What to make of David Wright

I’ve read a couple interesting tidbits lately on David Wright—one of fantasy’s biggest disappointments in 2009&mdash and wanted to put some of my thoughts out there on his 2010 value.

Don’t write off Citi so quickly

image
David Wright goes the opposite way in 2009. But is this approach detrimental to his value? (Icon/SMI)

The first thing I read was from Ron Shandler in his weekly Baseball HQ e-mail:

Oddly, Wright is the only one of the three where there are questions about his underlying skill. What happened to the power? It wasn’t CitiField—he hit as many HRs there as he did on the road. Was it the lack of lineup protection? Was something else going on?

I don’t think we can write off CitiField so quickly, and especially not because he “hit as many HRs there as he did on the road.” While we can use this line of reasoning as part of an argument that CitiField is a neutral HR park*, we can’t use it for individual hitters. Here’s what I mean:

+------+--------------+---------+---------+
| YEAR | HITTER       | HOME HR | AWAY HR |
+------+--------------+---------+---------+
| 2008 | David Wright |      21 |      12 |
| 2009 | David Wright |       5 |       5 |
+------+--------------+---------+---------+

Sure, Wright hit the same number of homers in Citi as he did on the road last year, but you have to have something to compare that to—namely the previous season—if your argument is that Wright lost power. And in 2008, Wright hit nine extra home runs at Shea Stadium than he did on the road. So if anything, it appears that Citi did indeed sap a good portion of Wright’s power, relatively speaking.

*Citi Field, according to David Gassko’s park factor methodology, shows a true HR/FB factor of 1.004 (after properly regressing to the mean). So, essentially, Citi Field is a neutral HR park on the aggregate level, although since we only have one year of data this can obviously change, and parks also affect individual hitters differently, so we can’t use this as a blanket statement.

Opposite field hitting

The second thing that caught my attention popped up yesterday. Apparently, Mets hitters were instructed to hit the ball to the opposite field by former Assistant GM Tony Bernazard. The data backs this up, as the Mets went from fifth-lowest in the majors in Opposite Field Percentage in 2008 (17.7%) to the highest in the majors in 2009 (22.75%). The split is even more extreme for David Wright:

+------+--------------+--------------+
| YEAR | HITTER       | Opp. Field % |
+------+--------------+--------------+
| 2008 | David Wright |         17.7 |
| 2009 | David Wright |         26.0 |
+------+--------------+--------------+

While this looks condemning, let’s go back even further:

+------+--------------+--------------+
| YEAR | HITTER       | Opp. Field % |
+------+--------------+--------------+
| 2005 | David Wright |         22.2 |
| 2006 | David Wright |         23.3 |
| 2007 | David Wright |         22.7 |
| 2008 | David Wright |         17.7 |
| 2009 | David Wright |         26.0 |
+------+--------------+--------------+

Now 2008 looks like the outlier (although 2009 is still quite a bit higher than any other season). You could make up any number of stories as to why Wright’s numbers look like this, the easiest being random variation and regression—although perhaps that’s too simplistic. Let’s go a little deeper and break it down by just outfield flies:

+------+--------------+-----------------+
| YEAR | HITTER       | FB Opp. Field % |
+------+--------------+-----------------+
| 2007 | David Wright |            31.8 |
| 2008 | David Wright |            27.0 |
| 2009 | David Wright |            45.9 |
+------+--------------+-----------------+

Now it looks like maybe there is something to this whole Bernazard thing. Wright’s 2009 rate is much, much higher than 2007 or 2008 (sorry, I don’t have the 2005 or 2006 data). It’s hard to say how much of all this is random and how much is real without running in-depth tests, but what we can say is that Wright was definitely hitting to the opposite field more in 2009 than in the past, particularly on his fly balls (which are really what matter when it comes to home runs). To me, those fly ball numbers look far too extreme to write off as predominantly luck, especially in light of yesterday’s news.

Wright’s approach and Citi Field

After researching this opposite field stuff, I e-mailed our good friend Greg Rybarczyk of HitTracker to see if he could validate a theory of mine. Earlier in the offseason, Greg had said that Wright would have hit nine extra home runs in Shea Stadium that were robbed by Citi Field.

As you can see in this image (constructed by Greg for an article by our friend Tristan Cockcroft at ESPN),image the biggest difference in dimensions between Citi Field and Shea Stadium is in right field. So if David Wright (a right-handed hitter who hits most of his HRs to LF) is hitting more balls to opposite field (RF) than ever before, it makes sense that he’s losing home runs. Right field in Citi is cavernous!

Not only is it more difficult (generally speaking) to hit home runs to the opposite field (you get more of your body weight and power behind balls you pull), but for Wright, this is compounded by the fact that the opposite field fences are deeper than the pull field fences!

Greg was kind enough to provide us data on Wright’s nine lost home runs, and sure enough, right field was a big culprit.

+-------+--------+
| FIELD | ROBBED |
+-------+--------+
| LF    |      1 |
| LCF   |      1 |
| CF    |     3* |
| RCF   |      3 |
| RF    |      1 |
+-------+--------+

*Important to note that of the three CF home runs, all struck the wall above the 8 foot level, and would have been homers in 2010 when the fences will be lowered.

So my question now becomes, David Wright, will you continue hitting all these balls to opposite field, or will you adjust your style to best take advantage of Citi Field (at least in terms of HRs) and start pulling the ball more? We can only hope for Wright’s 2008 approach, but honestly, it’s impossible to say with any kind of certainty which David Wright we’ll see in 2010.

Call to action

If there are any beat writers or anyone attending Spring Training reading this, I’d be very interested in hearing what Wright makes of the whole opposite-field strategy, how it works in Citi Field, and (most importantly) what he plans on doing in 2010.

Concluding thoughts

Personally, I doubt I’ll be taking David Wright in any drafts this year. Despite all the questions surrounding him (I didn’t even mention his eight-point jump in strikeout rate!), he’s still being drafted 14th overall according to Mock Draft Central. That just seems too high for me. Even if he changes his approach back to his 2008 style, Citi Field will still prevent him from getting back to his 2007-2008 HR levels, and his strikeout rate (and extremely inflated BABIP) is very worrisome.

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Comments

  1. Millsy said...

    Hopefully Wright abandons whatever it was that @ssclown was trying to teach him as a hitter.  I’d be willing to bet that a lot of his strikeout problems had to do with the fact that he was letting the ball get deep in the zone before swinging.  I thought I remember people saying he was having trouble with up-and-in pitches last season, which could be almost completely explained by the ‘always hit opposite field’ strategy.  Reports say he’s bagged that strategy and is trying to hit like David Wright again.  I suspect that not waiting for the ball to get so deep in the zone will help him with his K rate and up-and-in pitches.

  2. Millsy said...

    Looking at his K splits, he was 10% vs. lefties, and 30% vs. righties.  Given the fact that a right hander likely has more advantage coming up and in to a righty batter (with the tail inside), it seems like this would be exacerbated by letting the ball get too deep.  While his K-splits have differed throughout his career, they’ve never been anywhere near a 20% split.

    Unless he just plain lost strength and bat speed, I think the oppo field explanation can explain away a lot of these things.  Just a thought, and thanks for the Citi Field visual!

  3. Dave Studeman said...

    It’s worth reminding people that Greg has a detailed analysis of Citi Field, including the number of home runs lost and gained by each individual player, in the Hardball Times Annual.  It’s terrific stuff unavailable anywhere else.

  4. Jason B said...

    Fantastic work, and you’ve hit on the key issue.  Wright’s fall in 2009 is not a “stadium” issue, really, it’s a “trying to hit to the opposite field” issue.  And I agree, I want some evidence that he’s working on resolving that issue before investing a late 1st-early 2nd round pick on him.

  5. schmenkman said...

    “And in 2008, Wright hit nine extra home runs at Shea Stadium than he did on the road. So if anything, it appears that Citi did indeed sap a good portion of Wright’s power, relatively speaking.”

    So you’re saying that Shea stadium boosted homeruns (for Wright), but Citi is neutral (for Wright).  Which could very well be true, although in aggregate, Shea depressed homeruns, while Citi was neutral.

  6. Nick J said...

    Very insightful work, Derek.  Beat writers, we’d love to hear what Wright would have to say about his opposite field approach!

  7. Omnificent said...

    Fellas,

    Do yourselves a favor and check out some photos of Wright at spring training this year.  He looks like Schwarzenagger.  Absolutely jacked.  I know this is a sabremetric blog, but in this instance I am going to let my “scouting” eyes lead me…

  8. Brian said...

    Wright is not a first or second round player or a top five 3B.  I hope people keep taking him with that opinion as I will gladly take Zimmerman, Longoria, A-Rod and Aramis before wrongly taking Wright.

  9. Andrew said...

    Can we get a sneak peek at Team Carty in LABR? Or do they not want managers to release teams until a particular date?

  10. Derek Carty said...

    As far as I know we can show our rosters. I’m traveling now but as soon as I get non-BlackBerry internet access I’ll post my roster.

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