Archive for the ‘Wright’ Category

Weird Wright

June 18, 2009

Hey, real baseball!

By any reasonable analysis you want to do, David Wright is having the best offensive year of his career. He has (through Tuesday) a career-high 161 OPS+, .430 wOBA, and already has 6 wins above replacement according to BP’s WARP3 (which is insane). He’s leading the NL with a .365 batting average (40 points over his career high) and a .458 OBP (42 points over his career high), while posting a .526 SLG that’s right in line with his career average of .532. He’s even stolen 18 bases, second in the NL (though he leads in CS with 8, already a career high in that category, so he’s barely breaking even when he runs and probably should go back to being more selective).

The amazing thing you probably already know is this: Wright, who has a career full-season low of 26 HR, is doing all this while having hit just four homers all year. He’s on pace to hit 11 all season, or three fewer than he hit in 283 PA as a 22 year old rookie in 2004. He’s balancing some of that out with doubles, but he’s only on pace for 8 more of those than in ’08 (50 total, but he’s always hit a lot of doubles), so his Isolated Power is down 70 points from ’08; that SLG is being sustained mostly by that astronomical batting average.

Some have written that it’s too hard to hit HR in the Mets’ new park, so you might think that had something to do with it. Doesn’t look like it, though; while overall scoring at Citi is pretty low, it’s actually been the fifth most homer-happy park in the Majors so far, and in fact Wright has hit three of his four homers at home.

It gets weirder still. Look at these numbers (lifted straight from FanGraphs):
GB/FB: 0.95 (2008), 0.94 (2009)
LD%: 25.6% (2008), 25.9% (2009)
GB%: 36.2% (2008), 35.9% (2009)
FB%: 38.2% (2008), 38.2% (2009)

So Wright is hitting line drives, grounders and fly balls in almost exactly the same proportions as he did last year. Even fewer of those fly balls (4.6% this year, 7.6% last) are staying in the infield. We’d expect him to be hitting HR at more or less the same rate, even a tiny bit better…but, well, obviously, that ain’t happening. You have to assume he’s getting unlucky, homer-wise; he has to be hitting the ball pretty hard to maintain that BA, but the ones in the air just aren’t carrying quite far enough.

So, we should expect the homers to come around. He’s not likely to hit 30 again this year, but it’s not unreasonable to expect him to hit ’em at a 30-HR pace from here on out (which would give him a total of about 22 for the season).

But there’s a big, huge, flashing neon warning sign for Wright that has nothing to do with his HR power or batted ball types, and this is the incredible part to me: Wright is putting up that huge batting average not only while keeping the ball in the park when he does hit it, but while striking out once per game. He’s struck out between 113 and 118 times in each of his four full seasons, but now he’s already struck out 61 times in 61 games, which over a full season would top his career high strikeout total by 40+. His walk rate is up very marginally, while his strikeout rate is up by over a third. That’s bad.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about BABIP, so let me just remind you: that sort of thing (a strikeout per game + a .365 BA) just doesn’t happen. It varies a little based on the percentages of GB/LD/FB players hit, but when they don’t hit a homer or strike out, we expect everybody to have a 30% or so chance of getting a hit (that is, a .300 BABIP). Wright’s BABIP right now (well, through Tuesday) is .485. By comparison, Joe Mauer is hitting a ridiculous .429 right now, and his BABIP is “only” .443. Ichiro! is hitting .354, pretty close to Wright’s BA, but with a BABIP of .374; he’s done it by striking out about 1/3 as often as Wright.

A different perspective: Wright’s .485 BABIP leads the #2 (PA-qualified) guy in the majors in that category, Kevin Youkilis, by 76 points. There is no one within 76 points of Wright, and then there are 43 guys within 76 points after Youk. The 2008 leader BABIP’ed .396, 89 points below Wright’s ’09 number.

So you get the point by now: it’s not going to last. Something’s got to give–Wright has to start making better contact, or his batting average will start coming way, way down, and then if he doesn’t also start hitting home runs (and playing better defense, which is another weird thing I haven’t even touched on here), it’ll take a huge chunk of his value right down with it.

Wright has had an amazing first 62 games, and is an amazing player. There’s really no telling what this guy can do. But I’m pretty confident in this: whatever he does, he’ll look like a very, very different player over these last 100 games than he did over the first 62.

If it’s May 9 rather than June 9…

June 9, 2009

…and your team’s MVP candidate is hitting .228/.343/.447, do you worry?

Because that’s Ian Kinsler’s line since May 6 (the season started on April 6, so if this were a month earlier that would take us back to about game 1). Fortunately, back in the real world, he hit .321 and slugged .652 for the first five weeks or so. So since May 6 he’s lost 47 points of average, 14 points of OBP and 103 points of SLG, but he’s still a .905 OPS second baseman, not some .228-hitting disappointment. For now.

Another one: his season numbers are still awe-inspiring, because he hit .400 for the first month or so. But do you think Miguel Cabrera would be getting feature stories right now if the first baseman had put up an .839 OPS with 3 homers through May 9, rather than from May 6 to June 9?

On the other hand, how do you suppose the New York media would react if Mark Teixeira had waltzed into the city and hit .350/.417/.761 with 12 HR in his first month-plus, rather than his second?

Do you think there would be any doubt about his All-Star chances if Ichiro! had hit .400/.439/.538 in April-May rather than May-June? Would the media get off David Wright’s back a little bit if he had been hitting .388 with a .500 OBP on May 9?

One thing that drives me crazy is the way that, at least with regard to position players, each passing month is a little less important to us than the last, until you get to September (and that’s assuming you’re in a pennant race). If a guy hits .400 in April but then hits .200 in May, he’s still a good bet to make the All-Star team, while if he hits .200 in April and .400 in May, he’s probably still considered a disappointment come June (unless somebody noticed and gave him the Player of the Month Award or something). The April stats count for all the hype, and the October stats count for who’s “clutch” and who’s not, and all the stuff in the middle just kind of happens.

But if the Mets win by a game or two, Wright’s enormous early-May-to-early-June will have been as big a part of it as anything Delgado or Reyes or Beltran could possibly do in August or September. With that decimated lineup, being only three games out at this point is a miracle you can attribute almost exclusively to the wonders that are Wright and Santana. Yet if Wright slips a bit in September (or even if he’s his usual stellar self, but is perceived as being “not clutch”), he’ll be widely regarded as a failure again. These games (and these stats) count too, people…