Monday, November 7, 2011

David Wright Hasn't Been The Same Since Matt Cain

Ever since Shea Stadium closed its doors for the final time in 2008, David Wright has not been the same player.  At least that's what I hear from many Mets fans.  Although I do think the move from Shea Stadium to Citi Field has hurt Wright's power stroke, I don't think the ballpark is to blame for his overall decline at the plate from All-Star hitter to strikeout-prone former slugger.

As a matter of fact, I believe I can pinpoint the exact moment David Wright went from a hitter that was always among the league leaders in batting average to the current player that's become so divisive among Mets fans.  It all began on August 15, 2009, when Wright wore a blue and orange target for Matt Cain's head-seeking missile.

This is where the poop started hitting the fan for David Wright.

The 2009 season was difficult for fans and players alike.  The Mets were coming off four consecutive winning seasons, although they had fallen one win short of the playoffs in each of the previous two campaigns.  Still, one couldn't hope but think that the 2009 season would be different, especially with the Mets moving into a new ballpark.  Then the season began and the DL Hotel opened for business.

Within a short period of time, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran all went on the disabled list.  Reyes didn't play again in 2009.  Delgado didn't play again...ever.  Beltran came back late in the season, but was a shell of his former self.  While Reyes, Delgado and Beltran were on the sidelines, David Wright was forced to become the main offensive threat in the lineup.

Wright was not hitting home runs in 2009 the way he had in the past, but then again, no Met was.  However, Wright was getting on base.  A lot.  And it didn't stop when his teammates started dropping like flies.

Ouch.                    Ouch.                    Ouch.

Carlos Delgado played his last game as a Met on May 10, 2009.  At the time, his hip injury was not deemed to be serious, and he was listed as day-to-day.  Jose Reyes played his final game of the season ten days later after he aggravated a calf injury.  Carlos Beltran was forced out of the lineup with a knee injury after playing on June 21, 2009.  He spent the next two and a half months on the disabled list.

David Wright was hitting fifth in the lineup prior to Delgado's injury.  The first baseman's trip to the disabled list forced Wright to move into the cleanup spot for a number of games (sharing the spot with Gary Sheffield), where he thrived.

Before May 10, Wright was hitting .304 and had an on-base percentage of .391, both excellent numbers and on par with his career averages (.309/.389 through the 2008 season).  But with one less offensive weapon in the lineup (two if you count Reyes, who was disabled shortly after Delgado), Wright reached base at a frenetic pace.  In the 36 games between the injuries to Delgado and Beltran, Wright batted .387 and reached base at a robust .472 clip.  In the 49 games following Beltran's last game, Wright's batting average slipped to .287, but his .384 on-base percentage was still quite respectable.

That brings us to August 15, 2009.  In the fourth inning of a nationally televised game, David Wright was felled by a 93 MPH fastball delivered by the Giants' Matt Cain.  As a result, Wright suffered a concussion and was placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.  When he returned to the lineup on September 1, Wright was a completely different player.

I spy with my little eye ... nothing ... probably because I have a concussion.

From September 1 to season's end, Wright played in 29 games, batting .239 with a .289 on-base percentage.  More importantly, he struck out a whopping 35 times while drawing only nine walks.  Prior to his concussion, Wright had played in 115 games, striking out 105 times and taking 65 bases on balls.

Let's look at Wright's strikeout totals from year to year prior to his close encounter with Matt Cain's heater, beginning with his first full season in 2005 and including his 2009 season totals up to August 15.  In addition, let's also consider his batting average and on-base percentage:

  • 2005: 160 games played, .306/.388, 113 strikeouts
  • 2006: 154 games played, .311/.381, 113 strikeouts
  • 2007: 160 games played, .325/.416, 115 strikeouts
  • 2008: 160 games played, .302/.390, 118 strikeouts
  • 2009: 115 games played, .324/.414, 105 strikeouts

Even though his power was dampened by Citi Field in 2009, Wright's other numbers were very consistent and in line with his career averages.  He also averaged fewer than one strikeout per game in every season prior to August 15, 2009.

Now let's look at what Wright has done since returning from the disabled list on September 1, 2009.  The numbers aren't pretty:

  • 2009: 29 games played, .239/.289, 35 strikeouts
  • 2010: 157 games played, .283/.354, 161 strikeouts
  • 2011: 102 games played, .254/.345, 97 strikeouts

Before his concussion, Wright played in a total of 818 games (he appeared in 69 games for the Mets in 2004) and had a .311/.392 cumulative split in batting average and on-base percentage.  He also struck out a total of 604 times over those 818 games.  Post-concussion, Wright's numbers have taken a hit across the board.  The third baseman has batted .268 since September 1, 2009, while reaching base at a .344 clip.  He has also averaged over a strikeout per game, fanning a total of 293 times in 288 games.

Looks like Matt Cain's head-seeking missile has caused David Wright to fear approaching baseballs.  (Notice how he's running away in fear of the baseball to the right of his right foot.)

The Mets are moving in the fences at Citi Field in the hopes that players like Jason Bay and David Wright can hit for more power.  But the power isn't the only thing that's been missing from David Wright's game.

Since August 15, 2009, everything has changed for David Wright at the plate.  Even without the homers (although he did recover to hit 29 HR in 2010), Wright has been getting fewer hits, while striking out more and drawing fewer walks, giving the team no indication that he's figured out how to become the player he once was.

Regardless of what many people might believe, the dimensions at Citi Field haven't had as much of an impact on David Wright's game as has been publicized.  His batting average and on-base percentage was very consistent with his career averages over the first four months of the 2009 season, even without Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado in the lineup and with Wright playing half of his games at cavernous Citi Field. 

Citi Field isn't the problem.  It's what happened at Citi Field on the afternoon of August 15, 2009.

Concussions are no joke.  A person with a traumatic brain injury (i.e. a concussion) can suffer long-term effects to his health.  This can include difficulty in concentration and a slower reaction to stimuli.  Usually, once a pitch leaves the pitcher's hand, a hitter only has about four-tenths of a second to judge what type of pitch he's seeing, where that pitch is going and whether or not he's going to swing at it.  That's not much time to make an educated decision and it's certainly not much time for a person who's suffered from a concussion.

Although David Wright might be loath to admit it, his career has taken a downward turn since he was introduced to Matt Cain's fastball in 2009.  It's amazing what a concussion can do to a promising player's career.

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