06/01/2009 3:53 PM ET
Which way is Wright?
Examining numbers to investigate common criticism
By Ted Berg / SNY.tv
If you only listen to the radio, you'd think all of David Wright's hits in 2009 have come in road grays. (AP)

It has become trendy on talk radio to bash David Wright for a variety of transgressions, and it appears many of the callers are seeing only what they need to see to validate preconceived notions of the player. But just because so many are guilty of confirmation bias regarding Wright doesn't mean the conclusions they're drawing are untrue.

It's best to examine the most common talking points against Wright to see if they're in step with the most complete source of evidence at our disposal -- Wright's stats and splits, thanks mostly to the amazing baseball-reference.com.

David Wright can't hit at Citi Field: This is a popular strike on Wright of late, and it's justified by Wright's .785 OPS in his home park against a 1.057 mark on the road. So yes, thus far, Wright has not hit at Citi Field. That is true.

But will it continue? I'm skeptical. It just so happens that Wright's best stretch of the season corresponded with the Mets' recent 10-game road trip, and there's no real reason to believe it was brought on by the escape from Citi Field. Subtracting that trip's first eight games, during which Wright went 15-for-25 with 11 walks, he has a road OPS of .855 -- much more in keeping with his stats at Citi.

Of course, that leads to a simple chicken-versus-egg discussion. One can argue that Wright never would have gone on such a tear at Citi Field because he can't hit there. It appears way more likely, though, that Wright's hot hitting coincidentally happened on the road and the uneven split so far is the fallout from a relatively small sample size.

After all, neither Dodger Stadium nor AT&T Park is exactly a hitter's haven and Wright has traditionally been as good or better in Queens as he has been elsewhere. Citi Field has played as a pitchers' park thus far, but it hasn't been any more extreme than Shea Stadium in that regard. To assume that the new park's dimensions have in some way gotten into Wright's head is doing a huge disservice to the young third baseman.

So while the evidence that exists so far supports the conclusion, smart money says there's simply not enough evidence. As a point of comparison, Evan Longoria has a 2009 home/road OPS differential of -.218, not terribly far off Wright's -.266 mark, yet Longoria had nearly equal OPSes at home and on the road in 2008. Last year, Justin Upton posted a 1.039 OPS at home and a .562 mark on the road, but this season he has a .924 OPS at home and a 1.112 OPS on the road. What does that mean? Most likely nothing, and that's just the point. These stats sometimes take a long time to balance out, and Wright hasn't had enough at-bats in Citi Field yet to draw any firm conclusions.

Wright is struggling because he's not going the other way: This is a common complaint among would-be scouts calling into WFAN. The Wright of old, they say, always hit the ball to the opposite field and the 2009 incarnation is trying too desperately to pull the ball.

The problem is there's really little that suggests he's even taking a pull-heavy approach. In 2009, 24 percent of the balls Wright has hit in fair territory have been to the opposite field, compared to 16 percent in 2008 and 21 percent across his career.

Naturally a lot depends on the situations and pitches Wright has to work with, but it's also silly to say definitively that he should not be trying to pull the ball. Across his career, Wright has a 1.396 OPS on balls he's hit to the left side, against an .887 OPS on balls hit straightaway and a .943 OPS on balls hit to the right side.

Yes, at his best Wright finds hits to all fields and this season he hasn't had many to right field. But since he's hitting the ball that way at least as frequently as he always does, it's reasonable to argue that Wright has simply been unlucky while going to right field and the tendency is more fallout from a small sample. Speaking of which:

Wright is lucky to be hitting .333: This one is probably true. In 2009, Wright has a .460 batting average on balls in play -- way beyond his career .348 line and not in keeping with his 22.7-percent line-drive rate.

Still, if BABIP can be expected to even out in time, generally so too can home-runs per fly ball. Wright has homered on only 6.3 percent of his fly balls in 2009 but has a career rate of 14.6 percent. That could be the product of playing half his home games in Citi Field, but Wright hasn't been homering on the road, either. Plus, there's still no evidence that Citi Field even suppresses home-run totals.

Some have argued that Wright and several other Mets have adjusted their approach for the new park and taken that new approach with them on the road, leading to fewer home runs and more singles. It's hard to entirely dismiss that possibility, but Wright's groundball, fly-ball and line-drive rates this season are similar to his career lines. In other words, he's not hitting the ball on the ground any more than he normally does, so it's difficult to conclude that he's made some sort of major adjustment.

The bottom line: In the first two months of 2009, Wright homered less frequently and struck out more often than he normally does. Neither is a good thing, to be sure. But Wright has had similar power outages in his career, most notably in 2006, when he hit only six home runs after the All-Star break. That instance was chalked up to either fatigue or a change of approach following Wright's impressive performance in the Home Run Derby, but it could just as easily be coincidence.

The strikeouts are more troubling and tougher to explain, especially because Wright's strikeout pace decidedly picked up in the second half of 2008 and hasn't really slowed down. Still, Wright has whiffed with some frequency for the length of his big-league career, and I'm sure a stretch of 53 K's in 48 games really falls safely within the realm of standard deviation.

It's natural to try to diagnose Wright's problems in the early goings of 2009, but ultimately imprudent. I know I sound like a broken record, and I know it's tough to keep in mind two full months into a season, but this season's stats fall across a relatively small sample compared to the much larger one that is Wright's entire career. The good news is that, due either to luck or some adjustment that can't be accounted for in Wright's rates, the balls he has put in play have fallen for hits at an enormously high rate. If that's something real and lasting -- which I doubt -- then, well, great: A .432 on-base percentage makes Wright an incredibly valuable player even without a ton of power, and even with a lot of strikeouts.

More likely, though, it's just the specter of random chance rearing its head again. I'll resist grandiose statements about Wright's season and tendencies until there's much more evidence to support them.

Ted Berg is the senior editorial producer for SNY.tv. He can be reached at tberg@sny.tv or via the Flushing Fussing Facebook group.
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