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Getting a Grip on David Wright's Immediate Future

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All the New York Mets know about David Wright is that he should be their starting third baseman for Opening Day in 2012.

After that, who knows?

In case you missed it, ESPN's Buster Olney recently mulled over the future prospects of our star third baseman (subscription required) for this season and beyond. He lays out three paths for Wright -- a longterm extension that buys out his 2013 option, the wait-and-see-until-after-2013 approach that recently worked oh-so-well with Jose Reyes, or a trade either at the July deadline or after Wright's 2013 option is picked up -- after advocating the third way himself. It's not exactly groundbreaking stuff; Olney briefly assesses Wright's current status with the Mets in a fair manner that's unbecoming of a certain lazy national baseball writer at Yahoo Sports.

Olney then offers three assessments from various talent evaluators on Wright's standing these days, and it's the appraisal of the AL scout that caught my eye.

The first two talent evaluators from Olney's post project Wright as a very-good-but-inconsistent player and a potentially poorer investment than the sometimes fragile Aramis Ramirez. (Fragile enough to make my fantasy baseball roster suffer, anyway.) Their straightforward reviews are sound enough for folks outside the Metsopotamia fishbowl, if only because we've heard them a hundred times before.

Then Olney cites a scout calling for a jolt of optimism. Read for yourself:

From an AL scout: "David Wright is a potential coup. He's eerily similar in value to the Seattle version of Adrian Beltre, although he (and everyone else in baseball) is not the defender that Beltre is. He and Beltre both were suffocated by their home parks, Citi Field and Safeco Field, respectively. Teams should have pounced and offered Beltre a premium multi-year deal when he left Seattle originally. If available, I'd trade and sign Wright now. Another caveat with Wright is that he's performed and handled himself admirably in New York, which bodes well for any type of market going forward."

It's an interesting comparison, if imperfect. Wright's flashed a little more power and walks almost twice as much as the more free-swinging Beltre, but his strikeout rate since moving to Citi Field in 2009 is at 22.9% (which is basically dangerous territory for anyone aspiring to be an MLB superstar). By comparison, Beltre's never posted a seasonal strikeout percentage higher than 17.3% in his career. And let's go ahead and dismiss any notion that Wright might follow Beltre's lead with a contract year bump in his performance, since we all should know better.

While the two right-handed hitters might not match talents to perfection, there is a disparity in their defensive abilities as the AL scout suggests. Allowing for Wright's busier workload with more plays at the hot corner in fewer seasons (which may be due in part to an abundance of southpaws on the Mets over the past few seasons), Beltre's defense still saves runs while Wright's tactics concede them. Giving you the numbers to compare is cruel, so instead I wanted to show an interesting note from Wright's UZR numbers:

Year Inn DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
2004 603.2 -1.2 6.6 -2.3 3.2 6.6
2005 1404.1 -0.8 -2.9 -1.7 -5.4 -4.9
2006 1365.1 -0.2 -6.3 0.4 -6.2 -6.3
2007 1418.1 -0.3 7.1 -0.5 6.3 6.3
2008 1433.1 -0.7 5.1 0.7 5.1 5.2
2009 1232 -1.1 -7.9 -1.1 -10 -12.2
2010 1373 -0.7 -10.8 0.9 -10.6 -9.5
2011 893.2 -0.7 -4.8 -5 -10.5 -16.4
Total 9723.2 -5.6 -13.9 -8.5 -28.1 -4

UZR/150 needs a big, fat sample size to be worthwhile. One season of UZR is barely a minimum; three seasons or more is better. And eras like, say, the years coinciding with a change in your home ballpark...

Home Inn DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
Shea Stadium 6223.6 -3.2 9.6 -3.4 3 6.9
Citi Field 3498.2 -2.5 -23.5 -5.2 -31.1 -38.1

...might leave you wondering: What the hell is in the water supply at Citi Field? Did they forget to calibrate their machines from the deeply-negative factory default settings? Is the locker room air damaging his glove and cleats?

Wright's spike in strikeouts has hurt him at the plate, but his complete loss of any defensive ability at third base has rendered him an average Major League Baseball player at best these days. It's doubly frustrating as he's still at an age where he can right the ship, presuming the ship's path should echo his formative years at Shea Stadium rather than his troublesome ones at Citi Field -- and that Wright's performance on the road matches that which occurs at home.

UZR's a tricky beast, because its reliability varies from season to season and it likely overestimates the player's true ability through faulty calculations under the stat's hood. But it is telling us something about David Wright, and that something is leaving me more in doubt about the future of the latest-and-greatest longest tenure Met. Not because I'm giving up on him, but because I legitimately have zero clue about what expectations to ask of him going forward.