Since the middle of 2004, David Wright has been a fixture at third base for the Mets. Since then, he’s made the All-Star team five times, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times and he’s claimed two Gold Glove Awards. Wright is the Mets’ all-time leader in doubles and total bases and he is the face of the franchise. And now he needs to move to another position.

Much like Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Wright is thought of by the average fan as a good defensive player. However, advanced fielding metrics are unanimous in their belief that he is a poor fielder. Here are his fielding numbers this year by three different systems:

UZR – (-9.4)
Total Zone – (-10)
DRS – (-13)

Now, it is important to remember that these are counting numbers, like RBIs, meaning that they are influenced by the number of games played. So far this year, Wright has played in just 71 games. So his defensive numbers would likely be even worse if he hadn’t spent considerable time on the disabled list. UZR and Total Zone each have stats that extrapolate partial-season numbers to a full season. Here are Wright’s numbers with those metrics:

UZR/150 – (-24.9)
Total Zone per 1,200 innings – (-20)

Now, Wright was hurt this year. Did the fracture in his back have anything to do with his poor defensive numbers this season? Total Zone had him in negative numbers five of the past six seasons. UZR had him in negative numbers four of the last six seasons and DRS had him in negative numbers five of the last seven years. So it’s fair to say that the poor numbers this year are not due just to his bad back.

So, what should the Mets do?

Back in 2001, a third baseman put up a .320/.427/.605 line in the National League East as a 29-year old. However, he was a poor defender, especially compared with the other third basemen in his division. Four of the five clubs in the East had a full-time player at third, while the Expos used multiple players at the hot corner. Here’s how the four regulars stacked up by Total Zone:

Mets: Robin Ventura – 6
Marlins: Mike Lowell – 7
Phillies: Scott Rolen – 10
Braves: Chipper Jones – (-14)

Jones volunteered to move to left field so the club could add Vinny Castilla to the lineup. Castilla turned in a +2 in Total Zone in 2002 at third base while Jones posted a +3 rating in left field. The Braves jumped from 88 wins in 2001 to 101 wins in 2002. Now, the defensive switch played just a small part in that 13-win improvement. But it’s a real-life case to illustrate that a team can move their franchise player to a different spot and be better off.

Wright in 2011 is a worse fielder than Jones was in 2001.

Moving Wright off third base would allow Daniel Murphy to play his natural position, which hopefully would keep him on the field and away from injury. In limited action at third base this year, the advanced defensive metrics are mixed on Murphy. Total Zone has him at -1, which works out to -5 over 1,200 innings. UZR has him at + 0.7 or + 4.8 over 150 games. DRS has him at +2. But upgrading from Wright to Murphy would be around a 20-run improvement over an entire season. Essentially, 10-runs equal one win, so the Mets would be two wins better on defense alone.

Of course, the switch also is about offense. The Mets could move Wright to left field where he would replace Jason Bay in the lineup. Not many are talking about replacing Bay because of his big contract, but his offensive production is killing the team. In parts of two seasons with the Mets, Bay has a .245/.332/.371 line in 824 PA.

There are 30 left fielders who have amassed 750 or more PA in the past two seasons combined and Bay’s .703 OPS ranks 27th in that span. For a player brought in because of his bat, that’s just terrible offensive production. Wright has an .833 OPS in that time frame, which would rank seventh overall.

But while Wright would replace Bay in left field in this scenario, basically he would be replaced by Murphy in the lineup. Murphy did not play in the majors in 2010 due to an injury but he posted an .803 OPS this year, 100 points better than Bay in his tenure with the Mets and 144 points better than Bay in 2011 in exactly the same number of PA (423).

Earlier this month there was hope that Bay was turning things around. In a 14-game stretch he posted a .415/.483/.679 line and fans were optimistic that he had rediscovered his hitting stroke. Instead, it was a dead-cat bounce. In his last 10 games, Bay has a .053/.143/.079 line as he has gone just 2-for-38.

Bay is trying his best and he continues to play surprisingly good defense in the outfield. Additionally, he busts it down the line whenever he hits a grounder. No one doubts the effort he has put in to turn things around. But the simple fact is that he has not hit for two years and is unlikely to ever again be the offensive force he was between 2004-2009.

The Mets can solve a lot of problems by moving Wright to left field. They get their franchise player away from a position he can no longer handle defensively. They create a spot for Murphy, who posted a 124 OPS+ this season. New York was 46-44 (.511) in games when Murphy started and 16-24 (.400) when he didn’t. And they move an offensive sink hole in Bay to the bench.

Hopefully, Wright volunteers to make the switch like Jones did a decade ago. But the Mets have to take him up on the offer and Wright has to adjust to playing the new position. It’s not a slam dunk to be successful by any means. However, Wright has deteriorated enough on defense to make it a switch worth trying.

Jones spent two years in left field before moving back to third base, where he remains today. He put up a +9 Total Zone rate in his first season back at the hot corner, so it’s not like if Wright made a similar move he would be unable to move back to his traditional spot on the field.

After three straight seasons of being below .500, the Mets need to try to improve wherever they can. Moving Wright is a way for the Mets to maximize the talent they already have on the roster, which should be an appealing thing for a franchise that is pinching pennies after years of free spending.

17 comments on “Why the Mets should move David Wright to LF

  • Metsense

    Great thought backed up by statistics and example. If you are going to such a drastic switch, then why not Wright in right where he is faster and a better arm than Duda? Duda in left where his lumbering can be protected more and Jason Bay on the bench where he profiles best as the righty bat and defensive replacement for Duda.

    • Brian Joura

      Yeah, that might work better as Duda is really stretched defensively in RF.

  • stick

    I just don’t see (from minor league results, and the relatively small empirical evidence of Murphy at 3rd) that Murphy is going to be an actual upgrade at 3B over Wright. especially if they can get him back to throwing over the top instead of looping sidearmers all the time!

    there is also the minor detail of, it ain’t going to happen now. And I do believe that in a few years, he will be needing to move to a new position. Just will not happen until at least he is on his next contract (so 2013 or 2014 depending on if he stays a Met)

    • Brian Joura

      I think this is where looks are deceiving. Wright still looks good charging in on slow rollers and it’s hard to think of him having poor range. But he doesn’t get to as many balls hit left or right. Both his RZR and RngR numbers are among the poorest in the league for full-time third basemen.

      And while Murphy has some high-profile gaffes which makes everyone think he is a poor defender, he has positive RngR numbers this year at first base, second base and third base. He’ll get to more balls than Wright would.

      • Metsense

        Murphy batted .320 and is a plus in the lineup. 3B is probably his best position. The team is better with both Murphy and Wright in the lineup. Defensively, I believe the team is better with Murphy at 3b than Murphy in the OF. It looks like a win-win to me.

        • Tommy2cat

          Why not then trade for Wright for Adam Jones and get an accomplished centerfielder whose offense production is similar to Wright’s?

          And, while you’re at it, trade Davis, Gee. Tejada & a prospect for Andrew McCutcheon and put Adam Jones in rightfield and Duda at firstbase?

          – Jose Reyes ss
          – Andrew McCutcheon cf
          – Daniel Murphy 3b
          – Adam Jones rf
          – Lucas Duda lb
          – Turner/Havens 2b
          – Angel Pagan lf
          – Thole/Paulino c
          – Pitcher

          Now THAT’S a solid line-up and a very serious upgrade to our outfield. Every player is under age 30, which allows us to develop our farm system and remain quite competitive at the ML level.

          Yeah, I realize the addition of Jones & McCutcheon is a very big stretch, but Wright, Davis, Gee, Tejada & a prospect or two could certainly go a very long way on the trade market.

          And while we’re at it, its time to admit that Bay has not produced and likely will not, cut our losses and swap headaches with the Yankees and acquire A.J. Burnett.

  • jerseymet

    Trade wright. 14 million a year and we still do not measure up to the phils.
    Save the money. Play the kids now.

  • Rob

    I would love to see Wright in Right (no pun) and Duda in left. Bay would also then strengthen the bench. If Reyes and Davis come back we have a good looking lineup.

  • Wendy

    I get what you are saying, it may happen, but I doubt it will happen until Murphy shows that his leg is healed and Wright’s back will be a lingering issue.

  • ducat2

    Great analysis Brian. Chipper volunteered a move to the outfield. Would Wright consider such a move, or would he reject it?

    • Brian Joura

      That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? My guess is that he would not volunteer but would move if asked.

  • Steve Carhart

    Davis can play outfield (draft scouting rpt says plus arm for outfield, was closer in college), while Wright has never played there. If Ike’s ankle can take the running, why not Wright on first and Ike in the OF? Wright’s throwing will be minimized(we don’t know if he has the arm for the OF anyway), and it wouldn’t be as hard for him to transition.

    • Brian Joura

      My issue with this is that Davis is a good first defensive first baseman so I don’t think he should be moved. As Piazza proved, not everyone can play 1B.

  • roberto

    I would trade Murphy. he is a defensive liability every where he plays and makes the Mets be creative with other players to try new positions. It is unfair for other players and creates instability trying to find a position to a good gap hitter, but not a great one. Trade him to someone who wants to figure out that puzzle.

    • Brian Joura

      How much trade value does a guy with no established defensive position who’s had season-ending injuries the past two years have?

      • Metsense

        Unfortunately to Wright fans, including myself, Wright is the best trade material that would bring in similar star value and the player on the team that has a serviceable replacement (not David Wright like but serviceable).

  • Brian Naranjo

    someone send this too terry collins

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