2009 Analysis: David Wright

Photo of David Wright by MetsToday reader Gary Sparber

Photo of David Wright by MetsToday reader Gary Sparber

It’s not easy being David Wright.

Think about it: who else hits .307, leads their team in SLG, OBP, RBI, runs, hits, doubles, walks, SB, and total bases, but is judged to have a “bad” year?

But it’s true — for David Wright, 2009 was a bad year. Why? Because he put only ten balls over the fence, and we expect him to deposit three times as many beyond the dimensions of the playing field.

Yes, his fielding was way below the Gold Glove standard he set in 2008 — though, many would argue that he was undeserving of that fielding award. His RBI total was only 72, a major dropoff from the 124 RBI in 2008. But, that lower total is partially due to the fact there were 75 less runners on base (433) when he came to the plate (508 in 2008). Then again, there were an almost identical number of runners on in 2007 (428), yet he drove in 107 runs that year.

That’s an intriguing stat to me — “others batted in percentage“, or “OBI%”. As it’s described, it tells you the percentage of runners a batter drives in. So Wright’s OBI% in 2009 was 14.32 — a full 3.5 points below his previous years’ totals of 17.91 and 17.99. Does that mean he was less clutch this past year?

Hard to say. Part of the reason for the drop in OBI was his concurrent drop in homeruns — it’s hard to drive in runners from first with a single (19 of his 39 doubles and 2 of his 3 triples came with the bases empty). Had he hit his usual 30+ homers, that’s an extra 20 RBI right there, putting his RBI total at 92, and there’s a good chance at least half of those would’ve been with at least one runner on — meaning, he likely would have reached that milestone 100 RBI figure.

But that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Why did David Wright fail to hit the ball over the fence more than a dozen times?

The answer isn’t as simple as a glitch in his swing, though that’s part of it. More likely, it’s a combination of a mechanics, approach, internal pressure, protection in the lineup, plate discipline, and luck.

Mechanics
Like most pro hitters, Wright occasionally needs to fix minor issues in his swing mechanics over the course of a 162-game season. Bad habits occur for a number of reasons, though often they come about as the result of fatigue. Many pointed to his Home Run Derby contest win as the beginning of his problems with an uppercut — and it makes sense. Similarly, Wright was put through Jerry Manuel’s mysterious 80-swing drill in spring training. Based on my 15+ years of teaching hitting, and conversations I’ve had with other hitting coaches, pro players, and trainers, taking 80 swings in a row is likely to do more harm than good, because it can exhaust a player and in turn cause his body to make adjustments to compensate and keep the bat moving. This isn’t rocket science, and not applicable only to baseball, but to all physical actions. Think about it: if you ever tried to bench press 80 times, chances are your form would suffer before you were halfway through — you’d be arching your back, pushing one arm more than the other, etc. The same type of things can happen swinging a bat too many times in a row.

But why did the 80-swing drill affect David and not, say, Carlos Beltran? Who knows — maybe Wright got in the cage right after taking 500 ground balls, or running 5 miles. Or maybe the 80-swing drill had nothing to do with Wright’s mechanical issues — it’s only one theory. But certainly, something was off with his swing, particularly early in the season, when he struck out 53 times in the first two months.

Approach
The thought behind the 80-swing drill was to get hitters to cut down their swing and hit to the opposite field. It was a nice idea by Jerry Manuel, since the team would be playing in a new, large, home park. But maybe David Wright took that idea to the extreme, and worked too hard at cutting down his swing, and looking more for outside pitches than ones he could pull. It’s OK if Anderson Hernandez or Doug Flynn concentrates on poking balls the other way most of the time, but a perennial 30-homer guy like Wright should be looking to jerk the ball into the seats every now and then.

Internal Pressure
As the season wore on, and Wright’s power shortage became more of a public concern, you have to believe that Wright himself also began to wonder why balls weren’t going over the fence. In addition, Wright may have put more pressure on himself to carry the team after Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran went on the DL. Perhaps he put some extra pressure on himself to hit homeruns — which usually results in popups, weak grounders, and swings and misses. There is a fine line between taking advantage of pitcher’s mistake and forcing the issue by guessing too often that he’s going to make a mistake.

Lineup Protection
For a good chunk of the season, there was no other power threat in the lineup other than David Wright. Normally, I don’t put too much stock into the concept of protection, but in the case of the 2009 Mets, the lineup often resembled one you might see from an NL club in the 1970s. Back then, crafty pitchers could pitch around the one or two sluggers in the lineup and go after the punch-and-judy middle infielders batting toward the bottom. Similarly, opposing pitchers in 2009 could nibble the corners when Wright came to the plate, knowing that if he walked, no big deal, since there wasn’t anyone after him who had the kind of power reputation to strike fear. As a result of not seeing many pitches near the middle of the plate, and combined with the internal pressure, Wright expanded his strike zone, swinging at pitches he wouldn’t have in 2008 (it’s not unlike Carlos Beltran’s power outage the year before Delgado arrived).

Luck and Discipline
It’s not really luck as much as a function of lineup protection. Generally speaking, batters hit homeruns not because they try to, but because the pitcher lets them — it’s a combination of luck (the pitcher making a mistake) and discipline (waiting for that pitch to drive). This is especially the case with sluggers who have more compact, line-drive swings that allow them to also have high batting averages, such as Wright. (As opposed to the severe uppercut, huge-rip swings of Ryan Howard, Matt Stairs, and the like.) Many of Wright’s homeruns come “by accident” — meaning, he was simply trying to drive the ball, but hit it just right to impart the lift needed to carry over a fence. Usually, these “accidents” happen when the pitcher puts a ball “in the batter’s kitchen”, or that part of the zone where a hitter is very strong. Once in a while, a hitter may put himself into a situation where he can “guess” a pitch will be in a particular location, and plans to take a homerun swing if he gets it. Additionally, some hitters can quickly recognize a hanging curveball, and take an appropriate swing to mash it over the fence. Still other times, it’s simply a matter of a hitter being slightly fooled on a breaking pitch or change-up, causing him to commit his hands and weight too early, but he gets lucky and has all that momentum striking the ball perfectly, far in front of the plate, and can pull the ball past the left field foul pole.

I’m going to go on a limb and say that Wright wasn’t able to hit many homeruns on “accident” because pitchers were working around him. Further, because he was expanding his strike zone, he was unable to get himself into enough “hitter’s counts” and further, when he did get himself into them, the pitcher wasn’t giving him pitches to drive — but rather continuing to nibble, hoping he’d chase something.

The numbers bear out this theory. In 2008, Wright enjoyed 208 plate appearances in which he was in a “hitter’s count” — meaning, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1. In those counts he hit 11 homers. Contrast that to 2009, when he had only 151 plate appearances in which he was in a “hitter’s count” — and hit only 2 homeruns. Pitchers went 3-0 on him 15 times in 2008 and 24 times in 2009 — suggesting that they were more wary of throwing him strikes on 2-0 counts during this past season.

Conclusion

There is nothing “wrong” with David Wright. He had a bad year in terms of power because of a combination of reasons that can be easily fixed in 2010 by having Beltran and another slugger present in the lineup. With other hitters around him, Wright can relax and tighten his strike zone again. The home runs will follow.

His defense, though, is concerning — it definitely looked as though he took a step back. Half of his 18 errors came on throws — maybe a better scooper at first base and consistency around the 2B bag would prevent a handful of those? He botched 9 ground balls, which isn’t awful. But, it seemed like he lost a bit of range. You have to wonder if his fielding issues had anything to do with the record number of walks issued by the Mets’ pitching staff — ball after ball after ball causes fielders to lose focus and “be back on their heels”.

Bottom line is, I’m not worried about David Wright — and confident that with a better ensemble around him, he’ll go right back to being the 30-HR, 100+ RBI guy we saw prior to 2009.

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Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. gary s. November 11, 2009 at 7:40 pm
    good stuff joe.almost as good as the picture (lol).the only thing u didn’t mention was the cavernous alleys in citifield.I’ve brought this up many times in the past and seem to hold a minority view on this subject.Wright’s power is to right and left center and the distances in citifield are huge in the gaps.With better protection, i agree he will relax more and cut down his strike zone and get better pitches to drive.I still feel he will never exceed 30 homers a year hitting 81 games at citifield.I do feel 20-25 homers and 90-100 rbi’s will happen if he bats in a major league line-up next year.As for his defense, if his offensive numbers return, it is acceptable.
  2. Harry Chiti November 11, 2009 at 10:34 pm
    Excuses for his rapid deterioration on the field and at the plate aside, the biggest concern should be whether or not he will be able to forget his beaning. Some players do right away, some in time and some never. He definitley had problems after his return, and most of you are probably too young to remember a great Oriole outfielder, paul Blair who was a great fielder and a very good hitter until he was beaned. he never was a good hitter again. 52
  3. joejanish November 11, 2009 at 10:43 pm
    Gary – I believe the dimensions played a part more in his approach than in “stealing” HRs. You’re right, one of his power alleys is right-center, but I don’t think he lost more than 3-5 HR solely due to the dimensions — which means he still should’ve hit at least 25 HR. Good point worth arguing, though.

    Harry – you’re right, and I should have included the beanball issue in the post. But the article is so darn long as it is!

    The sample after the beaning is very small, about 30 games. And he was never on the DL before, so it’s hard to say whether it was the beaning or being rusty that led to the awful .239 and 35 strikeouts in the final month. But it’s worth keeping an eye on him and seeing if he flinches. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he doesn’t have Paul Blair syndrome in 2010. Thanks for bringing it up!

  4. isuzudude November 12, 2009 at 10:37 am
    Gary: the only hole in your argument regarding Citi’s dimensions stealing homers from Wright is that David hit the same amount of home runs on the road as at home (5), despite 19 more ABs on the road. This tells me that Wright’s power didn’t only disappear at home but also in every other stadium around the league. I would be more willing to accept that CitiField had a role in Wright’s decline in power if his stats showed he had double or triple the amount of homers on the road, but the evidence shows Wright still had trouble hitting balls over the wall in other ballparks, as well. This tells me that there is something else that prohibited Wright for hitting for power, whether it be lack of protection, improper mechanics, fatigue, or what have you.

    If you want to hold on to your argument, then I’d be interested to know why you think his home runs on the road diminished just as much as at the cavernous CitiField?

  5. gary s. November 12, 2009 at 11:52 am
    dude, nobody except d. wright really knows why his homer #’s went down last year.i kind of agree with joe that since he is hitter first and a slugger second he does hit a lot of homers “by accident”.it’s much harder to homer by accident when the ballpark is 30 feet deeper in the alleys.As for the road numbers being down, i think that’s because he changed his swing and it messed him up at home and away.question for u dude, “If wright played his home games at yankee stadium this year, how many homers do u think he would have hit with that short porch in right field that is tailor made for his power??Hopefully, we will have healthy players this year, plus an added power hitter for left field and than we’ll see if it’s the ballpark or the players..
  6. TheDZA November 12, 2009 at 12:17 pm
    I think the change in mindset for the ballpark has wheels – if he has changed his approach due to Citifield, he doesn’t go to like Citizens Bank park and think: ‘Right I’m not at home now – I can use my “away” swing’, and start ripping homers.
    He would have to keep the same mechanical mindset throughout the season (as best he can) or he would be all over the place.
  7. isuzudude November 12, 2009 at 3:40 pm
    Good points, gary and DZA. It’s certainly possible Wright was intimidated by, or was coerced to change his swing because of the dimensions of CitiField. And once you fall into a bad habit, it’s tough to break regardless of what venue you’re playing your games in.

    Still, if Wright was a victim of home runs being ‘stolen’ by Citi’s gaps, that means he was at least still hitting balls to the gaps in 2009, which in other team’s ballparks should have translated into more than just 5 home runs. It also means that if some of Wright’s gap shots were becoming one-hoppers off the wall at home instead, he should have had a lot more doubles at home than on the road, but, in fact, he only had 14 doubles at home, as opposed to 25 on the road. Something is just too fishy to buy into the simple arguement that CitiField worked alone in screwing up Wright’s swing, though I’m willing to admit it most likely was a contributing factor.

    As far as whether Wright could have hit more HRs if he played at Yankee Stadium, it’s regardless. Because anybody would hit for more HRs at the Yankee launching pad. And because for every extra HR Wright would have hit, the opposition would have had an equal chance to hit more out as well. So though Wright’s homer tally would likely be more appeasing, the Mets still would have sucked because the pitching staff would have given up a ton more HRs as well, and that’s really all that matters.

    You’re also ignoring the fact that most Met hitters had as many or more HRs at home than on the road (see: Dan Murphy, Angel Pagan, Fernando Tatis, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Delgado). Not to mention Francoeur hit almost as many HRs (4) at Citi in far less ABs than Wright. The endemic problem is not that CitiField plays to big or unfairly, but instead that the Mets play too small. They didn’t have enough power hitters with all the injuries in ’09, and that’s made it seem like CitiField is too big. And not helping matters was Jerry Manuel’s opposite field drills in March/April, which instilled the philosophy of not hitting for power and instead concentrating on going to other way. Plus, is it really a wonder that the Mets hit so few HRs with the likes of Alex Cora, Omir Santos, Brian Schneider, Luis Castillo, Cory Sullivan, Anderson Hernandez, and Wilson Valdez getting so many ABs?

  8. TheDZA November 12, 2009 at 5:45 pm
    ‘Dude your last para really sums it up – its quite possible that had Delgado put 30+ over the fences, and Beltran played a full year then we would not be discussing this, and had those guys been playing then Wright would not have felt pressured to become the Mets Charles Atlas statue – trying to carry an entire team on his back.

    The Wright doubles thing is also intriguing – why less at home if Citi is such a cavern?

    I am hoping we will see some changes in 2010 – but I also hope Jerry doesn’t introduce any more of these drills. Plus those last names ‘dude mentioned are frankly depressing to read all in one sentence – we need some power, surely it’s no coincidence that the two teams contesting the world series this year had well balanced teams with mashers and runners.

  9. gary s. November 12, 2009 at 6:11 pm
    my theory on less doubles at citicavern is that the gaps are so big, that the outfielders shade much more to the gaps than they played at shea and that CUTS DOWN ON DOUBLES!!Of course one year is not enough of a sample, we’ll see how next year plays out..If i’m omar i try to trade for brandon phillips for 2nd amd sign molina to catch.. that should add 40 homers to a team dying for power.pick up a righty bat for one year (jorge cantu??) to platoon with murphy.add a left fielder with power and that should add another 20-25 homers to lineup.THAN TRADE PROSPECTS FOR ROY HALLIDAY AND WE WOULD HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO!!!!!I DON’T WANT JOHN LACKEY..wants big bucks..suspect shoulder.santana plus halliday =’s contender..
  10. sam November 13, 2009 at 2:26 am
    After a disappointing season, I’ll say there is no better time to buy NY Mets sports gear than now.
  11. VOW NYC April 13, 2010 at 7:37 am
    Any news for the New season?
  12. Ken Henneberry May 27, 2010 at 4:27 pm
    I can't beleive he discussed David Wright's homer production going down and did not mention Citi Field. This guy is a gap to gap hitter. Those Gaps are farther in Citi Field. In addition the fences are higher. Sometimes by a lot. Howie Rose does not call the left field wall 'The Great Wall of Flushing' for nothing. The only place it is shorter than Shea is the left field corner and the right field corner. And it is not that much shorter. He will not admit it but Citi Field is in his head and contributed to a lot of his bad habits in order to get his home production back up. I wonder if this reviewer is being paid by the Wilpon's for this.