This picture neatly sums up the 2009 season for the New York Mets. The Amazins hoped to celebrate the opening of Citi Field with a deep run into October. Instead, the club was ravaged by injuries. They lost up-the-middle stars Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, 1B Carlos Delgado and ace Johan Santana, among others, for big chunks of the season.
Third baseman David Wright wasn’t immune to the baseball injury equivalent of “Captain Trips,” serving a DL stint in August after a frightening incident in which he took a pitch off the helmet. But Wright must have felt like the last man standing. Forced to call upon a cast of Quad-A characters, the Mets ranked 9th in the NL in team Park-Adjusted Batting Runs (-28.1). Wright (+24.1) and a hobbled Beltran (+21.3) were the only batters to cross the +10 mark.
That’s not to say that Wright enjoyed a typical season, though. Since he hit the majors in 2004, the 27 year-old’s skill-set has been well-defined: a double-digit walk rate, a K rate in the high teens and an Isolated Power figure north of .200. Here are some of Wright’s key stats from 2005 (his first full year as a starter) to 2009. One of these things is not like the other:
2005: 11.1 BB%, 19.7 K%, .217 ISO, .343 BABIP
2006: 10.2 BB%, 19.4 K%, .220 ISO, .350 BABIP
2007: 13.5 BB%, 19 K%, .222 ISO, .362 BABIP
2008: 13.1 BB%, 18.8 K%, .232 ISO, .328 BABIP
2009: 12.2 BB%, 26.2 K%, .140 ISO, .400 BABIP
From 2005-2008, Wright was a metronome at the plate. But his ’09 season was just bizarre. His punch out rate increased considerably, his power output took a dive, and his BABIP was obscenely, unsustainably high.
That .400 BABIP was by far the highest mark in the majors. Among batters with 500+ PA, Ichiro Suzuki was second at a distant .384.
Wright does have the attributes of a high-BABIP hitter. He works the count well, possesses decent speed and has generally hit for a lot of power. His career BABIP is .350, and his Expected BABIP (xBABIP) in 2009 was .346. But even so, no one can keep up a mark that high. Wright had the third-largest split between his BABIP and xBABIP among hitters in ’09.
How goofy was Wright’s performance on balls put in play? Here are his batted ball numbers from this past season, compared to his career averages and the NL average in 2009 (data from Baseball-Reference).
Wright has generally hit for a better average on grounders than most, but that 2009 figure is ridiculously high.
He didn’t hit for near as much power when he lofted the ball or hit a line drive. Wright didn’t pull the ball quite as much, and when he did, he didn’t produce the same forceful contact. He fared better on balls up the middle (due to a big spike in batting average), but his opposite-field slugging suffered, too:
(Data also from Baseball-Reference)
Overall, Wright cracked just 10 home runs, with a 6.9 HR/FB% that pales in comparison to his near-14 percent career average.
Citi Field likely didn’t do Wright any favors. Greg Rybarczyk of Hit Tracker Online has a fantastic article in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2010 that takes an in-depth look at Citi’s dimensions and how the switch from Shea Stadium to Citi Field affected various hitters. Rybarczyk concluded that Wright was the most negatively affected batter. According to Rybarczyk’s research, Wright had nine would-be homers become seven extra-base hits, one single and one out due to a “combination of deeper and taller fences”. Had those balls left the yard, Wright’s slugging percentage would have been .482 instead of .447.
Trip Somers Pitch F/X Blog has Wright’s 2009 spray chart. You can see some near misses here:
David also whiffed more often that he usually does. Those extra K’s are reflected in his plate discipline stats. Wright made contact with 87 percent of pitches within the strike zone in 2009, compared to an 89% career average (87-88% MLB average). His overall contact rate dipped to 80.4% (83.2% career average, 80-81% MLB average).
Courtesy of Somers’ Pitch F/X site, we can see that Wright’s extra swings and misses came against fastballs:
Wright’s whiff rate by pitch, 2008-2009
He saw a few more fastballs than usual in 2009: 62.6 percent, compared to a 60.8% career average. Wright didn’t whap those pitches with the same force. While still a quality fastball hitter in ’09, Wright was +0.69 runs above average per 100 pitches, well short of his career +1.55 run/100 mark.
Wright had an all-around wacky year. Going forward, it’s best to expect a lot of these Twilight Zone numbers to more closely resemble his career averages. In 2010, Wright will likely have a much lower BABIP, fewer whiffs and a higher ISO. Here are his projections for next season:
CHONE: .305/.391/.502, .197 ISO, 19.1 K%
ZiPS: .307/.396/.507, .200 ISO, 20 K%
Bill James: .302/.393/.499, .197 ISO, 22.4 K%
The Fans: .310/.398/.513, .203 ISO, 20.4 K%
David Wright should still be near the top of draft boards. It’s very likely that he’ll hit with more authority next year, giving owners his typical blend of power and speed.