Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mets Need The Wright Backup At Third Base

David Wright has his fans. Those are the ones who say he's the face of the franchise and can tell you without giving it much thought how many seasons he's had with a .300+ batting average (five, in case you were wondering) and 100+ RBI (also five).

He also has his haters. Those people will point to his declining batting average and his rising strikeout totals, as well as his "aw, shucks" attitude that doesn't inspire his teammates to raise their game to another level.

One thing David Wright doesn't have is sufficient rest during the season. Since he's expected to be a key cog in the not-so-well-oiled machine, it's difficult to give him too many days off during the regular season, but because he's in the lineup day in and day out, his production tends to suffer more than it should.

Since being promoted to the Mets midway through the 2004 season, Wright has had a number of prolonged slumps. Each time after his manager has given him a routine day of rest, he's responded well after his 24-hour respite.

  • In 2005, Wright began his first full season in the major leagues by starting 32 of the team's first 33 games. With David's batting average down to .255, Willie Randolph gave him a day off. After his one-day layoff, Wright went on a tear over his next 14 games, batting .440 (22-for-50) and lashing out nine extra-base hits to the tune of a .700 slugging percentage.

  • In 2007, David Wright had appeared in every game the Mets played in April and May, but was only hitting .271 with 8 HR and 28 RBI. After getting his first full game off on June 1, Wright responded with a bang, hitting .339 over the next 30 games. He also banged out seven home runs and drove in 21 runs over that month-long stretch.

  • In 2008, the Mets could ill afford to give Wright a day off, but when his batting average had dropped to the mid-.280s in early August, Jerry Manuel knew that he had to give his third baseman a day off. After not playing against the Pirates on August 17, Wright caught his breath and regained his batting stroke, hitting .336 over the team's final 38 games. He also scored 31 runs, to go with 10 HR and 29 RBI.

  • In 2010, Wright played in each of the Mets' first 40 games. However, he was only hitting .262 and was striking out at a record-breaking pace (55 Ks in those 40 games). After getting his first day off of the year, Wright came back with a four RBI, no strikeout game. This type of performance continued over his next 37 games. In those 37 games, Wright hit .359, with 16 doubles, six homers and 37 RBI (an average of one RBI per game). More importantly, he cut down on his strikeouts, fanning a total of 35 times over that stretch.

Of course, sometimes it's difficult to find a good day to give Wright a break, especially if his replacement is one you'd rather not see in the lineup. During the first half of the 2010 season, the Mets played Fernando Tatis at the hot corner whenever Wright was given a day off. After Tatis played his final game of the season on July 4, the role of David Wright's backup went to Mike Hessman. Neither player performed at a level that could afford the team more opportunities to rest their starting third baseman, with Tatis hitting .185 in 65 at-bats and Hessman hitting a paltry .127 in 55 at-bats. It almost made fans long for the days when Chris Woodward and Julio Franco were backing up David Wright.

If David Wright is going to continue to be one of the key components in the lineup, the Mets must find a backup who will not be an automatic out whenever he gets a spot start. Finding that type of player will allow them to give Wright a day off here and there before he goes into those extended slumps. It can also give them a player they can use as trade bait or perhaps a player who can become a starter at another position (a la Angel Pagan, who filled in nicely for Carlos Beltran in 2009 and 2010 and is now an everyday outfielder even with Beltran back in the mix).

Right now, the Mets' 40-man roster doesn't have too many options for the backup role to David Wright. Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus can play some third, but he is mostly a second baseman. Zach Lutz had a promising season in 2010, but that was in AA ball. The only player on the Mets' 40-man roster with major league experience who has played third base before is Daniel Murphy, who played 196 games at the hot corner in 2007 and 2008 while in the minor leagues. Perhaps Sandy Alderson can made a trade for a capable backup infielder. If not, then there's always the free agent route, but there aren't too many reasonable options there (Andy LaRoche, Hank Blalock and Nick Punto, to name a few).

David Wright turned 28 last week. He is now firmly entrenched as one of the veterans on the team. However, if he's going to be counted on to be one of the offensive leaders on the team, he has to be given regular rest in order to fully take advantage of the production he's capable of. Having a roster spot taken up by the likes of Mike Hessman was not the answer in 2010 and having a Hessman-like player in 2011 will not be acceptable.

Simply stated, the Mets must have a productive backup for David Wright on the roster. They have to give him more days of rest during the season, especially when (or better yet, before) he's on one of his "ten strikeouts in six games" streaks. If they don't, Wright's production will continue to suffer as will the Mets' position in the NL East standings. And considering where the Mets have found themselves in the standings over the past two seasons, that's a little too much suffering than any fanbase needs.

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