Baseball is a funny sport. Less than a month ago I wrote a piece about David Wright. At the time he was struggling mightily. Pitchers were getting to two strikes on David over 60% of the time and he had a swinging strike rate of almost 12%. Fans were frustrated, wondering what had happened to the All Star third baseman who appeared to be on a path to the Hall of Fame from 2007-2008. There were many articles and many, many tweets written with some people going as far as to suggest that the Mets should trade David.
Ever since I wrote my article, most of David’s numbers have returned to a level close to where we expect them to be. The percentage of plate appearances where pitchers get him in a two strike count is down to 54% for the season. His swinging strike rate has steadily decreased as he has swung through only 8.1% of pitches since May 20th (and only 7.6% of pitches since May 25th.) (Note: All images are from Bloomberg Sports. Go check out their website here)
His 7.6% rate over the last few weeks is below his final 2009 swinging strike rate of 8.2% (which did increase slightly after he came back from being hit in the head) and is pretty close to his 2007 (7%) and 2008 (7.2%) rates. In turn his strikeout rate for the season has dropped from about 32% to 28% as he has only struck out in 21.4% of his at bats in June. While this is still a higher rate than his 2007-2008 rates (both right around 16%) it is definitely a good sign.
Wright’s contact rate has increased to 82% in June after sitting at 73% in May. This is, once again, close to his 2007 (83.2%) and 2008 (83.5%) numbers.
All of these indicators are moving in the right direction and that has paid off greatly as David has posted fantastic numbers in June. After slumping to the tune of a .756 OPS in May Wright is currently posting an OPS of 1.158 in June. He has already matched his 4 HRs from May and has exceeded his May RBI total (18) in about half as many plate appearances. David now leads the National League with 53 RBI. I read a tweet today asking whether it was too late in the season for Wright to get back into the MVP race. Would you have predicted that one month ago?
I believe that, when he's slumping, Wright gets treated unfairly for a number of reasons. Mets fans were somewhat spoiled by his immediate success in the big leagues and when his 2009 season didn’t live up to expectations we got antsy. Wright definitely struggled in May and his swing looked ugly. Even so I believe that Wright’s struggles were overstated for a number of reasons.
- Walk rate – even when he’s struggling for hits Wright generally will manage to get on base by walking. This ability is underrated by many fans but is extremely important and is what separates a slump by a guy like David Wright from a slump by a guy like Jeff Francoeur (who basically becomes an automatic out when he is having trouble swinging the bat.) The only negative I can see in Wright's recent hot streak is that he hasn't been walking but when you are getting on base almost half the time it's hardly worth complaining about.
- Strike outs – Wright was striking out in almost a third of his at bats and while this is bad it was already reflected in his other statistics. Strikeouts are one of the most important stats for pitchers because they have very little control over anything else. Strikeouts do cost batters the opportunity to get a hit by putting the ball in play but these missed opportunities are already included when you look at the player’s batting line.
- Strikeouts do prevent the batter from making ‘productive outs’ but the impact of productive outs is overstated. In a way looking at strikeout rate in addition to the player’s batting line is penalizing them twice for their strikeouts. Overall strikeouts are overrated and when combined with the underrating of walks can really hurt the perception of a batter like David Wright.
- Expectations – In addition to Mets fans expectations of Wright, they have high expectations for the team. The team was not playing well in May and fans were looking for explanations. The face of the franchise was struggling and was a natural target. It’s not fair – but it happens. Now that both Wright and the Mets are hot we are seeing the exact opposite. While Wright has been good it's a little early to start thinking about the MVP race.
I hope everyone learns from this. Things are never as bad as they appear to be when they are going badly (just as they are never as good as they appear to be when they are going well.) Wright has proven that he is a great player but even great players have slumps. Wright can’t carry the team on his own (but I’m not sure any batter can) and he also isn’t solely responsible when they are not scoring. This is something to keep in mind next time Wright and the Mets start slumping.