David Wright’s comeback as sudden as his decline


While a lot of attention has recently been paid to the Mets unorthodox methods of promoting David Wright’s all-star candidacy, the much bigger story is that Wright is posting numbers worthy of an all-star in 2013.

Only two years ago, it seemed nearly unfathomable that Wright would ever post an all-star caliber season again, but his resurgence this year and last create what has truly been a fascinating career arc.

Wright’s career can be defined by three eras. The Shea Years (2004 – 2008), The Early Citi Years (2009 – 2011), and The Recent Citi Years (2012 – Present).

The Shea Years (2004 – 2008)

Wright’s first five seasons with the Mets were nothing short of fantastic.  He posted a combined .309/.289/.533 slash line, including an MVP-caliber season in 2007.  In this time he also won his two Gold Glove awards, two Silver Slugger awards, started the All-Star Game three times, finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times, was worth 26.0 Wins Above Replacement, and was one of the best two-strike hitters in baseball. 

The future seemed bright for him as he entered his age 26 season, and he would surely develop into one of the top tier players in the game.

The Early Citi Years (2009 – 2011)

Then the Mets moved a little bit over in the parking lot from Shea Stadium to Citi Field, and Wright seemingly became a different player.  His power seemed to disintegrate, his strikeout rate spiked from 16% in 2008 to a high of 24% in 2010.  He went from 33 home runs in 2008 to 10 in 2009.  While he did hit .307/.390/.447 in 2009, much of that was BABIP driven, with Wright posting an absurd .394 number, which is tied for the 27th best BABIP in the live ball era.

In each of these three seasons, Wright’s batting average declined from .307 in 2009, to .283 in 2010, to a career-worst .254 in 2011, when he battled a broken back.  He went from a player who posted 8.4 fWAR in 2007 to a measly 1.7 in 2011.  Fans were discouraged, fearing their once promising star third baseman had turned into a sub-par hitter.  Worse yet, his decline at the plate was matched by a decline in the field, where he went from one of the best fielding third basemen in baseball, to one of the worst in terms of both UZR and the eye test.

Trade rumors flew as there were times when Wright was rumored to be going to both the Angels (for Peter Bourjos) and to Colorado.  The Mets wisely retained Wright, despite the signs that he was clearly in decline, and not the same player that he was only a few years earlier.

The Recent Citi Years (2012 – 2013)

Then the fences moved in.

And David Wright was back.

Over the past season and a half Wright has returned to his former self at the plate, hitting at a .305/.390/.497 clip.  His strikeout rate has stabilized back in the 16 – 19 percent range where it was from 04 – 08, his .347 BABIP is in line with where it was during that period as well.  His defense improved back to being at the top of the league, and he put up his second best WAR season last year with 7.4, and this season has a 7.7 WAR/150 so far this year.

Watching Wright play now, you almost forget about the three years where it looked like he was a shell of his former self.  This of course leads us to the main question:

What on earth happened?

The truth is it’s hard to say exactly what happened.  As a sabermetrician, I tend to downplay the mental aspect on occasion, but in this case, it can’t be ignored.

Wright was always a player who drove the ball to right and right-center with authority, and Citi Field’s originally cavernous dimensions might have discouraged Wright from allowing himself to hit the ball there, instead he would try to pull the ball.

This would explain why he was constantly swinging and missing at anything on the outer half of the plate and even why his turnaround directly coincided with the moving in of the fences at Citi.

Despite my belief that Wright’s problems were mental in nature, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t at least something else in play as well.  After all, how can outfield walls really have that drastic an effect on a hitter?

Maybe there was some kind of nagging injury that finally healed in 2011 when Wright was on the DL with his broken back.  Perhaps an early season slump caused him to change his swing mechanics leading to a longer slump and more changes which only bred less success.  Maybe outfield walls really can make a player lose his hitting ability.

Whatever the reason is for the dip in Wright’s performance and his rebound, baseball – not just Mets – fans should enjoy it, because now that he’s on the wrong side of 30, the next time Wright appears in decline, it’s probably permanent.

Joe Vasile is a Play-by-Play announcer and radio host.  Follow him on twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and check out his website.

14 comments for “David Wright’s comeback as sudden as his decline

  1. Metsense
    June 24, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    David Wright is an All Star. The dumb front office built a ridiculous stadium with ridiculous walls that not only sabotaged Wright but didn’t do Jason Bay any favors either. It is so much better watching the games at Citi Field now that the playing field plays fairer. Another bad move by the Wilpons but give Alderson the credit to correct the problem.
    Wright will earn the WAR value of his contract.

    • Joe Vasile
      June 24, 2013 at 9:36 pm

      I sure hope so. Wright has been great again the past two years, and has really established himself as a superstar in this league.

    • June 25, 2013 at 10:15 am

      The Wilpons built the stadium with 2 players in mind who would barely enjoy its fruits: Jose Reyes & Carlos Beltran.

      • Name
        June 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

        I really don’t think they built the ballpark to accomodate a few players. Stadiums are proejcted to last much longer than a player’s career. They had their ideas for what they wanted to design the ballpark, and it just happened to turn out spacious.

  2. Chris F
    June 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    The walls are in, but still the Mets play better on the road…we’ve had 1 good season since Citi opened, and with the walls in, we have played horrid as a team…why? I wish I could figure it out because its maddening as hell!

    • Joe Vasile
      June 24, 2013 at 9:38 pm

      That’s the million dollar question Chris.

  3. NormE
    June 24, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    Athletes often have a warrior mentality which leads them to ignore the “minor” aches and pains that come with competitive sports. We have seen that David Wright never wants a day off. Has this affected his play at times? Probably. Did the Wilpon monstrosity get inside his head? Probably. Is David Wright a streaky kind of player? I’ll let the more statistically adept provide that analysis.
    As a Met fan from day one I remember that third base was a void for many years. Ed Charles provided a brief respite until we got to the 80’s. HoJo gave the Mets a few good years. Fonzie and Robin provided a major upgrade. David Wright has been the next step up. Hopefully his natural decline is a few years on the offing.

    • Joe Vasile
      June 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      I will give it to Wright, he’s a tough S.O.B. They say that in 2011 his back was broken for weeks before the Carlos Lee incident in Houston. That means that he was playing with a broken bat and not complaining or asking for days off. Incredible.

  4. June 24, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    The game is mental. Regaining his confidence and moving the fences closer did have a profound effect. It’s no longer a psychological battle to deal with day in and day out and Wright can enjoy playing again and not have in the back of his mind this obstacle in front of him. He’s not going to hit 25 home runs at home but at least he knows he has the ability to hit a home run without injuring himself with a monster swing. About time the Wilpons realize you build the park around the team you already have not the other way around.

  5. Dan Stack
    June 25, 2013 at 5:19 am

    Good write-up. I find myself taking Wright and his talents for granted and his presence with this team is unmeasured

  6. Bill Heaney
    June 25, 2013 at 8:38 am

    David Wright is the best third baseman New York has had in the last fifty years.Hes old time, does everything hes ask and plays the game the way it should be play.Hes going into the hall someday, and when hes done he will own all of the mets offensive records.

  7. June 25, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    The Wilpons perception of what the ballpark dimensions should be is what is in question. They took no consideration to the team that was going to be moving in there. The Mets have 81 home games. The frustration was obvious to everyone. Why else they did they decide to bring in the outfield fences? To accommodate the Met players? David Wright? Citifield was built for Fred Wilpon and not for the Mets.

    • NormE
      June 26, 2013 at 7:19 am

      I totally agree with agree with your last sentence, Peter.

  8. SL
    July 9, 2013 at 5:12 am

    Amazing how quickly Mets fans forget. The difference? Particularly power numbers?
    Can you say Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran hitting behind you? Reyes in front?
    You’re a sabremetrician so go back to those “Shea” years and look at the offensive outputs of the players that surrounded Wright in the order.

    He saw fastball after fastball and b/c of Delgado’s presence, faced lefthanders, which as we know, he destroyed.

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