Stats: Wright different, but not better

Much was made about David Wright’s power outage in 2009. Some speculated that Wright was trying to overcompensate for the move to a new ballpark, while others said his increase in strikeouts was a sign he was still shaky after being hit in the head with a pitch in the second half of last season.

Now that 2010 has but a month remaining, it appears as though Wright’s power outage was mostly a one-year blip. Wright has more than doubled his HR total from 2009, restoring his mid-to-high 20’s power that he’d established before.

What’s interesting is how and why this has happened, and what the net results have been for Wright, the player.

David Wright

Last 2 Seasons

Wright’s batting average has dropped from last season, but it’s still very good and within the realm of fluctuation. The two key differences in his basic stats have been his on-base percentage and his slugging percentage.

As the accompanying chart shows, Wright has made some sacrifices. Though the dip is minor in batting average, his on-base percentage is down noticeably from 2009 and would mark his lowest OBP mark since his first season back in 2004.

On the flip side, his power has been restored to near-normal levels, if still slightly below his career averages entering 2009.

His 2010 Isolated Power, a sabermetric measure of extra bases per at-bat, sits at .215, well above last season’s .140. His 2006-08 numbers in that category were .220, .222 and .232.

Wright is hitting for more power, while reaching base less often. That’s been the trade-off. The question is, how is this happening?

There’s been one noticeable change in Wright’s approach – he’s swinging more often. Perhaps as a counter to his decrease in power last season, Wright was extremely patient, getting on base more often to compensate for the lesser impact of the hits he did get. This season, however, he’s cutting early and often.

As you can see, Wright is swinging more in general (swing pct) and swinging at more balls out of the strike zone (o-swing pct, courtesy of Fangraphs.com). He’s seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance this season, generating fewer walks, while perhaps giving himself an opportunity at more extra-base hits by swinging more often.

David Wright

Last 2 Seasons

What seems here to stay is the increase in Wright’s strikeouts, which are once again setting a new career-high this season.

The final question after reviewing all this –- is Wright better in 2010, now that his power is ‘back’, than he was in 2009?

While some would lead you to believe he is, that’s not the case. Looking at just his offensive production –- via the Baseball Prospectus-tracked stats, True Average and VORP (Value over Replacement Player-- how much better a player is than the type of player who would replace him).

David Wright

Last 2 Seasons

Using True Average, which measures offensive production per out, Wright has produced nearly the exact same value as he did in 2009.

Think of how you'd look at someone's True Average as being the same way that you'd look at batting average. A .260 is average. A .300 is pretty good. A .330 is a major star.

Wright's True Average mark in 2010 is .308, compared to .306 in 2009. And if we look at Wright's VORP compared to his plate appearances, he's exactly the same player.

Thus, it's safe to say that Wright is a different player in 2010 than he was in 2009, but that doesn't mean he's a better player.

Justin Havens is a researcher for ESPN Stats and Information