the balance. Like so many out there, fantasy sports were where my obsession with baseball really began. Just as I was getting competitive with my college friends about fantasy, David Wright was busting onto the scene in a big way. I couldn’t find a player who, to me, seemed a whole lot more exciting, as he hit .303, slugged 27 dingers and stole 17 bases for an electric but volatile Mets squad in 2005, his first full season. Man, that seems like so long ago after witnessing two straight seasons of decline.

Wright has a lot to prove as the only true remaining face of the franchise. GM Sandy Alderson recently asked the most important question: “Is he part of the future? I hope the answer is yes.” Well, hoping is one thing, but actually getting it done on the diamond is surely another. What will it take for Alderson to turn hoping into believing? Let’s look at David’s most recent shortcomings and identify where he can improve.

Strikeouts: perhaps the most alarming thing about Wright’s performance has been his dramatic increase in K’s. He maintained a respectable strikeout rate in his first four full seasons of about 16.5%. While that isn’t amazingly low, it’s reasonable given the pop coming off his bat. In the last three years, however, that rate has spiked to an average of about 23%, far higher than his previous work. These contact rates are hurting Wright big time.

Walks: David’s patience at the plate has waned somewhat. While the drop off isn’t nearly as staggering as his strikeout numbers, we’ve seen a steady decrease in his walk rates. He is walking 2-3% less frequently these days than he did at his peak production. This has led to a decreased on-base percentage and, when coupled with his strikeout problems, shows that he’s been pressing and not staying back, waiting for his pitch and driving it. A more patient approach can only help him.

Power: another huge surprise with Wright has been his inexplicable drop in power output. In both 2009 and 2011, David had very disappointing homerun totals. The new Citi Field doesn’t help, but it has been more than just park factors slowing him down. His line-drive percentage has dropped about 8% from its peak (26% in 2009 to 18% in 2011). He’s hitting more grounders and, given his average running speed, that isn’t helping him at all. Wright has to get back to squaring up the ball and driving it more consistently. A look at his spray chart from 2011 shows he’s still hitting to all fields, but he’s rolling over too much and grounding out to the left side of the infield too often.

Fielding: while UZR is far from a perfect science, Wright’s fielding grades have plummeted. A simple eye test proves that he’s regressed from a slightly above-average fielder to a below-average fielder in the past few seasons. This is having a very negative effect on his overall value to his team. With Rueben Tejada likely taking over at shortstop for Jose Reyes (Miami), David will have to do a better job with the glove to solidify the left side of the Mets’ infield. As an offense that will scuffle at times, run-prevention will be critical to their success.

Health/Durability: while he was incredibly durable during his first five seasons, David needs to prove he can stay on the field. Injuries have had a negative effect on his offensive production, but they appear to be slowing him down in the field and on the basepaths as well. This means one of two things. Either Wright has been significantly hampered by injuries but will be fine once he heals, or he isn’t aging as well as initially expected. This year will have a lot to say about how to answer this question.

“Let’s see how he bounces back this season.” Alderson is wondering and hoping just like the rest of us. How David Wright bounces back this season means a lot to the Mets and also the rest of his career.

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