Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
David Wright is in a bad place at the plate, despite finally getting a few hits in St. Louis on Wednesday. This is no mere slump – he’s 325 plate appearances into a season that is on pace to be the worst of his career by a wide margin. He’s below league average in walk rate, power, and OPS for the first time ever and – as much as the answer may sting – it’s time to start asking why…
Wright has hit as poorly in front of the now-hot Curtis Granderson as he did when Granderson was ice-cold, to say nothing of Wright’s exceptional 2012-2013 performances despite generally weak lineups around him.
“If I start worrying about who is hitting behind me then I overthink my at bat,” Wright told MetsBlog. “If I think a pitcher is going to ‘pitch around me,’ then I won’t be ready for a mistake that the pitcher makes.”
Also, at 31 years old, while he is no longer a lock to be one of the top players in the league year in and year out, he is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career in 2013; and a multi-dimensional hitter like Wright is highly unlikely to crash that quickly.
With both aging and lineup issues only explaining at most a small portion of Wright’s significant decline, what other possible underlying problems can we identify?
Wright’s .324 BABIP, though below his .340 career mark, is still quite good and suggests that he hasn’t been a victim of bad luck or good fielding. His line drive rate is still excellent and his pop-up rate is low, so he isn’t getting underneath pitches he should drive.
One difference in Wright’s batted ball stats is that he’s seen a huge decline in his home runs per fly ball rate – from 13% last year (a very respectable rate on par with his career numbers) to 6% this year (a very poor rate and the lowest of his career). This could be due to a combination of decreased strength and bad luck and definitely warrants a closer look by the team.
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of Wright’s poor season is the unprecedented drop in his walk rate. In 2009, when he forgot how to hit home runs, he still drew walks. In 2011, when he hit .254, while playing through a broken back, he still drew walks. One of the reasons plate discipline is such a desirable skill is that it’s enduring. Wright’s 2014 mark is down 30% from his career rate and showing no signs of improvement. He’s seeing more pitches in the zone and swinging at fewer of them, but not by wide margins.
There’s always the possibility that Wright is pressing, getting less patient out of frustration, but it’s been a problem for the whole season, not a recent development. Ultimately, there’s no good explanation for this problem.
As much as I wish I could answer the question of why Wright isn’t right, I’m convinced looking at all of these factors that there really is no answer. A mix of aging, a bad lineup, frustrations, and bad luck could explain part of a drop of over 200 points in OPS, but certainly not all.
Maybe Wright’s 20/20 vision is more like 20/25 these days; maybe a slight tweak to his weight room routine took just a little strength out of his wrists; maybe wedded bliss is disrupting his sleep cycles; though probably none of these things are true.
Regardless, this team is not built to succeed without an effective David Wright. Here’s hoping they find him soon…