How do you feel about David Wright and his start to the 2011 season? Are you happy because he has a .325/.378/.550 line and is on pace for his best season since 2007? Or are you worried because he’s doing this with a .407 BABIP and has a career-worst 8.9 BB% along with a career-high 30.0 K%? Right now, I think either position is defensible.
Since we are optimists here at Mets360, let’s look at the positive side. Wright is on pace for 49 doubles and 32 home runs. These are very good totals but not beyond the realm of possibility (like his current pace for 146 runs scored). His ISO of .225 fits in perfectly with what he’s done in every year of his career besides 2009, which drags down his overall average in the category. Wright’s using the whole field and hitting the ball with authority.
Subjectively, he seems to be slightly closer to the plate than he was most of last year. It appears he is staying on the ball on the outside corner, whereas last year he just waved at those pitches since he couldn’t reach them. To the naked eye, Wright does not appear tentative when the ball comes inside. Basically, he seems locked in at the plate.
While Wright’s walks are down, that has more to do with how well he’s hitting the ball than anything else. He’s averaging a career-high 4.18 pitches per plate appearance, up from last year’s 3.95 mark. Pitchers are throwing Wright more strikes than they did in 2007. He has a career-best 23 percent strike looking ratio and his swinging strike percentage of 18 is down a tick from last year’s 19 percent.
The .407 BABIP seems unsustainable but Wright had a .411 BABIP in 2009 before he was hit in the head with a pitch. That was over 497 PA, so while it may not be Wright’s true talent level it’s certainly among the ranges of possible outcomes.
So, of the three negatives we can come up with in regards to Wright’s early numbers, the optimistic side can negate/refute two of them. Which leaves the strikeouts.
While a high number, hitters can still be productive players with a 30 percent strikeout rate. Last year that would have been the 10th-worst mark in the majors but none of the nine people with higher rates had a WAR below 1.0 and five of the nine had WARs of 3.0 or greater.
Still, if a player is locked in at the plate and fanning at a rate of 30 percent, what happens when he hits a rough patch? Is Wright going to go through stretches where he strikes out at a Mark Reynolds-like 42 percent of the time?
Last year Wright fanned 27.4 percent of the time, the second straight year he set a career-high in whiff rate. The 161 strikeouts explain how a good hitter with a .335 BABIP posted a .283 AVG. Unless Wright is able to post a BABIP that challenges for the league lead, he will not hit .300 unless he gets his K-rate under control.
But in the overall scheme of things, we are not overly concerned with his AVG. Sure, it’s nice to have the cachet of having one of the big bats in your lineup bat .300 for the entire season. But if Wright gets his BB-rate back up, are we really going to complain about a guy who bats .275/.362/.500?
We saw Wright post batting averages above .300 his first five full years in the league and that’s what we expect from him. Obviously we would prefer that he do it again. But I would rather have a Wright that hit .275 (note: I expect him to hit better than this) with 30 HR than a Wright that hit .300 with only 10 HR.
Wright delivered power with K-rates below 20 percent from 2005-2008. Everyone’s first choice should be for that guy to reappear. But it seems that is no longer in the cards. If a K-rate that approaches 30 percent is the cost of doing business for Wright to have an ISO in the .225 range, than so be it.