Thursday, June 18, 2009

Weird Wright

Hey, real baseball!

By any reasonable analysis you want to do, David Wright is having the best offensive year of his career. He has (through Tuesday) a career-high 161 OPS+, .430 wOBA, and already has 6 wins above replacement according to BP's WARP3 (which is insane). He's leading the NL with a .365 batting average (40 points over his career high) and a .458 OBP (42 points over his career high), while posting a .526 SLG that's right in line with his career average of .532. He's even stolen 18 bases, second in the NL (though he leads in CS with 8, already a career high in that category, so he's barely breaking even when he runs and probably should go back to being more selective).

The amazing thing you probably already know is this: Wright, who has a career full-season low of 26 HR, is doing all this while having hit just four homers all year. He's on pace to hit 11 all season, or three fewer than he hit in 283 PA as a 22 year old rookie in 2004. He's balancing some of that out with doubles, but he's only on pace for 8 more of those than in '08 (50 total, but he's always hit a lot of doubles), so his Isolated Power is down 70 points from '08; that SLG is being sustained mostly by that astronomical batting average.

Some have written that it's too hard to hit HR in the Mets' new park, so you might think that had something to do with it. Doesn't look like it, though; while overall scoring at Citi is pretty low, it's actually been the fifth most homer-happy park in the Majors so far, and in fact Wright has hit three of his four homers at home.

It gets weirder still. Look at these numbers (lifted straight from FanGraphs):
GB/FB: 0.95 (2008), 0.94 (2009)
LD%: 25.6% (2008), 25.9% (2009)
GB%: 36.2% (2008), 35.9% (2009)
FB%: 38.2% (2008), 38.2% (2009)

So Wright is hitting line drives, grounders and fly balls in almost exactly the same proportions as he did last year. Even fewer of those fly balls (4.6% this year, 7.6% last) are staying in the infield. We'd expect him to be hitting HR at more or less the same rate, even a tiny bit better...but, well, obviously, that ain't happening. You have to assume he's getting unlucky, homer-wise; he has to be hitting the ball pretty hard to maintain that BA, but the ones in the air just aren't carrying quite far enough.

So, we should expect the homers to come around. He's not likely to hit 30 again this year, but it's not unreasonable to expect him to hit 'em at a 30-HR pace from here on out (which would give him a total of about 22 for the season).

But there's a big, huge, flashing neon warning sign for Wright that has nothing to do with his HR power or batted ball types, and this is the incredible part to me: Wright is putting up that huge batting average not only while keeping the ball in the park when he does hit it, but while striking out once per game. He's struck out between 113 and 118 times in each of his four full seasons, but now he's already struck out 61 times in 61 games, which over a full season would top his career high strikeout total by 40+. His walk rate is up very marginally, while his strikeout rate is up by over a third. That's bad.

It's been a while since I've talked about BABIP, so let me just remind you: that sort of thing (a strikeout per game + a .365 BA) just doesn't happen. It varies a little based on the percentages of GB/LD/FB players hit, but when they don't hit a homer or strike out, we expect everybody to have a 30% or so chance of getting a hit (that is, a .300 BABIP). Wright's BABIP right now (well, through Tuesday) is .485. By comparison, Joe Mauer is hitting a ridiculous .429 right now, and his BABIP is "only" .443. Ichiro! is hitting .354, pretty close to Wright's BA, but with a BABIP of .374; he's done it by striking out about 1/3 as often as Wright.

A different perspective: Wright's .485 BABIP leads the #2 (PA-qualified) guy in the majors in that category, Kevin Youkilis, by 76 points. There is no one within 76 points of Wright, and then there are 43 guys within 76 points after Youk. The 2008 leader BABIP'ed .396, 89 points below Wright's '09 number.

So you get the point by now: it's not going to last. Something's got to give--Wright has to start making better contact, or his batting average will start coming way, way down, and then if he doesn't also start hitting home runs (and playing better defense, which is another weird thing I haven't even touched on here), it'll take a huge chunk of his value right down with it.

Wright has had an amazing first 62 games, and is an amazing player. There's really no telling what this guy can do. But I'm pretty confident in this: whatever he does, he'll look like a very, very different player over these last 100 games than he did over the first 62.


  1. Yeah, his BABIP is amazing right now. It almost doesn't even seem possible.

    The very first time I ever encountered BABIP was in one of my old TSN Preview Guides (probably 1999), where it mentioned that Mo Vaughn hit something like .389 when he didn't strike out. Now, that's not precisely BABIP, but it's the closest I ever saw for like 7 or 8 years. I remember it so well because I always thought that that was a fascinating stat about Mo. But for Wright to be hitting .100 points better than that is absurd.

  2. He was on the 'roids, didn't you know, for the first couple seasons, and he isn't now. Oh god, I just got sued, or yelled at, or ridiculed on national television.

  3. I wonder if he did something with those eyebrows, he might not strike out as much?? :)