I have been thinking quite a bit about David Wright's chances for a strong rebound 2010, and I keep coming back to the same point, so I felt like writing a FanPost. Such is the joy of having a good online community in which to participate. :)
I want to point to a handful of different assessments of David Wright's 2010 from various writers and analysts. I have ranked them from most optimistic to least optimistic; you can quibble with my ordering if you'd like."I have no doubt David is going to have a big bounce back year in 2010… of all of the problems and concerns I have with the Mets coming into 2010, what he does is the least of my concerns, provided he stays healthy." - Michael Baron, MetsBlog.com (http://www.metsblog.com/2010/02/21/note-david-wright-is-much-stronger-this-year/)
"In all likelihood, fans a decade from now will look back at his 10-homer season as a blip on an otherwise fantastic career consisting of many more 30-plus dinger years, and in a few weeks, when live regular-season baseball once again occupies our time and Wright looks like the player of years past, few will even think about what happened last season." - Eric Seidman, BP (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=10141)
"[Wright]'s a terrific player who, if 2009 turns out to be the aberration it appears to be, should return to being one of the best all-around players in baseball." - Eric Simon, (The Truly Amazing) Amazin' Avenue Annual.
"PECOTA expects Wright to rebound, but even if he doesn't hit nearly 30 bombs, check out that batting average and on-base percentage. He'll pick up over 100 runs and RBI easily, and as a 20/20 guy, he has loads of value in all five categories. Evan Longoria is David Wright 2.0, but with fewer steals—that's about the only separation between the two at this stage. Long-term, I would take Longoria's bat over Wright's—he's that good—but for 2010, those steals keep the Met in the lead." - Marc Normandin, BP (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=10111)
"I expect a rebound from Wright, whose problems seemed kind of reminiscent of the aforementioned Bobby Murcer's problems at Shea Stadium -- the park effects got him to think too much, change his swing, with subpar results. Murcer never quite got over it, something he talked about for the rest of his life. Wright has some advantages that Murcer didn't, like easy access to video -- I think he'll bounce back." - Stephen Goldman, BP (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/chat/chat.php?chatId=709)
"Barring any Earth-shattering revelations or limb amputations, I would expect Wright to hit for more power in 2010. Mostly because it seems unlikely he would see his ability to hit for power decay in such an abrupt fashion." - RJ Anderson, FanGraphs (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/david-wrights-power-outage/)
"Wright was a different player and had to rely on luck for his decent final numbers (his .394 batting average on balls in play was easily the best in the majors). He struck out 20 more times than he had the year before and walked 20 fewer times. He hit 39 doubles but managed only 10 homers. He also looked shakier in the field and Bill James Online stats ranked him at the bottom among all major league third basemen, 13 runs worse than average with his glove. In my mind, Wright's decline was just as disconcerting as Reyes's injury. A similar cloud looms over his future, which makes the entire outlook for our team dim indeed." - Dave Studenmund, Amazin' Avenue Annual
"Personally, I doubt I'll be taking David Wright in any drafts this year. Despite all the questions surrounding him (I didn't even mention his eight-point jump in strikeout rate!), he's still being drafted 14th overall according to Mock Draft Central. That just seems too high for me. Even if he changes his approach back to his 2008 style, Citi Field will still prevent him from getting back to his 2007-2008 HR levels, and his strikeout rate (and extremely inflated BABIP) is very worrisome." - Derek Carty, The Hardball Times (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/what-to-make-of-david-wright/)
Informed, intelligent writers and analysts certainly disagree in their appraisals for David Wright. This is another instance where we see that the performance analysis community really does do its best to avoid groupthink. But I think the best appraisal of Wright I've read comes from the comment thread on Seidman's piece, from a commenter named Rowen Bell.
"My takeaway from your research, Eric [Seidman], differs a little from yours. You've demonstrated to my satisfaction that Wright's 2009 power drop has no comparable precedent. It's a black swan. As such, I think we need to be very careful when assessing any forecast of Wright's future at this point.
"Anyone who wants to believe his 2010 PECOTA is certainly free to do so, but should at the same time recognize that there must be a tremendous amount of risk associated with that forecast, since we're treading on fresh powder here."
Rowen Bell hits the nail on the head, I think. First, with the statistical: PECOTA is a statistical model that is based on historical data. When something occurs that fits a previous pattern, the model works really well. Historical data is wonderful in this sense; it usually serves as a great barometer of what to expect in the future.
But sometimes, things happen that are outside the realm of historical norms. In those cases, our models are less than useful, if not entirely useless. The analogy that comes to mind is this piece on the financial crisis (http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-03/wp_quant?currentPage=all). This is something of a truism, but I'll say it anyway: "You can't use historical data to predict the future of something that has never happened before." Extending it a bit, if there is only limited data, you can only have limited confidence in your prediction.
With the qualitative, the same logic holds. Wright clearly was not right last year. The most common explanation for such a poor season--an injury--doesn't really fit, as far as we can tell (if there were some lingering injury besides the concussion that afflicted Wright, I think we would be returning to the realm of the more predictable, but I haven't heard anything to that end).
So we are definitely in unchartered waters with David Wright. Moreover, there are two separate issues, neither of which has been resolved by the analytic community (though possibly by Wright himself or the team without us knowing):
1. What, if anything, caused Wright's decline in 2009?
2. Is what caused Wright's decline in 2009 fixable?
I think before projecting Wright's 2010, we need to answer those two questions. Most of us, myself included, do not have the knowledge, access, experience, or expertise to answer those questions. Ergo, I will refrain from prediction. This is an easy way to avoid being wrong, but I think the issue is deeper than this. At this point, based on our knowledge problem, I think just about any projection of Wright's production is underdetermined.
Wright's performance is one of the threshold requirements for the Mets having a good year--if Wright doesn't have a good year, the Mets probably won't be contending for a playoff spot.
The one piece of data that makes me optimistic: from the All Star Break in 2006 to April 30, 2007, Wright hit .288/.373/.426, which looks a fair bit like the .307/.390/.447 he hit last season. Wright went on to have an MVP season in 2007, hitting an absurd .339/.425/.588 in the season's final 5 months (I refuse to believe that Rollins won the award). The 2006-07 skid was characterized by endless discussions on the effect of the home run derby on his swing, and Wright responded with the best stretch of his already-excellent career. Here's hoping this time is similar.