David Wright to Retire

New York Mets third baseman David Wright announced his retirement, effective at the end of the 2018 season, at a press conference on Thursday afternoon. Wright’s been trying to mount a comeback for a few years now, following a 2015 diagnosis of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the nerves. The condition is degenerative and, in the four seasons since the start of that 2015 campaign, Wright has managed to appear in only 75 games with the Mets. He was hoping to make one last attempt to resume his career, working with the St. Lucie Mets for most of August before a couple of tuneup games with Triple-A Las Vegas, but that time in the minors appears merely to have confirmed the challenges that a major-league role would have presented to him.

Finishing off my 30s gave me a perspective on chronic injuries that I didn’t have 20 years ago. I am decidedly not a professional athlete. That said, I’ve observed as my own random aches and pains have multiplied over the last decade. I assume that, for a professional athlete — with much higher physical standards to maintain and much more day-to-day activity than a doughy sportswriter — it’s much worse. There are those who will say, “Don’t worry. He has a $100 million. He’ll be OK!” Certainly that was one view of Prince Fielder’s own premature retirement. (That was another tear-jerker of a press conference.) And, in one sense, it’s not incorrect: David Wright is free from worrying about the day-to-day costs of living. But he’s also someone who’s entire adult life has been dedicated to a particular endeavor (baseball) and who’s now forced to contend with the fact that his ability to participate in that endeavor has been cut short by five or so years. Hearing Wright say that “physically, the way I feel right now and everything the doctors have told me, there’s not going to be any improvement” was tough to watch for any fan of Wright or any fan of baseball.

Wright’s major-league career isn’t quite over, though: the Mets will activate him to start at third base on September 29th against the Marlins. I like when teams have the ability to do this kind of thing, and I was personally disappointed when the Yankees didn’t play A-Rod at shortstop for the final inning of his career. And playing one last game seems a lot more satisfying than signing a one-day contract, as players sometimes do with clubs that have had particular relevance to their careers.

David Wright’s immortality for the Mets is assured at this point, the defining player on the Mets over a decade that featured seven All-Star appearances. Through his age-29 season, the last year before his shoulder and then back injuries became chronic conditions, he was on an early approach-path to Cooperstown — or at least to being Cooperstown-worthy, given the Hall’s dreadful track record with players in the middle of the defensive spectrum.

Top 20 Third Basemen Through Age 29
Name WAR BA OBP SLG G AB H 2B HR R RBI SB
Eddie Mathews 68.3 .283 .387 .547 1482 5466 1548 223 370 1032 992 55
Ron Santo 56.1 .281 .366 .478 1536 5658 1592 247 253 816 937 27
Frankie Frisch 53.2 .321 .370 .447 1294 5217 1675 240 74 920 688 301
George Brett 50.7 .316 .369 .497 1235 4843 1532 303 125 762 704 131
Mike Schmidt 50.0 .255 .374 .511 1084 3713 947 183 235 674 666 117
John McGraw 48.8 .334 .466 .411 1075 3899 1302 121 13 1022 461 434
George Davis 48.1 .314 .378 .444 1378 5490 1723 285 60 1075 994 427
Scott Rolen 47.8 .286 .378 .520 1195 4389 1254 296 226 777 831 91
Miguel Cabrera 46.9 .318 .395 .561 1512 5663 1802 386 321 961 1123 33
Dick Allen 43.9 .297 .381 .543 1143 4229 1256 208 234 761 735 77
David Wright 43.3 .301 .381 .506 1262 4742 1426 322 204 790 818 166
Wade Boggs 43.0 .354 .439 .484 872 3329 1178 218 56 582 410 10
Evan Longoria 41.4 .271 .348 .485 1119 4204 1138 261 205 628 708 45
Frank Baker 40.9 .321 .375 .471 899 3436 1103 194 48 573 612 172
Chipper Jones 39.5 .307 .400 .545 1094 4041 1240 237 227 773 737 106
Buddy Bell 39.4 .283 .335 .405 1375 5232 1483 237 109 671 634 35
Adrian Beltre 39.1 .271 .327 .459 1570 5836 1581 321 242 774 862 98
Brooks Robinson 38.4 .281 .330 .423 1406 5236 1473 256 134 639 672 18
Harlond Clift 36.4 .280 .399 .465 1338 4902 1375 283 167 970 744 62

Through the end of his 20s, Wright ranked 11th among third basemen by WAR, having just passed the 200-homer mark. One thing Wright had going for him when looking ahead at career achievements is that he was also widely recognized as a superstar third baseman, getting full credit in the press for his contributions.

Where would he have ended up? It’s a bit bittersweet to consider, but one of the benefits of having a projection system handy is to, well, run projections for stuff. So I ran ZiPS as if the 2012 season had just ended, assuming Wright finished his career with the Mets and avoided the chronic injuries that ultimately forced him out of the game.

ZiPS Projections for Alternate David Wright Career
Year AB BA OBP SLG H HR BB SO SB CS OPS+ DR WAR
2013 541 .292 .371 .481 158 21 68 123 17 9 141 -5 4.3
2014 512 .289 .368 .475 148 19 64 115 17 8 138 -6 3.8
2015 492 .289 .367 .472 142 18 61 108 16 8 137 -6 3.4
2016 471 .282 .357 .454 133 16 56 101 15 7 130 -7 2.6
2017 445 .281 .354 .443 125 14 51 91 13 7 126 -8 2.1
2018 419 .277 .345 .427 116 12 44 79 11 6 119 -9 1.4
2019 390 .272 .336 .397 106 9 38 69 10 5 108 -11 0.5
2020 361 .266 .322 .374 96 7 30 58 8 4 98 -12 -0.3
2021 307 .257 .307 .352 79 5 22 44 6 3 88 -12 -0.9
2022 204 .250 .295 .338 51 3 13 27 4 2 81 -9 -1.0
Total 4142 .282 .354 .445 1154 124 447 815 117 59 127 -85 16.0
Career 8884 .290 .366 .472 2580 328 1063 1824 283 113 129 -104 59.3

All in all, whether you think Wright had a decent Hall of Fame case or a borderline one depends on how you feel about advanced defensive data, in which capacity Wright fared poorly. At league-average defense for the course of his career, Wright hits 70 wins instead of 60, a more solid case. But either in the Hall of Fame or Very Good, David Wright’s injuries robbed both him and baseball fandom several years of a fine player, with a career that ought to be remembered.

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Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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23 Comments on "David Wright to Retire"

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tb.25
Member
tb.25

Shockingly, despite his injury, he had more WAR in 2013 than ZiPS projected, by almost a full game.

If you ran your projections after his 2013 season, what would his career WAR end up at?

teufelshuffle
Member
teufelshuffle

It’s an unfortunate side effect of the Mets being bad that no one knows how good Wright was in 2012 and 2013.

2012 – .306/.391/.492 = 6.6 fWAR
2013 – .307/.390/.514 = 5.6 fWAR

Even Mets fans talk about him like 2008 was his last dominant year, but he came back from two merely good years in ’09 and ’10 to be top-10 in MLB in WAR in 2012, and top-10 in wRC+ in 2013.

He was so good at everything he did. Can’t wait to see him play again on the 29th.

vivalajeter
Member
vivalajeter

I agree that the table would be more interesting (and relevant) if it’s provided after the 2013 season, rather than the 2012 season.

He put up 5.6 WAR in 2013 (as teufelshuffle) says, and it was in only 112 games. Looking at his game log, he played virtually every day until the beginning of August, and then missed the next month and a half with a hamstring injury. He was on pace for a ~7 WAR season.

I googled “David Wright 2013 Injury” to see if he actually had a shoulder/back injury that year, and the first hit was a “Season Review” from a Mets website. Not once did they mention anything but a hamstring injury. So did he actually hurt his shoulder or back that year?

If Zips started after his exceptional 2013 season, I’d think he would be much closer to 70 WAR. And not that it alters things much, but if he was a replacement level-ish player in the last two years of his contract (2019/2020), he doesn’t seem like the type of player to stick around for another two seasons, so I think the chart might be short-changing him by about 2 WAR.