David Wright’s Many Faces

It’s hard to believe, but 2013 will be the 10th major league season for David Wright. In those ten years, it seems like he’s been about three different players.

Wright has hit as many as 33 home runs and as few as 10. He stole 34 bases one year only to follow it up with 15 the next. He’s gone from a decent to a terrible to a very good defender. Indeed, in fantasy baseball circles, if you’re a Wright owner, it has been a bit of a roller coaster — but he has always provided good value at third base with the exception of 2011.

And good he was in 2012. If you count his defense, Wright was great — but chances are you don’t, which limits just how high you’re jumping up and down about him. His .306/.391/.492 line with 21 home runs, 91 runs, 93 RBI, and 15 stolen bases is awfully nice production from a third baseman, but if you’re a Wright owner, you’re always looking for a little more than that, right? Even if it’s unreasonable, you kind of expect 26, 27 home runs and triple digit runs and RBI.

According to the wizardry of Zach Sanders’ mind, Wright registered 6th overall at the hot corner, with a value of $20 bucks. Chances are, you own him for a hair more than that, but considering his age and his pedigree, there’s no real reason to expect he won’t give you a return on that investment in 2013, right?

Well, maybe.

There are two major concerns for me relative to Wright going forward: health and his second half decline in 2012. Unless it’s Chipper Jones, I typically avoid health-related prognostication, so let’s just be optimistic and say he will be healthy. But the decline is a concern.

From the start of the season to mid July, Wright hit .353/.443/.586 with 14 home runs, 30 doubles, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and nine stolen bases. He was both walking and striking out at a 14% clip. From July 19 to the end of the season, Wright hit .247/.322/.373 with seven home runs, 11 doubles, and six stolen bases. His walk rate slipped to 9% and his strikeout rate climbed up over 20%.

This Wright dichotomy is problematic. Objectively, he was a monster for a little more than half the season and then he regressed into 2011 David Wright for 300 at bats. Collectively, he had a lovely season for fantasy owners, but the inconsistency is a little nerve wracking, especially when his worst season was just a year ago.

Looking at his hit trajectory, nothing changed dramatically over the course of the season:

When we get such large discrepancies in player splits, I often go sniffing around hit trajectories to see if there was a change in approach, but Wright was pretty consistent all year. The exception is July where he hit more fly balls, and not surprisingly, he had his largest total of HR’s that month. But his BABIP in the first half was .385 and then it was .301 in the second half, so is good old fashioned regression to blame for the slide? We know that Wright has maintained a career .341 BABIP, so that might be the culprit but it’s also hard to ignore the dramatic decline in ISO in August and September.

Taking BABIP and hit trajectory a bit further, it’s worthwhile to point out the kind of year Wright had on his fly balls. Wright not only destroyed National League averages on fly balls, but he was far better in 2012 than his own career average:

Don’t let the significance get lost in the scale of the chart – his batting average was more than 60 points higher on fly balls than his own career average (.290 vs. .351) and yet his home run rate on fly balls dropped from a career average of 12.6% to just over 11%. Recall BABIP doesn’t include home runs, so the more he accumulates, the lower the BABIP, which explains his average, but his overall performance on fly balls seemed to far exceed his own standard.

This isn’t smoking gun kind of stuff, but intuitively it makes me wonder if we can expect his fortune to return to (his) normal in 2013, and if his home run rates remain constant, we might see not only a slip in the power numbers but a ding in the batting average department.

But then again, David Wright is such a good hitter that it takes this kind of drilling down to find any red flags, subtle as they may be.  We’ve seen how great Wright can be and we’ve probably seen his worst — and then we saw both over the course of the 2012 season. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to gamble on one or the other from a fantasy perspective. Going forward, if he’s healthy, it’s probably the best course of action to assume a repeat of 2012 (and as all Wright owners will do, just pray for more).

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Travis L
Travis L

That second graph is awful, comparing OBP, AVG, and BABIP like that.