After 6 straight multi-hit games followed by Sunday's one-hit disgrace, David Wright has raised his average to a MLB-leading .364. This increase in average, coupled with his relative homerun drought and increased stolen bases, has lead many to conclude David has "changed his game" to deemphacize power for more speed and average. Wright himself has defended his stats against those quick to point to the homer count:
"I enjoy home runs just like everybody else but, you know, I don't necessarily need it to be successful." AP
There's no doubting the truth to that quote, but can David Wright, a traditional 30 HR guy, maintain such success? First, consider what he's contributing now. His walks are up slightly but his strikeout rate (26.7%), easily a career high, suggests an overall decline in plate discipline. So really, the question becomes, can David Wright maintain a very high average?
His BABIP of .484 suggests no. The rule of thumb is to add .120 to a player's LD% to calculate expected BABIP, and David's is 25.9%, right in line with his career performance. Based on that rule .259+.120= .379, which is certainly higher than most player's can sustain but not .484.
Line Drives, however, are only one influence of whether balls put into play fall for hits. Examining some other factors that influence BABIP provides an opportunity to both determine whether David's BA prognosis is less grim than it seems, and also test the claim that he's become more of "speed guy". Dutton and Bendix's famous article on predicting BABIP doesn't provide an alternative formula to the .120 rule, but does identify other factors that should be considered. These factors are, roughly: batting eye, both pitches seen and BB and K; LD%; FB/GB ratio; speed; contact rate; and spray, the ability to hit to different parts of the field.
Wright's batting eye was covered above, and his pitches seen are also what we'd expect from him at this point in the season. His LD% and BB/K are nearly identical to last year. His speed, however, is a little harder to qualify. He's had a higher percentage of infield hits, but that's really justy a quirk of the small sample size (he's only got 6). Baseball Prospectus calculates a statistic called "Equilvalent Baserunning Runs," which attempts to quantify exactly how many runs a player contributes, or costs, his team on the basepaths. Obviously, baserunning is more than basestealing, and so far Wright's 17-8 SB-CS has been counterproductive. I'll stop short of saying he should stop stealing, because of his empirical success and rough start, but it's another worrisome side effect of the Mets' overagressiveness. From 2005-2007, according to EQBRR, Wright contributed in the range of +2-5 runs each year on the basepaths. Last year, however, he registered a -3.24471 mark, good for worst on the team. Worse than Schneider. This season he's experience a modest bounceback at +0.27766, which puts him on base to finish +.74. Given that his basestealing has cost him an entire run, however, Wright seems to be mostly in-line with his career numbers, proving 2008 an aberration. So while 2009 may seem like a big improvement in speed, he's really just the same.
His contact rate (81.3 %) is down due to his increased strikeouts. Interestingly enough, he's swinging less, but make less contact at the pitches he does swing at. Maybe David's taking some pitches he used to drive? It's hard to say, but either way, continued strikeouts won't help his batting crown chances.
So that leaves "spray," a pretty unlikely reason for a ridiculously high BABIP, but worth checking out nonetheless. I made a chart of the distribution of David's hits to each field in 2008, 2009, and for his career and the results are somewhat interesting:
This season he's hit more balls to center. That may suggest an increase in singles as balls hit straight up the middle are harder for infielders to catch but generally don't go for extra-bases as often. Still, this data can't explain away his .484 BABIP and Wright is probably due for a major regression soon. His BABIP may remain generally high, say close to .385, due to park factors in Citi Field, but not where it is now. Hopefully, his 6.3 % HR/FB regresses to his career mean at the same time and we end up with familiar ol' David at the season's end.