Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Wright Stuff

David looks great for 229 years old!

David Wright made his fairly triumphant return to the Mets this weekend, and at least one Wikipedia editor was not pleased. I cannot fathom what about Wright could inspire someone to alter his bio into an 18th century New York Stupid Metropolitan, but here we are. Wright is back, and for whatever reason some guy on the internet is pissed.

Wright has always inspired somewhat inexplicable vitriol. Maybe it's playing in New York, maybe it's playing for an often-disappointing team, or maybe it's the photogenic smile and the hot girlfriends and the Vitamin Water ads. Maybe it's everything combined, but I've never felt Wright has gotten a fair shake.

On the other hand, I am a Mets fan and I tend to get a little blinded by my fandom. I thought Fernando Martinez would be the next Barry Bonds. I was sure that Francisco Rodriguez would be saving games in the playoffs his first year. I even (shudder) liked the Jason Bay signing. So maybe my assessment of Wright is off, maybe he sucks, was born before the signing of the US Constitution and plays for a stupid team.

I think very few people would say Wright is not a great hitter. His career slash line is .302/.382/.513, and his 2007 and 2008 seasons were superb 7.8 and 6.1 WAR, respectively, with 63 homers, 84 doubles and 49 stolen bases combined. Remember, Wright was only 25 years old at this time, and looked to be on the brink of becoming a perennial MVP candidate.

But then came two strange seasons. In 2009, Wright finished with 10 home runs, TEN, and not coincidentally the lowest slugging percentage of his career, while setting a career high in strikeouts. Very durable for the majority of his career, Wright missed 18 games that season, many coming after a scary incident involving a Matt Cain fastball and the side of Wright's head.

In 2010, Wright clubbed 29 homers but saw the rest of his stats go down. He was caught stealing 11 times for a pathetic 63% SB percentage. He got on base at a .354 clip, the lowest since his rookie season, thanks to a paltry 69 walks. And most famously, he struck out 161 times, a career high, though hardly Mark Reynolds-level K's.

Finally, this season Wright has spent more time on the disabled list than on the diamond. His weekend showed signs of life, six hits, including three doubles and his first homer since May. But his return comes at a time when the Mets look to be too far out to compete this year and building towards 2013 and beyond.

Does Wright figure into that plan?

Maybe this season was doomed from the start. Ghosts of chokes past still hung around the Citi Field locker room, having floated over from the parking lot that used to contain Shea Stadium. Johan Santana was out for at least half the season, and the ragtag pitching rotation had no chance against the Phillies big four or the Braves collection of arms or even the ageless wonder that is Livan Hernandez down in DC. But then Jose Reyes went supernova and Carlos Beltran had his best season since 2008 and weird things started happening, like the Mets staying afloat in a brutal division.

Maybe if Wright had stayed healthy and went back to 2008 with Beltran, this season would have turned out different. Maybe if Ike Davis had duplicated last years success, and Santana's shoulder hadn't disintegrated, the Mets could have made a real run. Instead, the Mets are locked in limbo and the future is not bright.

Watching them battle the Marlins this weekend, I found myself oddly envious. That team is poised to move into a new stadium with two big boppers in Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez, with solid contributors like Logan Morrison and John Buck and even the slumping Hanley Ramirez a threat to break out. The Braves have Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward, plus the outstanding Brian McCann and a terrific collection of arms and a real shot at a post season berth. Even the Nationals have two superstars in the making in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, plus more young guys in the pipe.

The Mets don't have much on the horizon. Maybe Beltran will net some nice prospects, but beyond that there is no savior on the horizon. And Wright and Reyes (assuming he is resigned) will both be closer to 30 next season. The Braves, Marlins and Nats are running out 21 and 22 year-old kids who are oozing potential and make less than Jason Bay does combined.

What does this mean for Wright? He has been a great player in his career, but not in several years. Even at his best, he often gets overshadowed by that other third baseman up in the Bronx, or even Ryan Zimmerman in his own division. He is a slick fielder, but makes a lot of errors for a guy at a premiere defensive position (as evidenced by his two errors this weekend). He is a sublime hitter, but has gone through some weird slumps in his career. He has faced injuries, and he has faced constant questions from the media about his performance: was he tentative at the plate after getting hit in the head? Was he striking out so much because he was trying to carry the team? Does he hate playing in Citi Field?

With less than half the year left, Wright will have limited time to integrate himself back into a team that clearly belongs to Jose Reyes. He will try to build momentum for 2012, and focus on getting 100 percent healthy.

But I have a strange feeling that, with Wright's contract set to expire after 2012, he may be playing for his own job.

Follow Evan on Twitter @Evan_S_S and read more at Umpire State

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