Is David Wright Back to His Old Self?

New York's long-time third baseman is off to a solid start in 2016, but will it continue?

The last two seasons for David Wright have kind of been a nightmare.

Gone was the man who had made seven All Star teams, won two Silver Slugger awards and two Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 of the NL MVP voting four times. In its place was a player suffering from spinal stenosis, a back condition that limited him to 112 games in 2013, 134 games in 2014 and just 38 games last year. Wright went from being a six-win player in '13, even though he only played 112 games, to a 1.8 fWAR player in '14 and 0.9 fWAR last season.

The questions were fair. Was David Wright done as an elite third baseman? Would his back allow him the ability to practice, hit in the batting cages, and hold up physically over the rigors of a full season? Would he able to be productive, or was his career largely over?

So far in 2016, the returns are promising.

On Monday night in Philadelphia, Wright turned in his best game in perhaps two seasons, hitting two homers, both to the opposite field, and made a fine bare-handed defensive play in the Mets' 5-2 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia.

And while we're still very early in the season, Wright's 2016 numbers are encouraging. He's slashing .289/.426/.526 in 47 plate appearances, with 2 homers, 3 doubles and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 163. His isolated power of .237 is the highest of his career, but again, it is still very early and we're dealing with a small sample size here.

Wright also stole two bases in a game against the Kansas City Royals in the Mets' opening series of the season, perhaps an indication his back is feeling pretty good.

Also encouraging were the locations of Wright's two home runs against the Phils on Monday. Wright used to have solid power to all fields and would routinely hit balls out the opposite way.  Check out his spray chart for 2012. There you'll see nine of his 21 homers were hit to either center or right field. Now, look at 2014, when he was suffering from his back injury. He hit only nine homers all season and all of them were pulled to left field.

Wright's plate discipline numbers are interesting, and based on them, it's hard to see which direction his 2016 season is going to go.

Year O-Swing % Z-Swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact % Contact % SwStr %
2016 16.7 67.7 29.4 76.2 66.3 13.3
Career 23.0 67.5 64.5 88.4 82.1 7.8

Wright is swinging and missing a lot more this year, which is why his K-rate is up. However, he's also chasing fewer balls out of the zone.

His O-Swing %, which is the number of pitches outside the zone he swings at, is 16.7% this year, lower than his career mark of 23.0%. He's offering at fewer balls out of the zone. But when he does swing at balls out of the zone, he's making contact with them at a far less frequent rate, just 29.4% of the time this year. In his career, he's made contact 64.5% of the time he's swung at balls out of the zone. He's also making less contact on balls in the strike zone. His Z-contact rate is 76.2% this year, far below his career 88.4%. 

Based on those numbers, his overall contact rate of 66.3% is much lower than his career 82.1%, and he's swung and missed at 13.3% of all pitches he's seen this year, by far the highest of his career.

He's offering at fewer pitches outside the strike zone which is good. And making less contact with those pitches is probably good, too. After all, you're unlikely to hit the ball hard if the pitch is not a strike. But he's not connecting on pitches in the zone either, which could make him vulnerable.

Overall, it's too early to say if Wright is "back." He's shown flashes this year of returning to his old self, notching at least one hit in eight of 10 games this season. And his multi-homer game against the Phils was certainly a good sign, too. But back injuries are hardly every cooperative, and all those whiffs are a bit worrisome as well.