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.