Though David Wright is normally one of the more dependable sluggers in the game, he has struggled in the early going in 2009. While much of the time disappointing early-season numbers can be misleading or the result of a statistical blip, in Wright’s case there may be something more serious involved, and need for some work on his swing.
Consider the power outage itself. Wright has posted Isolated Power figures between .217 and .230 in each of his five major league seasons, but currently his production sits at the .114 mark. While the immediate reaction may be to blame his new, pitcher-friendly park, the numbers don’t agree with that premise for now; Wright has one more extra-base hit at home than on the road in a nearly identical number of at-bats. This could turn out to be an issue down the road, but when Wright isn’t hitting for power anywhere, it’s tough to tell the difference. He may also have seen a dip in his numbers since he normally crushes lefties (.342/.444/.607 from 2006-2008) but has faced them in just six at-bats this season. That doesn’t account for his abnormal struggles against right-handers though.
Not everything is wrong with Wright’s game. He’s walking in nearly 15 percent of his plate appearances, which has allowed him to post an on-base percentage similar to last season’s. Wright has also whiffed in 26 percent of his PA, which is roughly 9-10 percentage points above his last four seasons’ worth of work. He’s managed to hit .284 despite the dip in power and the major jump in punchouts thanks to five infield hits on the season already; Wright moves very well on the basepaths, and he did have 16 infield hits last season. He’s had more opportunities for beating the throw to first thanks to a higher rate of grounders; his current ground-ball rate (44 percent) and G/F ratio (1.4) would both be career highs.
When Wright does put the ball in the air, he isn’t driving the ball with authority. His rate of line drives is impressive as always, and his BABIP is at .400 thanks to this and the aforementioned infield hits. The problem is that those liners have generally been singles and not extra-base hits. He’s dealing with a similar problem when it comes to fly balls. Not only would his fly-ball rate represent a career low, but 15 percent of those have been popups that easily dispatch him back to the bench. When you combine the increased ground-ball rate, the popups, and the alarming rate at which a player known for his contact skills is now striking out, you get the impression that something is off in his swing, and it’s throwing off his timing.
This would not be the first time that Wright has struggled to regain his form as a season has started; back in 2007, Wright hit just .244/.370/.311 in April over 90 at-bats before everything clicked in May and he hit .339/.425/.588 the rest of the way. Everyone soon forgot about his early-season issues as he returned to form, but there are two things that he did then that are important to consider during his current struggles. The way he swung through the ball was higher than it had been in the past, and this caused him to uppercut the ball in a way that was detrimental to their distance. Secondly, his footwork was out of sorts, which caused him to swing through the ball without using all of his weight. Combine these two issues, and you see why he hit more grounders and for less power, a situation that sounds eerily similar to his current one.
If the Mets and Wright were able to fix his problems back in 2007, they should be able to tweak his swing and fix him once again, giving the Mets back their superstar third baseman. Fans can only hope that what follows is similar to the rest of Wright’s 2007.—Marc Normandin
While the numbers point to something being possibly wrong with Wright’s swing, what do the eyeballs say? In this situation, we have agreement between these two sources of information. Like pitching mechanics, swings are unique, individual things. Just as it would be difficult if not impossible to teach someone to throw a baseball like Tim Lincecum does, one would never teach a hitter to begin with his bat pointing at the pitcher like Julio Franco used to, yet somehow Franco made that incredibly long bat-wrap work.
Swings have three main parts: the step, the load, and the swing. They’re not necessarily like dance steps where it’s a 1-2-3 situation, but there is a rhythm to them, as well as a synchronization. In the first few weeks of the season, Wright is definitely missing the beat.
One of Wright greatest assets during the last four years has been his direct, compact swing. Watching video of this year’s struggles, he’s gotten away from what brought him so much success in the first place—what used to be a quick step forward is now a front foot that drifts, and his quick swing is suddenly incorporating a bit of a load, where his hands go straight up from their starting position before going into the swing path. This slows his swing quite a lot, and that’s what may be leading to the accelerated strikeout rate. Like most great hitters, Wright has (or in this case, had) the ability to let balls travel deep into the zone before unleashing his swing (see Manny Ramirez for the best at this), and now the load is leaving him behind on many pitches.
In addition, his swing has more of an uppercut than it had in the past. Wright is not a pure power hitter who slugs moonshots, he’s a player who hits 25-35 home runs annually due to consistent hard contact and natural strength. The new uppercut, combined with a pull-conscious approach, leaves Wright more susceptible to outside pitches, while the angle of the swing has him frequently on top of balls, leading to the higher ground-ball rate.
Wright is obviously not completely broken, as his .284 batting average and .385 on-base percentage attest to, and he’s shown some progress in the last week or so. Whether it be the pressure of getting out of his power slump or his pressing under the strain of high expectations, Wright is slightly broken now, but more importantly, he’s eminently fixable.—Kevin Goldstein
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .