With another four hits today against the Miami Marlins, New York Mets third baseman David Wright is hitting .402 on the season and has a 2.2 fWAR. Last season, Wright had a 1.9 fWAR over 447 plate appearances; he’s had only 127 this season.
Prior to 2011, Wright was one of the very best offensive third basemen in baseball. From his first season as an everyday player in 2005 until the end of 2010, Wright was second to only Alex Rodriguez among third basemen in fWAR at 34.9. In fact, only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley and Rodriguez were more valuable in all of baseball among position players during that time.
Then last season, despite being in just his age-28 season, Wright fell off a cliff of sorts. He hit .254/.345/.427, which was still good enough for a 118 wRC+, but he played in only 102 games due to injury and was awful defensively by any measure imaginable. In fact, the three seasons since moving to CitiField have been Wright’s worst in the Majors. He was still a well-above average offensive player, but he wasn’t putting up the superstar numbers of his Shea Stadium days.
Still, there was hope heading into this year that Wright would bounce back. The Mets moved the fences in at CitiField, Wright purported to be healthy for the first time in a while, and many of his peripheral numbers seemed to suggest that he would regress toward the player he was pre-2011. His 2011 BABIP was .302, which was right around league average, but he has shown an ability to consistently hit above league average on balls in play with a .344 career mark heading into that year.
Obviously, Wright’s ridiculous .402/.489/.598 slash line and 193 wRC+ are not sustainable, but he’s hitting the ball with far more authority this season, upping his line-drive rate by nearly 10% and he has yet to hit a single infield fly ball. His .451 batted-ball average will normalize, but even when it does, his numbers should remain excellent.
The biggest reason for Wright’s success so far this year, however, is likely the fact that he’s making far more contact. In the three seasons prior to this one, Wright posted strikeout rates of 22.7%, 24.0% and 21.7%, the three highest marks of his career by far. This season, Wright has lowered his K-rate to just 14.2%, which is only slightly lower than his career mark pre-2009. His whiff rate has also dropped significantly.
So, what has prompted this change in Wright? Could it be that the dimensions at CitiField were affecting his approach? Until this year, his swinging strike rate and strikeout rate were much higher than they had previously been when the Mets played at Shea. This year, with the fences moved in, Wright seems to be back to his old self in terms of approach and the results have been more than encouraging. Obviously this is pure speculation, but perhaps Wright was pressing with the fences further back and was trying to trade consistent contact for power.
Obviously, there might still be a small sample size issue here, but things like swing rates tend to normalize quicker than most stats and if a return to his old approach is the reason why he’s finding more success this year, then perhaps we can expect a return to pre-2009 Wright, when he was one of the very best players in the game.