We are a quarter of the way through the 2010 season and David Wright has appeared to put the ghosts of 2009 behind him. After hitting only 10 HR all of last year, he has already hit 8 this year, helping him to post a wOBA just over .390 through the early part of the season. None of this is really surprising (his career wOBA sits at .392) and it appears to be business as usual for the talented third basemen. The catch is that he has been able to post these numbers while striking out an alarming rate.
As of this post, he was the unfortunate owner of a 38% strikeout rate, 2nd overall to Kyle Blanks and 6.7% higher than the next closest hitter with a wOBA over .390. So what is causing this jump in strikeouts? His strikeout rates spiked last year as well, but they are starting to spiral out of control this year. A quick look at his numbers offers two possible solutions. First, though his Zone Swing/Contact rates appear normal, his O-Swing% has jumped up 4.5% while his O-Contact% has fallen 9.5%. Swinging at more pitches outside the zone and making less contact is a quick and easy recipe for disaster. The second cause for concern can be seen in his pitch type linear weights. He is mashing fastballs at a career high rate (wFB/C of 3.19), but this comes at the cost of looking downright foolish against the curveball (wCB/C of -2.01) and sliders (wSL/C of -2.58). Apparently, opposing pitchers have noticed this weakness in David’s approach and have reacted accordingly, offering him 4.4% more sliders/curveballs and 8.4% less fastballs than last year.
Another (albeit small) contributing factor might be related to his platoon splits. David sports a career L/R split of .439/.370 for wOBA and 14.4%/22.9% K-rate. The wOBA has been even more extreme this year (.608/.339 andthe strikeouts have jumped to 19.2%/42.3%. This is even more troubling as Wright has so far faced even more RHP than usual. This year he has faced RHP 80% of the time, up 78% in 2009 and 74% in 2004-2008. His platoon splits are well known, and he is presumably facing more RHP later in games. This decision was easier for opposing coaches last year, as he no longer had the left handed power of Delgado (or any power, really) batting behind him. With the only lefties in the lineup being the unproven Chris Carter and Ike Davis, David will contine to face a lot of right-handed relievers.
The extra appearances against RHP does not explain why his strikeout rate against them has doubled though. It is early in the season, so it could just be bad luck on his part, and his strikeouts should regress towards his career line of 20.8%, or at least his line of 26.2% last year. Even if they don’t, he will remain a premier 3B if he can maintain his power, walk rates, and high BABIP. Still, if David wants to approach his MVP caliber numbers of 2007, he should take strides to lay off pitches outside the zone and adjust better to the breaking balls.