Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's Eating David Wright, Part II

Two years ago, I wrote a post under the same title as today's post as a tongue-in-cheek response to the fans overreaction to David Wright's slow start. At the time, Wright was one of New York's most eligible bachelors and, perhaps, maybe his slow start could have been attributed to too much time in the Batting Cage and not enough time between the sheets. Though it was completely satirical, the post evolved into one of the most read and seminal blogs I've written here. That season, Wright overcame his slow start and delivered, probably, the best season of his career, statistically.

Since that time, David Wright has established himself as one of Baseball's biggest stars, he has a lovely (albeit rail-thin) model Girlfriend, and has even caught the eye of some of Hollywood's most attractive women.

However, this hasn't translated to further on-field success. In fact, now, when I ask the question, "What's Eating David Wright?" I'm not doing so in a humorous fashion. Now, I'm seriously concerned.

I don't think it's been overlooked that Wright has struggled in big spots. But this hasn't always been the case. In 2006, Wright was all-World in key spots, coming up with at least 4 Game-Ending hits in the first half of the season. He still has come up with his share of key hits, but it appears that, more often than not, it's his clutch failures that are getting noticed. He was pedestrian in the 2006 Postseason (.216/.310/.378, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 8Ks). When he came back in 2007 and more or less carried the Mets down the stretch and, at times, was the only player playing with any sense of urgency as the team went down in flames, his key stats (.346/.447/.590 late & close, .352/.432/.602 in September) were borderline heroic.

It was in 2008 when things started to go wrong. I can't quite pinpoint where, because in general, Wright has a knack of playing at or close to his career norms just about all of the time. A quick glance at Wright's career numbers reveal a rather steady performance.
  • 2005 - 160G, .306/.388/.523, 27 HR, 102 RBI, 113 K
  • 2006 - 154G, .311/.381/.531, 26 HR, 113 RBI, 113 K
  • 2007 - 160G, .325/.416/.546, 30 HR, 107 RBI, 115 K
  • 2008 - 160G, .302/.390/.534, 33 HR, 124 RBI, 118 K
Things don't vary much for him. Even when he's going bad, the numbers seem to always be there. But how "there" are they, really?

You first noticed a problem at some point during the 2008 season, that Wright was becoming a little too pull-happy. Nobody seemed to pay it much mind, though it was worth noting that after hitting .325 in 2007, Wright's BA was hovering in the high .200s most of the way. Where Wright used to drive balls the other way, it seemed like everything was getting pulled, and there were too many instances where Wright would appear to be squeezing the bat to sawdust and simply hacking at the plate as opposed to going up there with a clue.

This was magnified during the final weeks of the 2008 season. Oddly, Wright had, perhaps, his best statistical month of the year in September of 2008, going .340/.416/.577, 6HR, 21 RBI. But his strength in '07, those "Late and Close" situations saw an alarming dropoff to .286/.412/.464.

Not a gigantic drop, but considering that if Wright had at least been able to equal his output in similar situations in 2007, the Mets probably would have been able to overcome their bullpen and make the Postseason.

Nowhere was this particular problem magnified more than on September 24th and 25th against the Cubs. With the Mets desperately fighting for their lives in a pair of barnburners against the Cubs, both nights Wright came to bat in the bottom of the 9th of a tie game. One game, the winning run was on 3rd with no outs. The other, the winning run, Jose Reyes, was on 1st with 1 out. Both times, Wright struck out. Wright struck out 23 times in September, his high for the season.

This season, Wright seems to be picking up where he left off. He's getting hits, yes, but more often than not, they seem to be hits of little consequence, for example, with 2 outs and nobody on, or leading off an inning. Through two weeks, Wright is hitting .289, with only 1 HR and 4 RBIs, 3 of them coming on one swing. He has 15 strikeouts in 12 games, putting him on pace for close to 200 for the season.

This isn't the kind of offense you should be getting out of a #3 hitter.

The problem seems fairly simple and logical. Wright, in the past, used to keep his front foot forward, and dive forward with the pitch. He'd reach for that outside pitch and hit it the other way. Now, it appears as though his front foot has drifted back and when he kicks into his swing, he's pulling off the pitch. Now, everything is pulled either down the line or foul, and he can't come close to catching up with the outside pitch. It's totally predictable to pitch to him because he doesn't appear to be cognisant of the issue, or if he is, he's not listening to whoever's talking to him. Where's the Great Hitting Coach in all this? Taking Art Howe lessons?

It doesn't take a genius to pitch to him right now. Throw him a dinky little slider on the first pitch, he'll swing and miss. Come inside with a fastball on the 2nd pitch, he'll take it for a strike, and then throw the 3rd pitch about a foot outside and he'll just flail away.

There are plenty of obvious problems with the team right now. I'm no genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I think this is a pretty major problem that nobody seems to be noticing right now. And if nobody picks up on it, or if Wright doesn't make some kind of effort to adjust and fix the problem, he's going to find that he's become a .260 hitter who only hits Home Runs, except that he's not going to be hitting many Home Runs in Citi Field if the first week is any indication. The clutch hits will come if Wright can just get this problem straightened out. He was so good at adjusting 3 years ago. What happened?

It was so much easier when Wright's problem was when he just needed to get laid. Now, I think he needs to get himself back in the cage.

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