The price is Wright

Recently, someone in one of my fantasy leagues proclaimed that he felt David Wright was overrated*. His claim was that Wright never returned his draft day value, that he never lived up to expectations, that he is a perpetual injury risk, and that he was not worthy of a top 10, let alone first round, pick.

*This statement was made amidst trade talks, so perhaps the comments need to be taken with a grain of salt in light of the inevitable “all my players are awesome, while all of yours have some marked flaw” back-and-forth that predicates trading.

Naturally, I dismissed these claims as outrageous, but in trying to trade Wright at various points this season, I have perpetually encountered concern about his production potential and value as a real life and fantasy asset. It leads to me wonder whether Wright is being undervalued, or whether I have put the man who has been on each of my squads since I began playing fantasy on a nostalgic pedestal.

The first thing one might notice upon glancing at Wright’s player stats page is his 162-game average pace numbers: 27 home runs, 22 stolen bases (to six caught stealing, for a 78.6 percent success rate), 103 runs, 107 RBI, .303/.382/.513 (.895 OPS, .386 wOBA, 137 wRC+).

While Wright has never played 162 games in a season, he did average 155.8 games between 2005 (his first full season as the Mets’ starting third basemen) and 2010, including his concussion-shortened 2009 season (144 games played). From 2005 to 2010, Wright thrice played 160 games, appearing in 154 of the Mets’ contests in each season other than 2009. In fact, Wright’s first disabled list stint came in 2009, after he was beaned in the head by a 94 mph Matt Cain fastball—something you can hardly call a “chronic” health issue. Back problems are always a worry, but this is the first time Wright has had one, and his disabled list stint this year was only the second of his career.

So much for being a perpetual injury risk.

And what about his production? Is it overrated? Wright has exceeded the 162-game pace noted above only once in his career, in his 2007 30/30 campaign, but has produced at an elite level each season of his career.

Between 2005 and 2010, Wright hit fewer than 26 home runs only once—in 2009—and he stole 15 or more bases each of those six seasons. His career low batting average entering this season was .283, while it was only once under .300 before 2010, when he posted a .293 batting average in his inaugural season (2004).

In terms of Wright’s relative value, among the 128 players to accrue enough plate appearances between 2005 and 2010 to qualify for at least one batting title, Wright’s value over the average player value ranks fifth overall, with a 5.70 Z-Score. Only six players had a Z-Score of five or higher, and the four guys ranked ahead of Wright—Albert Pujols (8.91), Alex Rodriguez (6.72), Miguel Cabrera (6.23), Matt Holliday (5.73)—were undeniably better from 2005-2010 (though position was not considered for these crude Z-Scores). Furthermore, If you combine his partial 2004 season with his 2011 partial season (125 games played), Wright’s composite line would be 23 home runs, 14 stolen bases, and a .283 batting average.

Perhaps it is unfair to combine Wright’s first and last seasons, as he has been a different hitter since his injury, striking out more frequently and hitting for a little less power. Nonetheless, Wright’s composite 2010 and 2011 numbers (212 games) are still quite strong. Since the beginning of 2010, Wright has hit .280/.354/.491 with 38 home runs and 28 stolen bases. That prorates to a 27.5 home run, 20.5 stolen base rate per 155 games played. Furthermore, Wright’s walk rate of 10.7 percent in this span is not too far off his career 11.2 percent mark (11.8 percent 2011 mark).

Thus, even with “diminished” batting average and slightly down power (Wright averaged 29 home runs a season between 2005 and 2008, hitting 30-plus in 2007 and 2008), Wright’s level of production has not diminished so far as to call his present production disappointing. Citi Field’s effects must also be considered, as the park robbed Wright of at least six home runs in 2009.

Let’s be realistic/pessimistic for a moment, and presume that Wright’s present pace represents most of his true talent line going forward, and that his “true talent” line was “only” a .280/25/15 pace. Let’s also ignore positional value, despite the scarcity of production at third base this season. How do those numbers stack up in fantasy?

From 2005 to 2010, only four players averaged 25-plus home runs and 15-plus stolen bases per season: Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Chase Utley and Wright. That is exclusive company.

More specifically, from 2005 to 2010, there were 57 individual seasons of 25 home runs and 15 steals, or just under 10 per season (some seasons had a couple more, some a couple less, but no season had more than 12 players hit 25/15). Of these 57, only 12 players owned more than one, while only three players (A-Rod, Soriano and Wright) could lay claim to three or more. Wright is the only player to post five 25/15 campaigns over that six-year span.

Even more interestingly, only 24 of those 57 25/15 campaigns involved a player posting a batting average of or above .300. Of those 24, four were turned in by Wright. If we try to stack “present Wright” batting average in the mix, he would still have a better batting average than 16 percent of our sample. You can investigate more 25/15 trends from 2005 to 2010 by clicking here (Excel file).

Balance is an underrated asset in fantasy baseball. Diversification, rather than absolution, mitigates risk by reducing the effect of disappointment by any single player. A squad of fantasy players that average 15+/15+ is just as capable of competing for a fantasy title as a team built with one- and two-trick ponies like Juan Pierre and Ichiro Suzuki. Brad Johnson’s fantasy squad in The Hardball Times Fantasy League this year, and my various teams in other leagues, are living, present day testaments to this. The real difference between the two constructs is that the 15+/15+ team’s first place dreams are probably not sunk when any single player goes down. Compare the effects of losing, and problems with replacing, a dud like Pierre (50-60 expected stolen bases) to replacing a random 15+/15+ player when the average major league hitter averages something like 12 home runs and nine stolen bases.

So what does this all mean? It means that Wright is not overrated. He is routinely one of only 10 players a season that you can bank on hitting 25 home runs and stealing 15 or more bases, while hitting .280 with batting average upside. In addition to elite production, Wright plays at one of baseball’s increasingly premium fantasy positions—third base.

While his declining defense may be a concern for Mets fans, most fantasy formats do not consider defense, and there are no signs that Wright is ticketed to move off the hot corner. He is currently on pace for 25 homers and 25 steals per 155 games this season, and has been red hot since returning from the disabled list. All this after a bounce-back power season last year (29 home runs) after a disappointing longball output in 2009, which was arguably deflated by both park effects (Citi Field has since undergone substantial changes) and a fluke concussion caused by a man whose skill eludes sabermetricians.

So next time someone in your league tries to tell you David Wright is overrated, tell them they are wrong. Heck, try and trade for him if this myth is that permeating.

Here is how all 57 25/15 campaigns stack up per their 5×5 Roto Z-Scores (positional value ignored, Wright’s seasons bolded):

Name Team Year PA HR R RBI SB AVG wOBA wRC+ 5×5 Z-Score
Alex Rodriguez Yankees 2007 708 54 143 156 24 0.314 0.449 178 9.50
Alex Rodriguez Yankees 2005 715 48 124 130 21 0.321 0.438 175 5.96
Albert Pujols Cardinals 2009 700 47 124 135 16 0.327 0.449 181 5.32
Alfonso Soriano Nationals 2006 728 46 119 95 41 0.277 0.377 130 4.35
Hanley Ramirez Marlins 2007 706 29 125 81 51 0.332 0.411 147 4.34
Jimmy Rollins Phillies 2007 778 30 139 94 41 0.296 0.378 123 3.96
Albert Pujols Cardinals 2005 700 41 129 117 16 0.33 0.436 170 3.78
Carlos Beltran Mets 2006 617 41 127 116 18 0.275 0.412 151 3.44
Derrek Lee Cubs 2005 691 46 120 107 15 0.335 0.446 172 3.19
David Wright Mets 2007 711 30 113 107 34 0.325 0.42 155 2.97
Ryan Braun Brewers 2009 708 32 113 114 20 0.32 0.405 150 1.69
Mark Reynolds Diamondbacks 2009 662 44 98 102 24 0.26 0.381 128 1.66
David Wright Mets 2008 736 33 115 124 15 0.302 0.397 143 1.53
Chase Utley Phillies 2006 739 32 131 102 15 0.309 0.389 131 1.48
Carlos Gonzalez Rockies 2010 636 34 111 117 26 0.336 0.416 151 1.26
Alfonso Soriano Rangers 2005 682 36 102 104 30 0.268 0.356 114 1.24
Hanley Ramirez Marlins 2008 693 33 125 67 35 0.301 0.405 146 1.22
Carlos Lee - – - 2006 695 37 102 116 19 0.3 0.379 126 1.13
Alex Rodriguez Yankees 2006 674 35 113 121 15 0.29 0.391 137 1.08
Carlos Beltran Mets 2008 706 27 116 112 25 0.284 0.38 133 0.59
Brandon Phillips Reds 2007 702 30 107 94 32 0.288 0.354 106 0.52
Jason Bay Pirates 2005 707 32 110 101 21 0.306 0.413 154 0.50
Ian Kinsler Rangers 2009 640 31 101 86 31 0.253 0.358 112 0.40
Carlos Beltran Mets 2007 636 33 93 112 23 0.276 0.375 126 0.37
Joey Votto Reds 2010 648 37 106 113 16 0.324 0.439 173 0.37
Matt Kemp Dodgers 2009 667 26 97 101 34 0.297 0.367 126 0.07
Jimmy Rollins Phillies 2006 758 25 127 83 36 0.277 0.354 108 0.04
Grady Sizemore Indians 2008 745 33 101 90 38 0.268 0.384 137 -0.01
Lance Berkman Astros 2008 665 29 114 106 18 0.312 0.419 158 -0.18
Chase Utley Phillies 2009 687 31 112 93 23 0.282 0.402 146 -0.28
Nelson Cruz Rangers 2009 515 33 75 76 20 0.26 0.368 119 -0.34
Grady Sizemore Indians 2006 751 28 134 76 22 0.29 0.386 134 -0.45
Jayson Werth Phillies 2009 676 36 98 99 20 0.268 0.382 132 -0.45
Alex Rodriguez Yankees 2008 594 35 104 103 18 0.302 0.413 155 -0.49
Vladimir Guerrero Angels 2006 665 33 92 116 15 0.329 0.387 135 -0.68
Mike Cameron Brewers 2008 508 25 69 70 17 0.243 0.353 113 -0.82
David Wright Mets 2006 661 26 96 116 20 0.311 0.385 133 -0.96
Nate McLouth Pirates 2008 685 26 113 94 23 0.276 0.369 124 -1.00
Chris Young Diamondbacks 2007 624 32 85 68 27 0.237 0.331 90 -1.12
Vernon Wells Blue Jays 2006 677 32 91 106 17 0.303 0.382 129 -1.16
Troy Tulowitzki Rockies 2009 628 32 101 92 20 0.297 0.393 132 -1.16
Gary Sheffield Tigers 2007 593 25 107 75 22 0.265 0.372 125 -1.26
Chris Young Diamondbacks 2010 664 27 94 91 28 0.257 0.354 113 -1.32
Torii Hunter Twins 2007 650 28 94 107 18 0.287 0.353 115 -1.47
Matt Holliday Rockies 2008 623 25 107 88 28 0.321 0.418 146 -1.69
David Wright Mets 2005 657 27 99 102 17 0.306 0.393 142 -1.81
Chase Utley Phillies 2005 628 28 93 105 16 0.291 0.392 136 -1.91
David Wright Mets 2010 670 29 87 103 19 0.283 0.364 127 -1.92
Eric Byrnes Diamondbacks 2006 606 26 82 79 25 0.267 0.344 100 -2.30
Alfonso Soriano Cubs 2007 617 33 97 70 19 0.299 0.38 123 -2.69
Alfonso Soriano Cubs 2008 503 29 76 75 19 0.28 0.374 121 -2.85
Hunter Pence Astros 2010 658 25 93 91 18 0.282 0.341 112 -2.89
Ben Zobrist Rays 2009 599 27 91 91 17 0.297 0.408 151 -3.05
Matt Kemp Dodgers 2010 668 28 82 89 19 0.249 0.323 100 -3.26
Justin Upton Diamondbacks 2009 588 26 84 86 20 0.3 0.388 132 -3.69
Curtis Granderson Tigers 2009 710 30 91 71 20 0.249 0.34 102 -4.43
Ryan Braun Brewers 2007 492 34 91 97 15 0.324 0.422 155 -5.15
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Comments

  1. DAVID KERSTEIN said...

    Balance is essential in fantasy formats that
    dont have daily lineup changes (rotisserie)

    But surely for the lineup versions the hot hand
    and pitching matchups should dictate your decisions as who is benched.

    The 2 formats are monumentally different as you
    must draft for the season by at large in the
    rotisserie league.
    By the way Jeff, there is a spot open for you in the Cook County Bar league in next years draft.
    We would love to take your money!!!

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