Heading into this weekend's Subway series at home to the Yankees, David Wright will be looking to swing the type of bat that produced four RBI against Washington on Thursday, rather than the one that has seen 55 strikeouts already this year.
I've heard a lot of people saying: "Apart from the strikeouts, he's having a pretty good year."
And in some respects he is; his power numbers are certainly heading in the right direction, and his patience at the plate, especially in April, was rewarded handsomely with a high number of walks which almost averaged one a game.
But that is where the praise has to stop for now.
After 21 walks in 23 games to start the season, Wright has just seven walks in his last 18 games. He's batting just .250 in April and he racked up a 15-game streak of at least one strikeout. Most importantly, he's only making contact with just 82 percent of the pitches in the zone that he swings at.
So not only is he swinging at one-in-four balls, when he does swing at something in the zone, he is failing to put it in play more than ever before.
That is what I wanted to focus on here, because there is no doubt that Wright—for whatever reason—is swinging through an alarming number of pitches. Just last week he was on course to set an all-time baseball record, and only yesterday did Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton move above him in the inglorious strikeout category.
Here are some statistics that I put together.
• On 43 of the 55 occasions, Wright has struck out swinging.
• Four times he has struck out with the bases loaded, including twice with less than two outs.
• 40 percent of the time Wright has struck out on a fastball. That rises to 47 percent if you include cutters and sinkers. Pitchers are throwing him more off-speed stuff than ever before (only 54 percent fastballs) and when he does get a fastball he is late on it.
• Wright has struck out on nine curveballs this year. Six have been called third strikes.
• All seven sliders that Wright has struck out on have been at thigh-high or lower.
• As is the book on Wright, he has struggled the most with the fastball up out of the zone and the fastball away.
• There have been six occasions where Wright has struck out on three pitches. Two of them were when he swung through fastballs right down Broadway.
• When Wright struck out four times on May 9, he whiffed on two fastballs inside and a changeup and curve, both down and away.
Here's a chart looking at where Wright has been striking out, as seen from behind home plate. Therefore, pitches on the right side of this chart are pitches away from the right-handed hitter. I compiled this data from MLB Gameday, so it's important to look at general trends and overall tendencies rather than whether a borderline pitch was really a ball or a strike.
Note the fastballs (green) up out of the zone that he has chased, the changeups (light blue) down and in that he has swung over, and the sliders (dark blue) down and away that he hasn't been able to put bat on. Note the fastballs (green) up out of the zone that he has chased, the changeups (light blue) down and in that he has swung over, and the sliders (dark blue) down and away that he hasn't been able to put bat on. Yellows represent curveballs, and red and pink represents cutters and sinkers respectively.
I mentioned that he has struck out a dozen times looking so far this season.
The thing to note here is the number of times he has been fooled on hanging curveballs (yellow) that have started at his chin and dropped in just beneath the letters. Three of the six curveballs he has taken for a strike have come on a 1-2 pitch with at least two men on base. The green dot furthest top the left was of course the strikeout against the Giants where he got ejected after arguing that Brian Wilson's fastball was inside.
So, what can we take from all this data?
Well, Wright is obviously having trouble catching up to fastballs, particularly up in the zone. He also needs to not fish at the slider that starts at the outer corner and keeps moving away. All seven sliders that he has struck out on have been swinging strikes, and five out of those times has been after he has worked the count to 2-2 or 3-2.
Wright is a professional hitter, so it's no real surprise to see most of the strikeouts on the outer edges of the zone, if not out of the zone. There aren't many professional baseball players who consistently miss pitches in the wheelhouse, especially guys who are career .300 hitters.
But there are a couple that are either dead center or middle in that he needs to put in play and drive for extra bases.
The game on May 5 really sums up his season so far. He had worked hard to get his batting average up from .244 just two weeks earlier to a somewhat healthy .286 and he had just homered in his second consecutive game.
After pulling a Johnny Cueto fastball for a towering home run to left field in the sixth inning, Wright took five straight pitches to work the count full in the eighth before striking on on another high fastball.
Then with two outs in the 10th inning, Wright swung through three straight Micah Owings fastballs in the middle of the zone. All were belt-high, all were 90 MPH and flat, and Wright swung and missed at all of them.
The Reds went on to win that game in the bottom of the inning on Orlando Cabrera's walk-off home run, and Wright has been on a slide since.
He struck out eight times in the next series in San Francisco, and then at least once in his next nine games before being benched by Jerry Manuel.
Wright was productive last night when he returned to the lineup, going 1-for-4 with a double, a sac fly, and the first four runs of the game. More importantly, he put the ball in play all five times. A big start against struggling Javier Vazquez Friday against the Yankees could be just what he needs to get going again, because Phil Hughes and C.C. Sabathia aren't going to hand him any freebies in the rest of the series.
You can blame it on him being beaned last year, a statistical fluke, or nothing more than a slump. But whatever it is, the Mets need him to break out of it quickly. Regardless of whether he bats third or fifth, the Mets need him to produce runs out of that spot. It's a place where a strikeout simply will not do.
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