Following the end of the 2012 season, the New York Mets signed David Wright to an 8-year, $138 million contract. This was a legacy deal, intended to keep the Metropolitans’ all-time most productive homegrown player in New York for the balance of his career. The deal was viewed as both team-friendly and a significant risk. The absolute dollars were probably a discount relative to what Wright might fetch if he waited for free agency after the 2013 season, but the deal that was previously the largest the Mets had given out, Johan Santana’s $137M, didn’t work out so well.
David was coming off a stellar rebound in his 2012 campaign, after disappointing performances in 2009 through 2011, the first three years of Citi Field. It appeared that he was back to his 2005-2008 levels of performance. Sure, the power wasn’t the same – just 21 home runs – but power and offense are down across the league. His wRC+ of 141 in 2012 was right in line with his former awesome self.
Fans often worry that a player will become complacent and struggle to perform after signing a long-term deal. Wright dispelled those notions by posting a 156 wRC+, the best of his career, in 2013. Despite playing in only 112 games, he managed to produce 6 wins above replacement level. That’s an elite level of production in a season cut short by a hamstring injury. More on those 112 games later.
It would be easy to say that Wright has sucked in 2014. He hasn’t sucked. He’s been mediocre. His 97 wRC+ is almost exactly league average. (wRC+ uses 100 as a baseline for league average and compares a player’s results to this baseline.) His defensive value has been slightly above average. His 1.8 wins above replacement represents an average starter over 5 months of baseball. There’s a huge problem with David Wright being an average major leaguer.
The Mets are not paying David Wright to be average. They didn’t make him the captain and lock him up for the rest of his career so that he could produce at an average level. They need him to be a star. They need him to be the elite hitter he was from 2005-2008 and 2012-2013. But instead, they’re getting the worst year of his career.
This begs the question: What’s wrong with Wright?
I’ve heard a lot of opinions on why David is failing to perform.
- He’s pressing. Trying too hard to carry the team.
- He’s slacking. Not trying hard enough because he’s already guaranteed his payday.
- He’s hurt. Playing through pain is one thing. Playing through debilitating injury is another.
- He lacks protection in the lineup.
- Citi Field is in his head. He can’t hit there.
At least one of these things is definitely true. He’s had shoulder and neck injuries this season. While Wright claims the injuries are not causing his struggles, we don’t have to take his word on that. It’s almost inconceivable that shoulder and neck injuries would not have at least some negative effect on his swing. But we also don’t have to believe that’s the primary cause.
When it comes to how hard he’s trying, I find it much more likely he’s pressing than slacking. But he’s actually had good lineup protection with Lucas Duda’s breakout season. So he has less reason to press this year than he did last year or the year before.
If Citi Field is in his head, why did he perform so well in 2012 and 2013? I don’t think the ballpark is the problem, but I do think the answer is in his head. Rather, the answer is in his getting hit in the head.
When he returned to the lineup near the end of the 2013 season, he got beaned in the head by a Johnny Hellweg pitch. Back in 2009, Wright got beaned by Matt Cain. The result was a 2+ year lull in Wright’s offensive production. Coincidence? Perhaps. But probably not.
After getting beaned in 2000, Mike Piazza, greatest offensive catcher of all time, was never the same player. Roger Clemens (deliberately?) hit him in the head and promptly ended Piazza’s prime.
I’ve espoused this theory on a Mets forum and some people have agreed, but I haven’t seen a single article mention it. The guy’s bailing out on pitches that are nowhere near him. Something’s going on in his head.
On July 4, 1996, I was in a car on 6th Avenue that went 55 to 0 in .1 second. For the next year or two, I would flinch every time I was in a moving vehicle. Collisions can stay with a person, especially if they involve contact to the head. I’m not saying that 100% of David Wright’s struggles are due to receiving a baseball to the dome, but I do believe it’s a significant factor. Perhaps it’s the largest factor.
What does that mean for his future? Hell if I know. Piazza never fully recovered, but he was a catcher already approaching the point of decline. The beaning just accelerated the process. Wright seemed to be in the late prime of his career when he got injured in 2013. Third basemen typically age better than catchers. But there is still cause for concern. Hopefully he’ll rest up over the offseason, shake it off, and perform at a level befitting his Hall of Fame talent.