Is David Wright Still an Elite Third Baseman?
As a lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, I have always had a special place of frustration in my heart with David Wright.
You see, Wright is a Phillie killer. In 173 career games against the Phils, Wright has hit .285/.352/.507 with 33 career homers, 45 doubles, 118 runs batted in, and 101 runs scored. I can remember game after game in which David Wright would come to the plate in a crucial situation and kill the Phillies until they were dead from it.
He has caused me great pain, this David Wright.
But even a grizzled Phils fan like myself recognizes that he was one of the two or three best third basemen in all of baseball for a long period of time, a two-time Gold Glove winner, two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, seven-time All-Star, and a player who has finished in the top 10 of MVP voting four times in his career.
But over the last few years, we've seen a player who has had a hard time staying healthy. In 2011, he played in just 102 games due to injuries. He managed only 112 games in 2013 and just 134 last year. And it was in that injury-shortened 2014 when Wright had the worst season of his career, with a .269 batting average, a .324 on-base percentage, and a .374 slugging percentage, with 8 home runs and 63 runs batted in. He suffered a shoulder injury midway through the season, and his nERD of -0.15 -- meaning a lineup full of David Wrights would generate 0.15 runs a game fewer than a league-average hitter -- was 217th in all of baseball.
To top it off, he managed an fWAR of only 1.9, far below the 6.0 and 7.5 he had put up the two years prior.
However, even though Wright had been bitten by the injury bug a few times the last couple years, he had still been extremely productive.
Last year was a different story. His production fell off a cliff. His .269 batting average the second-lowest of his career, his 8 homers were the fewest he'd ever hit in a season, and his 1.9 fWAR the lowest since another injury-shortened season in 2011.
Wright injured his shoulder back on June 12, and it would be easy to blame his lack of success on that injury. However, in the 66 games leading up to the game in which he hurt his shoulder, Wright was hitting just .270/.329/.365 with 4 home runs and an OPS of .694. In the 68 games that followed, he hit .268/.319/.383 with 4 homers and a .702 OPS.
In other words, it doesn't appear as if the shoulder made much of a difference.
Some of his issues could be related to the park in which he plays.
Citi Field has a reputation for being tough on hitters, and it certainly seems to have sapped some of Wright's home run ability. At Shea Stadium, Wright homered in 4.7% of his plate appearances, while at Citi Field, that number is down to 2.7%.
What could help Wright is that, for 2015, the Mets have moved in portions of Citi Field's center and right-center field walls, with the distances anywhere from three to 11 feet closer to the plate in various places. Wright is a right-handed hitter who hits many of his fly balls to the right side of the diamond, as seen in his batted ball spray chart from Fangraphs, which covers 2012-2014.
Moving in the right and right-center field fences at Citi Field should add to his homer total, but will it be enough to totally rejuvenate Wright's lost power game?
Keep in mind that Wright is the highest-paid third baseman in baseball, signed for another six years at $20 million a season through 2018 -- then $15 million in '19 and $12 million in 2020. He's being paid as if he's the best third baseman in the game, but last year, he ranked 19th in fWAR among all Major League third basemen, tied for 21st in homers (with Matt Carpenter, not a noted power guy), 20th in wOBA, and 21st in OPS.
Wright also walked at a rate (7.2%) far below his career average (10.9%) and struck out (19.3%) at a slightly higher rate than his career average (18.4%). His Isolated Power (ISO) was a career-worst .105, which placed him tied for 117th in baseball with Billy Hamilton.
If you believe that much of Wright's problems last year were injury-related, then there is reason for optimism. But even though Wright is still just 32, he is entering the stage of his career in which players can start to decline.
I'd hate to count David Wright out in 2015 because he is an immense talent. But there are a lot of red flags, and if Wright wants to be thought of as an All-Star caliber player again, he's going to have to turn around a brutal 2014 season, and I'm not convinced his power is going to come back.
But if it does, then please, take a couple days off against the Phillies this season, m'kay Dave?