Reese Kaplan -- What if...David Wright Edition

Yesterday Mack’s Mets own Ernest Dove posed the rhetorical question, “Suppose David Wright returns to full health…what can that mean to the Mets success?”  He suggests that David should transition into a less torque-heavy contact hitter rather than the slugger he once was and fulfill the former Daniel Murphy 2nd-in-the-order role.  He’s hoping for 135+ games from him for the 2016 season.

As the resident pessimist here, I call into question some of that optimism.  First of all, by his own admission, Ernest concedes that Wright has not played a full season since 2010.  The spinal stenosis situation exacerbated by the back fracture that have occurred since then concern me nearly as much as the fact that in 2010 he was just 27 years old and now he’ll begin 2016 at age 33. 

For the moment, however, let’s assume a new conditioning regimen and the transition to contact hitter is indeed in the cards for The Captain.  What can rightfully be expected of him?  Well, in 2015 he appeared in 38 games with a slash line of .289/5/17.  Extrapolated out for a full season you can pretty much quadruple those numbers and arrive at .289/20/68….respectable for sure, but hardly a $20 million player.  In fact, if you look at what newly acquired Neil Walker did for the Pirates in 2014 it was fairly similar -- .271/23/76.   He struck out quite a bit less, but to Wright’s credit his OBP was a very good .379.  The money is, of course, a sunk cost.  If he delivered these types of numbers the Mets would feel OK about their investment and somewhat more confident for the future that he’d produce at this same reduced level.  His contract would be untradeable, but he’d be a contributor.  That’s a best case scenario.

Suppose, however, that Wright went down the Don Mattingly path with his spinal condition and rapidly slid from superstar to unable to play.  At age 33 he was limited to just 97 games and his final season a year later his power dropped to 7 HRs and 49 RBIs despite getting over 500 ABs.  What is the Mets plan to do the unthinkable – replace David Wright – either due to long term injury or forced early retirement?

The first inclination is probably Wilmer Flores.  He demonstrated last year an ability to drive in runs and 3B is a far less challenging position for a slow, big man than is shortstop.  It’s actually his third position after SS and 2B based upon the number of games played.  Would he deliver Wright-like numbers from the Shea Stadium era player that garnered him the largest contract in Mets history?  It’s highly unlikely.  However, could he deliver on that .289/20/68 level if given 150 games?  Based upon his .263/16/59 from last year, the answer would appear to be yes. 

After that the pickings internally get mighty slim.  You have some middle infielders in AAA who might get promoted, including Dilson Herrera, Gavin Cecchini, Matt Reynolds, Danny Muno or Eric Campbell.  While Muno or Campbell could play 3B in a pinch, neither are going to make you forget Brooks Robinson out there.  The others would be more natural at SS or 2B which would require moving one of the newly acquired keystone duo to an unfamiliar position.  The next alternative would be to go outside the organization for a solution.  

I commented on Ernest’s article that David Wright might consider doing the Mets a solid and following his buddy Michael Cuddyer off into early retirement if it becomes clear that he’s no longer able to perform.  When Johnny Bench saw his skills plummet at age 33 he left the game shortly thereafter when it was clear he could no longer deliver at the level on which he’d built his career.  Between the Mets, Vitaminwater and his various endorsements, Wright is certainly not hurting for money.  The $67 million the Mets will still owe Wright for the four seasons after this upcoming one would go a long ways towards ensuring they have money to pay their starting pitchers.  Food for thought…


Mack Ade said...

Reese -

First, David Wright is not Michael Cuddyer. He will not walk away from the money that is owed to him.

I think you will see Wright play a more diminished role over the next two or three years, even if he isn't injured. That's fine with me. As I always say, it's not my money and it looks like the Mets can afford to keep the Captain around.

Right now, in 2016, he's still the third baseman and, out of repsect alone, I would bat him second.

Ernest Dove said...

Injury history, bad back and all, david wright will end his Mets career holding EVERY meaningful record their is for a hitter to have in regards to pure stats.
Then, as a person, he's been an absolute pro, leader with a positive image and has/will earn every penny he gets from the organization.

The Dim said...

What Davis should do in my opinion, is to wait for this year and see, how able he can stay in the field. Than perhaps renegotiate his contract to a $75 million for the next 8 years and no buy out.
AVG of $9.37 per year.

LJ said...

I have no idea what to expect from Wright's season. But in terms of interpreting those extrapolated numbers I think you are underrating the production. A .289/.379/.434/.814, 133 wRC+ line out of a 3rd baseman over a mostly full season would be great and worth quite a lot of money. And I wouldn't really judge a player based on team-dependent stats like RBI and runs scored, but if we do extrapolate the runs like you did with RBI - it'd project to about 96 over a full year. Of course whether he can put up a 133 wRC+ over a full year remains to be seen, but if he could it'd be very valuable and could put him back in his typical place of being the Mets best hitter.

And I don't think Wright's presence has much to do with their ability to retain the pitchers. deGrom, Noah, and Matz aren't FA until after Wright's contract expires. And when Harvey is a FA, Wright will only have 2yrs/27 mil left on his deal - which is nothing by the standards of salaries today

bgreg98180 said...

I fully expect at some point before Wright's contract ends, there is a strong possibility the Mets will be collecting the insurance money as he retires.

Hopefully I am wrong due to all the best possibilities coming to be true.

Stubby said...

Cherry picking stats to fit your pre-conceived conclusion is unbecoming. Mattingly's back troubles began in 1987 and the stenosis diagnosis came in 1990. Mattingly did not "rapidly" slide "from superstar to unable to play". I realize you want to make your comparison based on age--Mattingly playing at 33 in 1994 and Wright playing at 33 in 2016. But that's not how it works. People do not all get the same disease or condition at the same age, nor does it progress at the same speed.

Let's presume that the pre-diagnosis period for Don and Dave was roughly equivalent. So the proper comparison would be Don's seasons from 1991 forward, not 1994. Yes, in 1994, Don played in only 97 games. It was the only season after 1990 that he played in less than 128. In the first year after the diagnosis, Don played in 152 games and hit .288 with 9 home runs and 68 RBIs. By Mattingly standards, that was a down year. By major league standards, that's pretty darn good. The second year after the diagnosis, Don played in 157 games, again hitting .288, but with 14 home runs and 86 RBIs. In the third year after the diagnosis, at age 32, Don hit .291 with 17 home runs and 86 RBIs.

Then came your beginning point, 1994. It's true he only played in 97 games. It's also true that 1994 featured this little thing called a player's strike. So Don played "just" 97 games--but out of a possible 113, not 162 as you imply. Its also true that he hit .304 that year. His OPS was roughly the same as the prior year, which was also higher than any year since '89. His OBP was a career high .397. In that "horrible" year of 1994, he even got some votes for MVP (though no first place votes) and a Gold Glove Award. In his final season, Don played in 128 games (and, btw, he did not have over 500 at bats in 1994--he had over 500 plate appearances and just 458 at bats). He again hit .288 but, yes, his overall production dropped...to the point that his WAR dropped below zero (-0.2) for only the second time since his rookie season. And that's when he chose to retire. It's also worth noting, however, that 1995 was Don's only postseason action. Though the Yankees lost the ALDS, Don did his part. That hobbled and diminished 34-year-old (yes, I'm being sardonic) played every inning of all five games at first base and hit .417 with 1 home run and 6 RBIs. Only Bernie Williams had a better ALDS for the Yankees that year.

Neither you nor I (nor David nor the Mets) know how the stenosis will progress for David. He will, indeed, be 33. You wish to believe his "best case scenario" is to be a "respectable" player next year, but grossly overpaid. I choose to believe David has at least three salary-worthy seasons left in him. Less power, probably, but more production...especially if he has a line-up around him (which, for arguably the first time in years, he has in 2016). I also believe that David will go voluntarily when he feels he can no longer play at a high level (just as Mattingly did), while you, apparently, feel we need to shove him out the door. Its worth remembering that, at the time we gave Dave that contract, he could have gone anywhere else and made more. And, compared to the contract-vs-production of Bobby Bonilla and Jason Bay, we're paying David chump change.

How bout we give the guy a chance to prove we amateur prognosticators right or wrong before we throw him under the bus? I think we owe him at least that much.

Stubby said...

500 plate appearances in 1995, not 1994. Sorry for the typo.

Tom Brennan said...

I'm with Stubby. Let Wright speak from the field. I think he has fuel left in the tank. If he can start 76% of the games and give us 90% of the old Wright, I will gladly take it.

BTW, Jennry Mejia is an idiot, and his timing with all 3 suspensions? Awful. Have fun pitching in Venezuela or Cuba, Jennry.

eraff said...

Wright came back with a different swing and a different throwing motion... he looked mediocre in the field and un-explosive at the plate. I don't believe the stats provide much assurance for projecting a performance level over an arbitrary guess on games played.

I'd be reluctant to guess the games played.... but i would guess at diminishing returns over any meaningful run of games played. I believe his physical ability will affect his game by game impact as much as it will affect the number of games played. So... you might get 70% of him in 70% of the games... it may be that simple.

eraff said...

The Good News... their success is structured more on their ability to roll out a "Journeyman Player" , every day, at 3rd Base.... not necessarily a star. Wright is part of that mix.

Anonymous said...

I think TJ Rivera could be Wrights replacement. He hits like crazy and has plenty of experience at 3rd. He played 3rd in PR all winter and the Caribbean Classic in DR. I know he will be at big league camp so maybe he will see some practice and time at 3rd and 1st.


Chance2 said...

Thanks for that clear report.

eraff said...

TJ is probably a Poor Man's Josh Satin.... but, we could continue to hope for Marco Scutaro.

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