I've seen a lot of speculation around here about why David Wright is putting up higher than normal strikeout totals. Some suggest he can't hit sliders away, while others suggest it is his inability to hit an inside curveball due to a "bailing out" reflex. I decided to analyze Wright's pitch recognition for the four main pitches (four seam fastball, curve, slider, and changeup) to see if i could decipher any sort of trend.
I'll begin with the dreaded slider which many believe Wright has a problem hitting when low and away. While many have stated that Wright is lunging at the low and away slider outside the zone, this chart clearly shows that he takes a lot of sliders low and away with no swing. If anything, this pitch has likely contributed to his high walk totals, as he seems very content to keep the bat on his shoulders with sliders outside of the zone. On the other hand, there are a lot of sliders scattered throughout the strike zone which Wright makes no attempt to swing at. Many of these are likely sliders that begin outside of the zone and cut back towards the plate. These may be some of the pitches we see Dubs have the perceived flinching reflex. It is possible that he's having difficulty determining if the pitch will break or not, and errs on the side of caution.
On the other side of the coin, most of the sliders Wright swings at ( with one or two exceptions such as the point (-1.5,-3)) are in the zone. This helps confirm along with the data above that Wright isn't swinging at bad sliders very often. Given the rather obvious observation that Wright is lunging at sliders which we perceive to be out of the strike zone, it is likely Wright is standing too far back in the batters box, making it difficult to reach the outer half of the plate. That being said, Wright has a whiff % of 12.3% for sliders in general, which is actually not the worst percentage among pitch types for Dubs, mostly due to his ability to not swing at so many sliders outside of the zone.
One thing really jumps off the page at me when I look at the plot of fastballs taken by Wright. He takes a very high percentage of fastballs on the outside corner of the plate. Most of the other fastballs Wright takes are outside of the strike zone, but there is a concentrated region in the outer corner of the plate he rarely seems to swing at. It is possible that Wright has realized he can't differentiate a slider and a fastball on the outside corner, and is taking more fastballs because he is guessing slider and thinking the ball will tail out of the strike zone. This may help to explain some of Wrights elevated strike out rate. Pitchers may be setting him up with a slider outside and then throwing a fastball to the same location without the break. This means pitchers with a decent slider who can hit the outside corner of the plate can basically get a free strike out of David with a pretty high probability.
The distribution of fastballs swung at by Wright is pretty unsurprising. He swings at fastballs in the zone or just slightly inside. He does seem to have some love for the high fastball, but what player with a bit of pop isn't enticed by the high fastball. I doubt that the high swings on the fastball are anything to get worked up about. The only thing to note here is he literally has not swung at any fastballs in the lower right corner of the zone. Wrights whiff rate on fastballs is a full 14.4%,. a pretty high number, but still not the worst of his pitches.
David tends to take curveballs on the inner half of the plate. This again demonstrates the perceived bailout effect on inside curveballs. Given that Wright used to feast on curveballs, this is somewhat noteworthy that he is now giving up on half of the plate when one is thrown. Whether this is a result of his concussion incident last year, or if it is just an inability to differentiate a curveball which will drop back into the zone from a high changeup it is impossible to say, but it is interesting that he is not swinging at many inside curveballs.
This figure makes it more obvious still that Wright does not swing at inside curveballs. The exception to this seems to be low curves. I believe this is caused by one of two factors. Either he is less likely to flinch away from a curveball that starts lower than his head, or he is mistaking the curve for a changeup and therefore swinging at pitches he expects to be in the zone, which are then dropping out. Wright seems to swing at a lot of low and low/outside curveballs which are nowhere near the zone, again suggesting that he is having difficulty determining pitch type at that part of the plate. Wright whiffs on curveballs only 8.7% of the time, so even though he has a tendency to swing at poor changeups, he still makes contact at a decent rate.
Wright seems to almost never take a changeup in the strike zone. It seems he is looking for the changeup as his pitch to drive, and swings at it whenever he sees it in the zone.
Again we see Wright swinging at pitches well below the strike zone. He seems especially likely to swing at very low curveballs down the middle or inside off the plate. He doesn't swing at a changeup above the waist much (small sample size, i know), so while he likes the high fastball, he doesn't like the slower variant in the same spot. Surprisingly, Wright whiffs on the changeup more than any other pitch, 16.2% of the time. I found this to be rather unexpected given that this pitch has gone pretty much ignored in the conversation about Wrights difficulties this season.
This data suggests that Wright does not actually directly struggle with the slider on the lower/outside corner as previously speculated. It seems more likely this pitch is priming Wright to not swing at the four-seam fastball on the outer corner of the plate. On the plus side, he is not flailing wildly at fastballs outside the strike zone. Furthermore, Wright almost never swings at curveballs on the inner half of the plate, except for curves which are well below the strike zone which he seems to swing at frequently whether they are inside or outside. Finally Wright almost always swings at changeups in the middle of the zone, but also frequently swings at changes in the dirt. He also tends to swing and miss on the changeup more often than any other pitch. Overall Wright is giving up a lot of strikes by not swinging at good pitches, as well as swinging at low offspeed pitches. From this data I speculate that Wright is having difficulty differentiating the fastball and the slider on the outer half of the plate, as well as possibly the changeup and the fastball in the bottom of the strike zone. This causes him to not swing at fastballs in the outer corner, believing them to be sliders which will break outside, and to swing over changeups which drop out of the zone instead of crossing where the fastball should have. Clearly both of these hypothesis are purely speculative since I can't get inside Davids head, but based on limited data I find the graphs do show an interesting relationship between their location and his tendency to swing or not swing.
To Wright's credit, he has adapted to his difficulty recognizing these pitch types by taking a lot more pitches. He waits for a pitch to drive and if he doesn't see what he's looking for he'll accumulate balls and strikes until he is forced to protect the plate. He can still hit a ball in the zone a ton when he swings at it, but he is swinging less than he has in any other season to date (42.1%) and swinging at fewer pitches in the zone (64.0%, lowest of career) while swinging at more outside of the zone (25.4% highest of career). I find it hard to say anything bad about David as he's one of my favorite players, and the numbers he's putting up this year are very impressive, even if its not the exact distribution of numbers we are accustomed to. However we should all realize there are some peculiarities about Wright's pitch selection which make him more vulnerable to strikeouts. Perhaps this is the new Wright, perhaps it's just an aberration due to his Hojofication. Either way, Wright is having a great season at the plate despite his difficulties, and I hope that continues until he figures out how to better recognize these pitches again.