After reading the preview by Ted Berg to begin the chapter on the Mets in the 2015 Baseball Prospectus Annual, it took me back almost 6 years ago to August 15th, 2009, a day that will live in Mets infamy. It was a day meant for a pitching duel between Matt Cain and Johan Santana. Instead, one pitch — an 0-2 fastball clocked at 93 mph in the bottom of the fourth — went straight to the head of David Wright. Sitting in the center field seats with my dad’s camera, trying to get the best picture of Wright’s at-bat, I zoomed in to witness a moment that has changed the course of Mets history, in that their best known player has never been the same since.
Prior to the moment he was hit in the head by that pitch, Wright had consistently been one of the best players in the league, with a .389 OBP and a .518 Slugging Percentage (.907 OPS). He was worth 31.4 WAR in his first five and half seasons after his mid-season call up in 2004, with a strikeout rate of 17.4% to a walk rate of 11.3%. Unfortunately since then, Wright’s numbers have deteriorated despite the fact that he should have been going through his prime seasons. In the past 5 seasons, Wright has deteriorated in performance with an OBP of .361 and a slugging of only .463. His strikeout rate has increased to 19.6% and his walk rate has also dropped to 10.4%. While his worsening performance at the plate is partly due to his performance, other facts that have come into play have been his frequent injuries. As Berg mentioned in the BP annual, Wright broke a bone in his back in 2011, sending him to the DL for two months. And then in this past year (2014), Wright spent the whole season bothered by a bruised rotator cuff. His performance suffered as he tried to remain on the field instead of going on the DL to deal with the issue. But the issue of David Wright’s performance can be evaluated in multiple ways.
First is one of the key facts that in 2009, the Mets moved across the parking lot from Shea Stadium, where they played for most of the franchise’s history (1964 to 2008). It has been well documented how the dimensions of Citi Field are not conducive to the way Wright often hits the ball — towards right center field. This has caused the Mets to try to artificially inflate his numbers by changing the dimensions now twice since the stadium opened (including this past off-season). As seen in the chart below, Wright had been negatively impacted in terms of OBP, Slugging and OPS. More notably his power numbers are down significantly going from 70 home runs in his first seasons at Shea Stadium compared to only 46 the most recent five years. This lack of power on the part of Wright is more likely due to the stadium than his ability to hit the ball.
The second factor to look at is how is he hitting the ball. Is he hitting fewer line drives?
As seen from the table, there are numerous changes in his approach. Fewer balls in play are line drives. and are instead turning into ground balls. In addition, his approach at the plate is noticeably different. He is swinging much more often: 7 percentage points (33%) more at balls outside of the strike zone, causing his swing rate and contact rate outside the strike zone to increase. In addition, his percentage of pitches seen outside the strike zone has increased as he continues to swing at pitches there.
A combination of change in approach, recovery from injury, and change in stadium dimensions can be all that Wright needs to get back on track. A fresh start this season surrounded by Cuddyer, Granderson and Duda in the lineup will hopefully mean a rebound.Next post: Season Preview Series, Part 7: The Houston Astros in a (K-Shaped) Box
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