>David Wright Week: David’s Disturbing Defense

>After spending three days trying to decide which exotic locales David Wright’s power visited on its 2009 sabbatical, I thought today I’d take a look at something else that disappeared: Wright’s defense.

Before I go all graph-happy on you, let me preface this post with a general warning: you should keep in mind that all baseball defensive evaluations remain imprecise at best. It really takes three years of UZR data to make any conclusions about a player, meaning that an entire year’s worth of data is actually a small sample.

Also keep in mind that while UZR is the best system available for evaluating a player’s defense, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an excessively precise one – though I do feel that UZR is generally close to the truth. The defensive roller coaster ride is partially David, partially the impreciseness of the systems.

When David Wright came up in 2004, both defensive evaluation systems, UZR and +/-, agreed that he was an above-average fielder for his half season. David followed up that effort by achieving below-average defensive marks in both 2005 and 2006, then above-average marks in 2007 and 2008. The roller coaster came back down again in 2009 when David registered a -10.4 UZR and -13 Runs Saved, which are Luis Castillo levels of defensive ineptness. The poor defense combined with a power blackout is how a 7.4 WAR player becomes a 3.4 WAR player in just one year.

Just like with the bat, David’s defense in 2009 went into a deep slumber. +/- breaks down the numbers into groups that can offer some more insight into what happened to David’s fielding between 2007 to 2009. For those of you that are visual learners* I took that +/- data and put it into picture form. The black diamond is David’s approximate range from that year, and the red diamond represents average range. The left and right ranges are David’s actual left and right +/-, behind David is balls hit directly at him, and in front of him are bunts. If you add up the four numbers there and see that they don’t add up to the actual Runs Saved, that’s because I left balls in the air out. David’s 0 in 2007, -2 in 2008, and -1 in 2009 on fly balls.

*I don’t have anything for the tactile/kinesthetic crowd. I guess you could trace the images on the screen with your fingers if that helps you retain the information. Just wipe the fingerprints off the screen when your done:


You can see that in 2007 David fielded almost nothing to his right and a ton of balls to his left: -11 to his right and +18 to his left. That’s a big gap, one so large that it makes me wonder if David was positioning himself well off the foul line in 2007 and producing a “Chase Utley Effect”.* David was also above average on balls hit directly at him and a great defender against bunts. I think that matches up with what I have seen from David’s fielding ability – I can easily call to mind a highlight reel of diving stops David made to his left, but I can’t remember any he made to his right, back towards the foul line.

*Chase Utley checked in at a ridiculous +32 on balls to his left in 2008. This happened because he was positioning himself closer to the first base bag than most second basemen, compensating for the immobile mass that is called “Ryan Howard”. So what I refer to as the “Chase Utley Effect” is having a large gap between your side to side range numbers, and not something that makes you look like you just stepped out of a “Grease” revival. I don’t have a name for that one yet, though Utley and Jeremy Reed are both victims of it. Maybe “The Kenickie Effect.”

So Wright was either positioning himself differently or just plain good in 2007. Possibly both. Let’s look at 2008 and see if anything changes:

Much improved on balls to his right, but a huge decrease on balls to his left. If my positioning hypothesis is correct, David moved himself back closer to the line, allowing him to get to more balls to his right but less to his left. Let’s see what happened in 2009:

Black smaller than red = bad. Not terrible in any one particular area, just average or below average in all of them for a cumulative “awful.” It doesn’t look like his positioning changed at all between 2008 and 2009 – he simply got to less balls in all directions. It looks like his fielding suffered in all directions, with David even struggling on bunts, which he usually gobbles up. Wright’s total of -11 Runs Saved in 2009 ranked him as the 33rd “best” third basemen in the majors – and there are only 30 teams. That’s not exactly a Gold Glove performance from a former Gold Glover.

Here’s one more graph covering the changing ranges for his whole career:

No defensive assessment of David Wright would be complete without mentioning his throwing and error issues. Everyone knows that David sometimes likes to do his best Chuck Knoblauch impersonation in the field. Wright made 18 errors – half of them on throws – in 2009, putting him 15th out of the 18 qualifying third basemen. However, UZR has his Error Runs as just -0.1, so all those errant throws and muffs aren’t costing him anything in terms of actual runs. Errors, an arbitrary decision made by the scorekeeper, aren’t that big of a deal – Ryan Zimmerman had 17 errors and an 18.1 UZR. The throwing issues are frustrating and David could vastly improve his defense just by not letting 9 balls a season set sail, but it’s essentially a non-issue. His diminishing 2009 range is much more alarming than the errors.

That David had a such a down year both with his bat and in the field that it makes me suspect something else was going on – maybe he kept an injury hidden, or maybe he was really let down by “Chinese Democracy”, or maybe his dog died and he was really upset about that. If it was an injury – and I recall some Marty Noble whispers about a nagging groin – then a healthy David Wright should improve his defense from “awful” to “a
verage” in 2010. If it’s because of “Chinese Democracy”, David’s should have realized that Slash and Izzy were the heart and soul of Guns N’ Roses. And he can just get a new dog – though “Rover” Wright will never be replaced in David’s heart. Out of the three possibilities, I would bet on the injury.

Or maybe he just had a bad year. That happens sometimes too.

David’s defense is going to get better in 2010, for no reason other than it can’t get no worse. His glove was “Batman and Robin” quality in 2009 after being “Batman Begins” level most his career. I strongly suspect some sort of nagging injury held back his range in 2009. David probably didn’t deserve the Gold Gloves, but he should bounce back to again be average fielder – and an average fielder who is also a great hitter is a great player.

David Wright week continues tomorrow. Since David only hit 10 home runs in 2009, I can and will excessively analyze each one with such depth you’ll forget that I’m talking about baseball.

David Wright Week: It’s like Shark Week, only without the sharks. There will still be blood though – maybe not so much fish guts.

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