Barring something unforeseen, David Wright will see his name atop virtually every offensive category for the Mets when he hangs up his spikes. However, the 31-year-old's career has now come to a crossroads courtesy of a ballpark ill-suited to his strengths, mounting injuries and a career-worst season in 2014. For someone who was universally praised as everything a general manager would want in a player—on the field and off of it—Wright has gone from future a Hall-of-Famer to a question mark entering 2015.
Much has been made of the nagging shoulder injury Wright first sustained back in early June and how that affected his swing, approach, and overall play. Originally diagnosed as a bruised left rotator cuff, Wright appeared in each of New York's first 79 games before missing seven games between June 26 and July 5 with shoulder discomfort. A cortisone shot over the All-Star break would carry Wright through July and August, but a second MRI ultimately convinced the Mets and Wright to end his season on September 9.
Considering most players of Wright's stature don't simply deteriorate to such an extent overnight, many point to his shoulder as being the prime reason he hit just .269/.324/.374 with eight home runs in 586 plate appearances last season. His OPS of .698 was 190 points lower than his career average of .888 heading into 2014. He would end the year with a 100 wRC+, yet another career low. However, a deeper look inside the numbers shows a fairly alarming consistency in Wright's season before and after he suffered his shoulder injury.
Interestingly, Wright's hottest stretch of the season came just before the All-Star break, not long after he injured his shoulder. After enduring an almost unfathomable 2-for-49 skid from June 3 through June 15, Wright hit a scorching .375/.418./.681 with four homers over a 19-game stretch to close out the first half. Unfortunately for Wright and the Mets, it would be his last significant hot streak of 2014. He would hit just .238 in 46 second-half games with no home runs and only 15 RBI, bottoming out in August when he batted .232/.283/.242.
Two weeks after being shut down for the season, Wright opened up about his injured shoulder, telling reporters that the second MRI showed stretched and damaged ligaments which were causing instability in his left shoulder. A six-week program of rehab and rest was prescribed, the conclusion of which will show if he ultimately will need surgery. Obviously the worst case scenario, an operation on Wright's shoulder could knock him out of action for more than three months, bringing his recovery time to the edge of spring training in February.
So what really happened to Wright in 2014? After hearing the full extent of his injury, it stands to reason the continued instability in his shoulder played a part in his struggles from June onward. But that doesn't explain it all. After homering on Opening Day, Wright did not hit another long ball until May 10, a span of 34 games. Although below his career average, he enjoyed a relatively healthy .325 BABIP and owned a line-drive rate of 23.4 percent, leading to a conclusion of bad luck being involved. Wright continued to rip left-handers in 2014, to the tune of .367/.412/.508 but his struggles against right-handed pitching (.241/.299/.335) helped to sabotage his final numbers.
With only eight home runs, Wright's HR/FB% was understandably low at 5.1%, the worst mark of his career by a wide margin. Although much goes on within the mechanics of a player's swing, not to mention his head, it was fairly obvious to the naked eye that Wright had significant trouble catching up to fastballs in 2014. The numbers bear this out. With the obvious caveat that Wright struggled across the board last season, FanGraphs.com shows his runs above average against fastballs was actually negative at -7.4 in 2014, the only time he has carried such a value against the heater in his career. His inability to drive the ball from the first day of the season was an alarming trend that only worsened with his shoulder injury.
This might explain why Wright's percentage of fly balls hit to right field in 2014 was high at 63.8 percent, none of which reached the other side of the fence. On the flip side, Wright's percentage of fly balls hit to left field was just 15.3 percent. As seen below, too many of Wright's fly balls hit to the opposite field were towards the right field corner, showing an obvious lack of drive and power behind them.
In addition to his problems with right-handers, several key figures stand out when looking at Wright's 2014 struggles. After seeing his strikeout rate normalize after a significant spike from 2009-2011, it jumped back up to 19.3% in 2014. In addition, his walk rate plummeted to 7.2%, the first time he had walked in less than 10% of his plate appearances since his rookie year in 2004. Together the numbers conspired to drag his walk-to-strikeout ratio down to 0.37, a drop of 33 points from 2013.
Wright's offense was not the only part of his game that took a dip. His UZR/150, a career-high +17 in 2012, dipped down to +1.4 though he was +13 under DRS. He also stole just eight bases and grounded into a career-high 22 double plays. Add it all up and you get a player with a fWAR of just 1.9, the second-lowest of his career (1.7 in 2011).
Wright may no longer be capable of being the 8.4 fWAR player he was back in 2007, but with a salary of $20 million next season and $107 million still to come over the next six years, the Mets certainly need him to look more like the 6 fWAR player he was as recently as 2012 if they hope to compete.
Desired 2015 role: Starting third baseman and star player who is the driving force behind the club's hopeful leap to contention.
Projected 2015 role: An All-Star who is still among the best third baseman and one of the top 15 players in the majors.