It was the same type of response Wright has given to hundreds of question over the past years: A little shrug of the shoulders and a slight shake of the head, accompanied by some variation of, No, I don’t think that’s the case. Besides the stick-ball game he plays, Wright has also mastered the art of politely dismissing questions.
This is probably a useful skill for Wright to have. Over the past two years, no player in baseball has been subject to more analysis than the Mets’ third baseman. After functioning like clockwork from 2005-2008 – a sure bet for 30 home runs and a .300/.390/.530 batting line – something weird started happening in 2009. Wright’s home run output dropped from 33 to 10 as his strikeouts jumped, yet his average and on base percentage remained virtually the same. It was as if the Adjustment Bureau came in, wiped everyone’s memories, and then adjusted his power numbers. Wright’s home run tally recovered to 29 last season, but his average and on base percentage dipped as the strikeout total continued to climb. He has shown that he still has the ability to do it all, but not all at once, and has become a reduced offensive player the past two seasons.
Any Mets fan can tell you two more things about Wright: He changes batting stances about as often as Chase Utley appears to shower – almost every week – and he seems to have become maddeningly streaky in recent seasons. It doesn’t seem a stretch to suggest the two may be related. In fact, Wright’s propensity for streaking . . . ah, let’s try that one again. In fact, Wright’s propensity for going into batting streaks was the subject of no less than five extensive posts on Beyond the Box Score and Fangraphs this offseason. Both sites came to the conclusion that Wright has indeed become a streakier player, and that he is less consistent than similar hitters. Beyond the Box Score, comparing Wright to a pair of fellow third basemen, the Rays’ Evan Longoria and the Reds’ Scott Rolen, found that “for any given 10-game stretch, Wright’s performance is less reliable than the other players.” Fangraphs added, “We find that [Wright] did indeed go from being very consistent in 2007 to extremely streaky in 2010.”
Essentially, Wright has gone from a model of consistency to a player seemingly always in search of himself at the plate. His batting stance itself appears in a constant state of evolution: Wright held his hands just above his ears in 2008, then comically far above his head for part of 2009, only to again move his hands back down in 2010. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, he began standing about a foot farther away from the plate after the All Star break last season, after hitting .314/.392/.532 in the first half. He ended up batting .244/.305/.466 in the second half. Even this spring, Wright has added a small leg kick to his swing, abandoning the toe tap he had used in previous years. It’s not hard to imagine that he spends all of his free time rearranging the furniture in his apartment.
Asked last week about his mutating stance, Wright said, “It’s something I mess with, just trying to feel comfortable.” He denied feeling more streaky than other players, and also denied that his changing stance and deepening slumps were often related. He emphasized multiple times that any adjustment made to his stance was simply a matter of comfort and not necessarily anything mechanical. “You try not to tinker so much, you don’t want to mess with it when it’s working. But you just try to get comfortable.”
He noted that the leg kick was not new: “It’s something I’ve messed around with before.”
Wright also wasn’t aware of the Internet’s evidence of his increased streakiness, saying, “I don’t pay much attention to that stuff.”
And to think, I had him pegged as an avid Fangraphs reader. The good news for Wright, however, is that same series of Fangraphs articles noted “there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that a player who is especially streaky in one season will continue to be so in the next.” Beyond the Box Score added, “[Wright's] apparent Volatility the past few years might just be more fluke than anything else.” So while it’s possible Wright’s increased streakiness is related to his constant tinkering, it is also possible that it’s simply a statistical anomaly — a maddeningly frustrating statistical anomaly, but a random occurrence regardless. Perhaps a combination of the tinkering and chance is the best explanation for Wright’s recent increasing inconsistency . . . or just blame Jerry Manuel. That works too.
Of course, it should be noted that an inconsistent Wright is still better than all of the Mets’ other hitters. 29 home runs and a .853 OPS isn’t anything to dismiss.
“I’d like to be more consistent,” said Wright. “But at the end of the year you add up with your numbers and that’s what you are.”