David Wright has had too good offensive seasons since the opening of Citi Field, but a few Mets fans and media outlets have noticed a slight decrease in production. Every now and then, you can find a blog post or talking head speak about his increase in strikeouts or his inability to hit in Citi Field. Now, I know these concerns probably have not been heard by any Mets fan dozens of times over, nor have any over-hasty or sensationalized claims stating that David’s time as useful player are done. But I think it could be interesting to take a look at David’s production over the last two years and see how and why it has changed.
In 2007-2008, David was the best third-basemen in the major leagues according to fangraphs’ WAR metric, and most of his value came from his offense. David posted wOBAs of .420 and .397 in those two seasons, both elite numbers, especially for a third-basemen. His combined triple slash from 2007-08 was .311/.401/.540, good for a .941 OPS.
In 2009 and 2010, David swung the bat to the tune of .368 and .364 wOBAs, respectively (both still good numbers, by the way). After converting all these wOBAs to win values and comparing them, David gave the Mets about five more victories with his bat in 07-08 than in 09-10. That is a significant difference. But what accounts for this precipitous dropoff? Loss of power and strikeouts are the main culprits at first glance, but it can never hurt to take a closer look and see a) if those are the real causes of David’s decline and b) if they are the causes, then what’s causing them? There’s a lot to look at, so I split this article into two pieces. In the first part, I will look at David’s batted ball profile and plate discipline to lay out the groundwork to find where the change in production comes from. In the next part, I will dig a little deeper, look at the pitches he faced, and hopefully find more answers, or at least make some good guesses.
Let’s first take a look at some of David’s batted ball numbers:
We should first marvel at David’s supreme line-driving abilities from 2007-2009. David finished eigth, third, and then second in LD% in the majors those seasons. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) should consistently be among the league leaders with a batted ball profile like this, as it is. There are two numbers I want to focus on, though, and one should be more surprising than the other.
The first number is the 6.9 HR/FB% in 2009 (league-average is just above 10%). Everybody noticed David’s decreased power in 2009, and here is the culprit. He hit a similar amount of fly balls, they just did not leave the park. But what is the culprit of the culprit, you ask? It turns out that all the mumbling and grumbling about Citi Field has shown up in the stats. According to Greg Rybarczyk of Hittrackeronline (a fantastic website for all the home run data you could want), David lost nine home runs in 2009 to Citi Field that would have cleared the Shea fences. If he gets those nine home runs, his HR/FB% skyrockets to the much more expected mark of 13.2%. David was not very different in 2009 when he hit the ball than he was in 2007-08, and it does not seem as though David has suffered a legitimate lack of power. While his production decreased due to the 6.9% HR/FB, I do not think that was an indication of his true talent.
The number that did surprise and worry me was his LD% of 18.9 in 2010. Why did David all of a sudden stop pounding the ball with such authority, as he suffered a major drop-off in line-drive percentage from his previous seasons? I had not picked up on this trend watching the games. Whatever the reason, losing line drives is not good. Many of his lost line drives turned into fly balls—which are much easier to turn into outs—as noted by his increased FB%. While his BABIP was not that far below his career .343 mark, it was still lower than normal, and a lower LD% means less success when you put the ball in play. A decrease in average, which we saw in 2010, had to be expected. David again showed good power with a 15.5 HR/FB%, but he needs to hit the ball on a rope consistently to be as effective as possible. For the first time, David’s batted ball profile showed real changes that should concern us.
I next took a look at his plate discipline numbers, and some answers and questions emerged:
(O-Swing% - percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone; O-Contact% – contact percentage on pitches swung at outside the zone; Z-Contact% – contact percentage on pitces swung at in the zone; Zone% – percentage of pitches seen inside the zone; F-Strike% – first-pitch strike percentage; SwStr% – percentage of swinging strikes out of total pitches seen)
According to his contact percentages, David hit less of the pitches he swung in 2009 than in 07-08. It makes sense that his SwStr% rose in 2009. In 2010, David saw more pitches outside the strike zone and swung at more of them according to his Zone % and O-Swing %. That 30.1 O-Swing% in 2010 is simply a massive jump, and the overall increase in O-Swing% throughout the league does not account for it. Along with his decreased contact rate from the year before, it makes sense that his SwStr% rose even higher in 2010. And then look at that massive leap in F-Strike%. David’s strike outs increased so much because he was falling behind in the count, swinging at more bad pitches, and missing more of them. I love when the numbers make sense.
It seems that David was simply too aggressive. Swinging-strike rate is the best predictor of strike outs, and when you swing at a lot of bad pitches, you will have a high swinging-strike rate (and falling behind in the count doesn’t help). I also wonder if his decreased LD% could be explained by his swinging at more bad pitches, which likely can’t be hit as hard. Either way, an increasing strikeout total, decreasing walk total, and less hard-hit balls are not a good combination.
In the next part, we will try to understand what might have caused this change,what has led to David’s loss of line-drive power and worsened plate discipline. Has his talent decreased? Have pitchers found a hole in his swing? Has David gone blind in one eye? Now that we know fairly precisely where David’s problems lie, mostly in those plate discipline numbers, we can start investigating their causes further.