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May 14, 2010

Manufactured Runs

Wrighting the Wrong

by Colin Wyers

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Apparently the talk of the town in New York these days is David Wright’s incredible strikeout rate. A sampling of recent headlines about the Mets:

David Wright is striking out at a prodigious rate, to be sure—he’s K’d in nearly a third of his plate appearances so far this season. (Incredibly, he still isn’t leading the NL in strikeouts—that dubious honor belongs to Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks. And another Diamondback, Mark Reynolds, is in third place.)

Of course, this isn’t the first time Wright has baffled people with his stat line. Last season, of course, was the incredible power outage—only 10 home runs all season, after putting up 30 home-run seasons pretty consistently before then. (Wright seems to have recovered his home-run stroke, at least, belting out seven so far.) So one year a power outage, one year a ballooning K rate.

What’s funny is that looking only at results, not much seems to change for Wright:

2004 .289 0.9
2005 .313 6.8
2006 .311 5.1
2007 .338 9.6
2008 .323 7.8
2009 .306 3.6
2010 .330 2.1
Career .314 35.9

Neither a lack of power last season nor a high K rate so far this season have kept Wright from being an outstanding hitter. Notwithstanding all the headlines, Wright has been the Mets’ best hitter. Looking at WARP, he’s already put up nearly as much value this season as an average position player does in 150 games.

But what about down the road? Is Wright’s increased whiff rate a harbinger of things to come?

Wright’s K rate so far has been .299 in 144 plate appearances, compared to a PECOTA projection of .187. How likely is that result, assuming nothing at all has changed for Wright—that is, assuming that it’s totally a fluke? (And while we’re at it, assuming that the PECOTA forecast was totally on the nose—more on that assumption in a minute.)

OK, so strikeouts divided by plate appearances is a binomial—either you struck out or didn’t. We can estimate random variance of binomials in a straightforward fashion, and taking the square root gives us the standard deviation. So, given his PECOTA projection and his PAs so far:

In other words, assuming a wholly accurate forecast of Wright’s “true” strikeout rate, in 144 plate appearances we should expect to see a strikeout rate within .037 of his forecast about 68 percent of the time.

Taking the difference between his projection and his results and dividing by the expected random SD tells us that Wright’s strikeout rate so far this season has been a little more than three standard deviations away from his projection. We should see outcomes like that roughly one-quarter percent of the time.

That said—there are, so far, 196 batters with at least 100 plate appearances this season. Hitting on a quarter of a percent change in 200 tries is really nothing to get worked up about. (Especially when you consider we could just as easily have looked at home run rates, walk rates, hit rates, etc.—add up all the permutations and the odds of something being three SDs or more out of sorts go from “outlandish” to “nearly certain.”)

And we picked on Wright because we knew something weird was going on. Call it “selective sampling” or “cherry picking,” if you will. From a statistical point of view, we can’t call what we’re seeing here significant, in spite of the magnitude of the effect, because we plucked him out of a larger population.

That doesn’t mean we can rule out the idea that something has changed with Wright. But it means that we don’t really have any evidence that something has changed. Our most likely supposition is that this is just one of the many, many flukes that occurs over the course of a season of baseball.

 And of course, even if he does keep striking out at this rate, so long as he keeps doing everything else at the same clip then he’s still one of the most productive hitters in the league. So don’t worry, Mets fans—at least, not about Wright. (It’s probably still OK to worry about the rest of the roster.)  

Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here

Related Content:  David Wright

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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thank you very much for this. hopefully it goes up on espn to counteract buster olney's garbage-y piece the other day on wright's "struggles". i'd love to see a pitch-fx analysis to see if wright is truly getting pitched differently, as olney stated (but only supported with anecdotal evidence)...

May 14, 2010 07:51 AM
rating: -1
Rusty Pecker

I think

May 14, 2010 07:54 AM
rating: -3
Rusty Pecker

I think the k's come from the water supply in hampton roads VA, as the 3 players you mentioned are all from there.

May 14, 2010 07:57 AM
rating: 7

That's a better refresher on binomial distributions than most stat textbooks.

May 14, 2010 08:12 AM
rating: 4

There is something very different in David Wright than any learned baseball observor can clearly see with 2009-2010 version compared to the 2005-2008 version.

He is overmatched by league average RH fastballs with an alarming frequency. Coupled with a propensity to bail out and pull his head on breaking pitches that threaten the inner-half of the zone.

Hopefully he gets his stroke back in some sort of consistent manner, but it is an abuse of "statheadism" to throw measures around and "conclude" that nothing has changed with D Wright. It simply ain't so.

May 14, 2010 10:08 AM
rating: 0

I appreciate the counter view. Your description makes it sound like he is struggling, but he is delivering at the plates so far. How would you explain the discrepancy?

May 14, 2010 12:02 PM
rating: 1

Part of it is that his power has returned and that he is leading the league in walks even as his contact rate has plummeted--so it doesn't seem to be a case of his strike zone judgment deserting him. From what I've seen, he swings and misses an awful lot--most especially on hard stuff up and in. He's always had a habit of pulling off of good breaking balls, but he was such a good hitter that you could take the 110 K's. I buy the article's assertion that his productivity remains high--but he's obviously a different hitter and I'm not totally sure why that is the case.

May 14, 2010 12:23 PM
rating: 0

His BABIP is .346. That may be sustainable or not I don't know. His walk rate is also phenomenal. His BABIP and his walk rate are the big reasons for his productivity. I agree with SydFinch about his looking overmatched against hard throwers. He just takes way too long loading up his swing and he is almost always late on good fastballs. I think most of his home runs have been on off-speed pitches. I don't know if their is a discrepancy really. Overall he's been very productive, but when you need a hit in a big spot against a good power pitcher he'll most likely strike out. It looks to me like he's so afraid of swinging at a bad pitch that he waits too long to swing, or he just takes a strike, putting himself behind in the count, making it more likely that he'll swing at a bad pitch. If he continues like this and amasses a 47 VORP for the season I'll take it but it sure is a weird way to get it.

May 14, 2010 12:24 PM
rating: 0

I think that unless Wright improves his approach and can make more consistent contact against better pitchers, like he did from 2005-2008 that he will be more likely to see an erosion in his SLG% and he will be walked less frequently as well. So his OPS is likely to fall unless he can make some positive adjustments at the plate.

Even his HR's this year have been on massive upper cut swings. He use to have a much more compact swing and hit a ton EBH's into the gaps, not so much anymore. His swing has gotten too long and thus too slow. Also, since the beaning against Cain last year, he is still gun shy on inside pitches.

May 14, 2010 12:43 PM
rating: 0

His career BABIP is .346, his BABIP for this season is .380.

Last year, of course, he managed a .394 BABIP, somehow. That put him up at a .307 average, but this season he's hitting with an inflated BABIP and he's only at .279. If his BABIP was more around his .346 career mark, his batting average would look a lot more Mark Reynolds-ish than David Wright-ish, which is what you'd expect with his current K rate.

I don't see how you can't be worried about Wright at this point since his contact rate has dropped a huge amount. Even if there's some luck effect where he's been unlucky on some swings somehow or something and his contact rate will rise some it's a MASSIVE drop. His career Contact% is 82.8% but this season he's at 72.2%!

Also, he's walking a ton, but that's not what you would expect from his swing statistics. He's swinging more at pitches outside of the zone - 25.6% versus around 21.8% for the past three years and 20.4% for his career - and swinging at less pitches inside the zone - 64.6% against a 67% career mark - and he's hardly taking more pitches as his overall swing% may be low for him at 42.5% but it mirrors a few of his previous efforts with his career mark at 44%.

Take all of that together, and I would definitely be worried about him. It's quite possible that all of this changes and he starts striking out less and everything goes back to normal for him, but I would certainly be worried.

Last year he suffered a spike in strikeout rate due to a decrease in contact rate, but his numbers were pretty close to usual other than power thanks to his BABIP. I figured that would be the outlier year and things would go back to normal this season. Well, he's suffered an even larger drop in contact rate so far, so it looks like his increased strikeouts weren't a fluke. Granted I doubt he K's 33% of the time or whatever massive number he's at right now, but it looks like he may not be the guy who hits .300-.320 every year anymore.

May 14, 2010 13:49 PM
rating: 0

It is a terrible article. The lower contact rate, high swinging strike rate and higher O-swing rate are reasons for concern. He seems to turn into a strikeout-prone hitter, while not much in his swing profile suggests a high BB rate. And his HR/FB is at career high. Yes it is small sample size, but the result is not just fluky... he is doing sth different this year.

May 14, 2010 19:00 PM
rating: -2

The only "conclusion" in the article is that the abnormally high strikeout rate could be a statistical fluke; i.e., it would not be that statistically unlikely. That doesn't mean it definitely is a fluke by any means.

Having said that, I've seen enough confident declarations by people who claim to see "obvious" changes in a player's swing or the quality of their at-bats turn out wrong when the player breaks the slump that I'll wait and see what the numbers look like in another month.

May 14, 2010 12:55 PM
rating: 2

A guy being overmatched by league-average RH fastballs with an alarming frequency would not be hitting as well as Wright overall is hitting. Oh, and he's bailing out on inside-directed breaking pitches also? Yet somehow hitting as well as he is? This is silly.

May 14, 2010 10:33 AM
rating: 1

I am a true-blue BP advanced-stat guy. But I also watch a LOT of Mets games. Wright is not right. It really seems like everytime he's up against a good or better pitcher he takes called strikes, and then expands his zone and swings at balls. He seems to hardly ever get a hit when the Mets need it (like last night in the 9th inning). I'm having a hard time rectifying these two beliefs.

May 14, 2010 10:37 AM
rating: 1

Watch ~ 150 Met games a year. 100% agree

May 14, 2010 12:25 PM
rating: 0

Mets fan, and totally agree as well. They're "bad" strikeouts, no fouls, must lead league by a mile in swings and misses.

May 17, 2010 06:51 AM
rating: 0

He swings late, A LOT! He crushes off-speed pitches but my impression is the he either swings and misses or fouls off anything 91mph or faster.

May 14, 2010 10:47 AM
rating: -1

It's strange; 3 standard deviations kind of screams out at you, doesn't it? Yet as a Met (a true blue Debbie Downer fanbase if there ever was one) fan, it's also quite obvious that he's a different hitter now than he was two or three seasons ago. He's really turned into a 3TO guy, though that obviously didn't show last year but seems to be showing up this year as he's second in Ks but leads in BBs and has something resembling his 2005-8 power back. He does get beat inside from what I've seen far more often and doesn't inside-out balls anymore but swings and misses quite a bit. I'd love to know what the numbers are on his swings and misses overall this year and last in comparison to his career totals. He also doesn't go to right with authority the same way, but he now kills fastballs down and in and anything slow. I love the guy, he's a great player, but he's become something of a sphinx the last two seasons and I'm not sure what sort of player he's evolving into.

May 14, 2010 12:14 PM
rating: 0

Good point about the fastballs down and in. He really hits that pitch well too.

May 14, 2010 12:26 PM
rating: 0

his uptick in SO's started last year. 140Ks in 600PA's vs 115-20 in 700 PA's for several years before that.

I remember- he killed my fantasy team with no power, lots of K, errors, can caught steals...

May 14, 2010 13:46 PM
rating: 1

Wright 2009 prior to 8/15/09 beaning: 105 Ks in 497 PAs (21.1%)

Wright 2009 after 8/15/09 beaning: 35 Ks in 121 PAs (28.9%)

Wright 2010: 46 Ks in 152 PAs (30.3%)

Am I reading too much into this ... coincidence?

May 14, 2010 14:35 PM
rating: 1
Nate W.


May 14, 2010 15:47 PM
rating: -1

Maybe not. The eyewitness reports above say he's been having trouble with high and tight, including some bailing out. If that started or intensified after the beaning, then it's:

a) understandable
2) possibly a pretty good explanation
iii) malpractice, if the coaching staff hasn't seen it and isn't trying to help him with it...

May 14, 2010 17:03 PM
rating: 2

fwiw.. some stats from my site:

he's seeing a lot less four-seam fastballs this year (just 31.3%) than in 2009 (50.3%). Which, if he's coming to expect off-speed, may or may not be the reason he's whiffing so much more on the fastball. When he swings at four seamers from RHP this year, he whiffs 30.7% of the time, compared to just 17.2% last year.

May 15, 2010 06:45 AM
rating: 1
Scott D. Simon

Colin wrote on May 14, "Wright’s K rate so far has been .299 in 144 plate appearances." But after last night, Fangraphs has his K rate at .384 in 156 PAs.

At this point we should expect to see a strikeout rate within .031 of his forecast about 68 percent of the time. Based on Colin's math (if I'm doing it right), David Wright is now 6.31 standard deviations away from his projections. That's sick.

This year David Wright has struck out at a higher rate than Rob Deer's career mark. Wright's 2010 K rate would be the 15th-highest career mark in MLB history.

I think the big question is: What will normalize first? A "fluke" deviation from predicted strikeout rate, or the unusually high BABIP?

May 15, 2010 08:04 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

Fangraphs displays K rate as K per AB, not K per PA.

May 15, 2010 10:35 AM

Colin, very nice job pointing out the process of cherry picking (it is a controversial and complex issue).

Two interesting things about "flukes" are:

When one observes a fluke, often part of the fluke is that the player looks awful. In other words, players (pitchers and batters) go through fluctuations in which they look and perform awfully. We call them "flukes" or "luck" or randomness, even though technically they may not be, just like the landing of a coin on heads or tails, is not technically a random event (it is a function of how it is thrown), it is properly treated as such. So, to declare that something is not a "fluke" (in statistical terms), because you saw the player and "things just look different" is not good reasoning or logic. Things may in fact BE different about that player's approach or technique or even health (or his psychology, such as WRT the beaning) for some period of time, but if there is little we can do to predict when it will start or end (and I am not saying that we can or cannot), then for all practical purposes, it may be treated as random, luck, or a fluke.

The other thing is that declaring something as either a fluke or not is a false choice and a large one at that. There an in infinite number of combinations of fluke and non-fluke that can describe or explain a spate of performance.

May 15, 2010 20:16 PM
rating: 3

I'm somewhere in between Colin's viewpoint and many of the posts. The strikeout rate doesn't bother me, but it does seem that Wright is trying to find a new approach after his power outage of last year and still hasn't settled on it. He may be in the process of morphing into more of a TTO guy, which would be sad in many ways but not unprecedented.

The really sad thing is that Wright has turned into a New York media whipping boy even though he's clearly been the Mets' best hitter so far. Heavy hangs the head...

May 16, 2010 04:51 AM
rating: 1
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