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Sunday, June 3, 2012
Wright for MVP? Let's check the math

By Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Information

US Presswire/Charles LeClaireEven a statistical slowdown won't do too much damage to David Wright's numbers.

The Mets will hit the one-third mark of their season when they play their 54th game at 8 tonight on ESPN, and David Wright has looked every bit the legit MVP candidate.

He was touted as such by both Jose Cruz Jr. (who predicted the Mets to make the playoffs!) and Nomar Garciaparra on Saturday night’s Baseball Tonight.

Now that the Mets have had a no-hitter, they can turn their focus to their other never-happen -- an MVP in their 51 season run.

What is in Wright’s way as he chases this place in history? We’ll probably look at this from a few perspectives as the season moves along.

Today we’ll look at it from the statistical perspective.

Statisticians would tell you what could slow Wright down in one word: Regression.

Wright’s batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slashline is .369/.472/.591. It's safe to say that there is zero chance that he sustains this.

If he does, he’d be the first to hit such benchmarks playing at least 130 games since Barry Bonds in 2002 (the last before him was Ted Williams in 1957).

What’s realistic for Wright? Here’s a diagnosis based on a few calculations and estimations.

The biggest outlier in his performance is that he’s gotten hits on 21 of the 45 fly balls he’s hit that stayed in the ballpark.

The average major leaguer gets hits on about one of every six “in-the-park” fly balls and popups. Wright got hits at a rate of about one of every five.

The very best players are going to get hits on about one of every four. Wright’s getting hits at a rate nearly twice as good as the very best hitters.

Let’s give Wright the benefit of presuming that he’s one of the best hitters in the game, and say that he’ll get hits on 25 percent of the 90 “in-the-park” fly balls he’ll hit over the next two-thirds of the season.

That’s 22 hits, 20 fewer than what he’d get if he maintained his current pace for the full season.

Let’s again give Wright the benefit of saying he’s going to maintain his 82 percent base-hit rate on line drives (which would be overachieving a little, but not to the same degree as on fly balls) and his 23 percent hit rate on ground balls (right on pace with his past).

We’ll also say that even though Wright’s “in-the-park” numbers may dip, his rate of hitting the ball out of the park (doing so on about 12 percent of his fly balls) is very reasonable given his past performance.

So we can triple Wright’s numbers, but subtract the 20 hits he loses from the “in-the-park” fly balls that are caught this time around (we’ll say 13 singles and seven doubles, based on his seasonal math).

We’ve put this modified (and admittedly not entirely scientific) projection in the box on the right.

The bad news is that it’s not quite the .369/.472/.591 of Bonds, Williams, and Babe Ruth (who hit that trifecta an astounding six times).

But if you asked people around baseball, would they expect those sort of numbers to be befitting of a legitimate MVP candidate, we’ll bet that almost every single one would still say yes.