August 20, 2009

I'm not a cruel person by nature, but another Mets injury has led me to what I feel is a necessary Deconstruction. As David Wright recovers from the beaning of all beanings -- the third baseman was placed on the 15-day DL on Aug. 16 -- speculation has arisen over whether the All-Star will play again in 2009. Is it medically safe for Wright to come back? Is it even worth his time to return given that the Mets are, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from postseason play? These are the two most glaring questions, both of which owners with postseason aspirations (myself included) can't wait to find out.

A third question that's defined Wright's season is centered around what happened to the man's home run power. Entering the '09 season, his lowest slugging mark was the .523 clip he recorded in '05. This year, it's .467. And for those who want to accuse seemingly pitcher-friendly Citi Field of robbing Wright's home run ability, he's actually slugged 31 points higher at home: .483 against a .452 road figure.

For a player who averaged 29 home runs from 2005-08, his eight big flies this year have created one of the season's top six or seven ongoing fantasy storylines. God only knows some of the foolish sell-low trades that some of Wright's impatient owners have made. In fact, if there was a preemptive trade in your league in which a Wright owner tried to get rid of him like he was a case of Gonorrhea, you should absolutely e-mail me the deal, which I'll post in the next Deconstructing. Until then, let's take a look at why David Wright suddenly became as prominent a home run threat as David DeJesus.

All statistics through August 17.

2009 stats: .324 AVG, .882 OPS, 8 HR, 55 RBIs, 74 R, 24 SB

After swatting four or more homers in every month since May 2007, Wright hasn't exceeded two taters for any month this year. He has even struggled to hit doubles for most of the campaign, using the 11 two-baggers he drilled in June to prop up a total that sits at 31. (He hit either 40 or 42 doubles every season from 2005-08.)

Of course, it is evident that Wright was still likely to match his normal annual doubles output had he stayed off the DL. Even though he's struggled at times to reach second base (I almost laugh writing that line about a rich, good looking 26-year-old star athlete living in New York City), it could be surmised that Wright probably would've hit another nine doubles in the final seven weeks to reach that 40 mark. In any case, there were other factors that helped turn Wright into a contact hitter.

Not only is his .324 batting average a career-best mark, but so is a line drive rate that sits at 26.9 percent. You'd think this might be a product of Citi Field until you consider the shiny new park ranks just 22nd in hit rate and 19th in doubles rate, according to ESPN's Park Factors. Now, it should be said that park factors over one season should always be taken with a grain of salt. That's especially the case with a park that has no precedent. For the record, 19 of his 31 doubles have come on the road, although Wright has posted the same batting average (.324) at home as outside of Queens.

A popular theory I've read for why Wright has turned into a contact hitter is that Citi Field's unfriendly home run nature convinced him to spray the ball across the park, rather than punch it beyond the fence. But does Citi put a clamp on home run boppers? Again, we must not turn park factors into an end-all, be-all stat, but you might be surprised to learn that it ranks fifth in home run rate. Yes, fifth, ahead of famously cozy plots of land such as Great American Ball Park (7th), Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (10th) and Coors Field (19th). Again, grain of salt. Yet the stat has to have some amount of relevancy, right?

After reading the first few paragraphs, you might be thinking, "So if Wright showed a better slugging percentage at home and Citi Field has been more susceptible to the long ball than we might have imagined, what the hell was the cause for his inexplicable drop in power?"

You can erase batted ball stats from being an answer. He holds a 36.4 fly ball percentage, which is a tad low to his career norm (39 percent) but nothing that would suggest it's a primary reason for his lack of pop.

No, what's hurt Wright has been a double-whammy -- a far higher strikeout rate coupled with a much lower contact rate. First, the K's. He's fanned in 24.6 percent of his at-bats, which is nearly five percent more than he's whiffed at any other time in his career. That directly affects his contact rate, now at a career-low 81.3 percent. (As for another popular theory that Wright wasn't seeing good pitches to hit with a lineup sans Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, well, the stats don't support that. Wright has seen 48.3 percent of the pitchers thrown to him reach the strike zone, which is 0.6 less than in '08 and 0.1 fewer than in '07.)

Wright's K troubles began Opening Day, when he started a nine-game stretch in which he was punched out 13 times in 35 at-bats. We can develop theories for his struggles. Was he trying too hard to lace homers in his brand new ballpark? Did the pressure of leading the Mets to the postseason have a more pronounced effect on his plate presence? We might never know what led him to fan so often. What we do know is that he stripped himself of a whole slew of opportunities to put the ball in play.

Pressure didn't affect him in other areas. Wright's batted .336 in 119 at-bats with runners in scoring position and his .352 average in high leverage situations far outshines his .315 and .318 marks in medium and low leverage situations, respectively. In fact, six of his home runs either tied the score or gave the Mets the lead, three of which came in the fifth inning or later. The man knows how to compose himself under stressful situations. One should expect that after four years of playing under the New York spotlight.

Owners shouldn't be perturbed by Wright overall. He is among the league's leading batsmen and his 24 steals are nine more than he racked up in '08. And if Reyes, an excellent on-base guy, hadn't missed most of this season, then Wright's RBI output likely would have increased based on his excellent average with runners on second and third.

Add in that three of his home runs came in a 12-game span from July 25 - Aug. 5, and it's easy to envision Wright possibly clearing the 15-home run hurdle had he not been forced to miss at least two weeks while he recovers on the DL.

A cacophony of factors has led to Wright's lack of homers: a ballpark that still might not be homer-friendly despite what 4 1/2 months of stats indicate, a crippling need to pack more punch in every at-bat to help a struggling offense which resulted in a higher strikeout rate, and conversely, a need to reach base for an offense whose ineptitude has sucked the life out of its fan base.

This shouldn't change your overall perspective on Wright, however. He was never destined to become a 40-homer player. He's good enough and has the proper work ethic to figure out his power struggles and owners should be satisfied with a career arc that peaks at 25-30 home runs per year.

If you're in a keeper league, there's no reason he shouldn't continue to be valued as a first round-caliber player in any format. Furthermore, there's every reason to explore a buy-low option given the wave of panic that has likely surfaced with a rash of Wright's owners. Now is the time to pounce on his value. It'll never be lower. You don't want to be left in the dust, having missed a supreme opportunity to acquire one of fantasy's best all-around players.

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Mets fans, bring it on. You want to feel sorry for yourselves? Want to tell me where I can stick this article? If you have any . If you have any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to send me an e-mail at

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