Wright trying to fight through bizarre slump
Mets third baseman regularly hitting line drives, but he's not seeing results
MIAMI -- Plenty of times throughout David Wright's career, the Mets' third baseman has slumped. Like every hitter, Wright has endured stretches where he has struggled to see the ball, recognize pitches and make hard contact.
This is not one of those times.
In one of the more bizarre slumps of his career, Wright has been squaring up the baseball with regularity throughout the first five weeks of this season, hitting line drives with his usual frequency and even maintaining a normal batting average on the balls he hits. But he is wading through one of the least-productive stretches of his life.
As a result, Wright accepts as much blame as anyone for an offense ranked 29th in baseball in extra-base hits, slugging percentage and OPS. Batting third for the Mets most every night, Wright is hitting .277 with a .322 on-base percentage and a .350 slugging mark, the latter two numbers falling well below his career norms.
"I'm not sure if it's less frustrating or more frustrating," Wright said of his sour early-season luck. "At least if you're not seeing the ball well or you're not feeling good at the plate, there's a reason why you're not getting results. At this point, I'm feeling good and hitting the ball well. I'm just hitting the ball right at people."
Wright's line-drive rate sits at 26.4 percent, actually a touch higher than his usual mark. And his batting average on balls in play, one of the crudest ways to determine how lucky a hitter has been, rests within a few percentage points of his lifetime mark. Combined, those statistics suggest that Wright should be producing at his usual levels.
The explanations for Wright's struggles lie deeper within the data. According to the website Fangraphs.com, Wright's average batted-ball distance has dropped 11 percent from last season, meaning not all line drives are created equal. As a result, only 2.9 percent of the balls Wright has hit in the air have left the park, compared to 13 percent last year and over 16 percent back when he was a perennial 30-homer threat.
According to one member of the front office who recently perused Wright's batted-ball data, the explanation could be as simple as the cold, windy conditions that have followed the Mets for much of this season. It may also be because for whatever reason, Wright is not hitting balls with his usual loft -- instead smacking line drives into the outfield for singles.
Wright agreed with both hypotheses.
"I've always said that I don't try and go out there and hit home runs," Wright said. "They just kind of happen. Hopefully, I can continue to hit line drives, continue to hit the ball hard, and then every once in a while, you'll get one with elevation and loft and start hitting the ball out of the ballpark. But the home runs I'm not worried about."
Mets manager Terry Collins often chuckles when asked about Wright's struggles, considering how consistent the third baseman has been over an 11-year career. Of all the players on his roster, Collins says, he does not worry about Wright. Neither does hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who has trouble believing Wright simply morphed into a singles hitter overnight.
"He probably hit five or six balls at Citi that would have been out at other places," Hudgens said. "It's a little bit of bad luck. Homers and those kinds of things come in streaks a little bit, so you've just got to play the game, keep playing and don't panic. If you start panicking, then things really go bad."
Wright certainly is not panicking. He spent his pregame hours this week alternating between the batting cage and a leather couch in the clubhouse, playing a card game on his smartphone. Wright jokes around frequently with anyone within earshot, showing no signs of distress. He has no plans to adjust his stance because he feels he is swinging just fine.
It is always troubling when a star player on the wrong side of his 30th birthday goes through any sort of extended funk, the likes of which Wright, now 31, has not seen since his injury-plagued 2011 season. But this is no ordinary funk. Nothing in the data suggests that Wright's early slump is for real, and nothing in his body feels off-kilter.
For a Mets team desperately seeking offensive answers, that knowledge is as comforting as anything.
"The process is good," Wright said. "The at-bats are good. I'm hitting the ball hard. Now it's just a matter of getting that reward at the end."