Despite a successful 2015 season for the New York Mets, questions remain revolving around the long term defense of third baseman David Wright.
In what turned out to be a very surprising season the New York Mets fell just three games short of their first World Series title in almost 30 years.
Now, even with perhaps the most dominant starting rotation in all of baseball and coming off a World Series appearance, the Mets come with a lot of question marks for 2016. The Mets must replace Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes, must find a more durable option at shortstop, and they also must bolster a bullpen that struggled in the postseason near the end.
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While not super high on the to-do list, the Mets also must figure out what to do with captain David Wright.
You know David Wright. The Captain of the team. The longest tenured Met. The man who has patiently waited most of his career while the Mets have been mired in mediocrity.
Despite struggling through injuries for much of the 2016 season, Wright was right in the middle of things when it came time for the Mets to make their playoff push. While it was apparent Wright still wasn’t back to his MVP level of play of years past, he still had a good run at the end of the season and did his part in contributing to the Mets playoff appearance and eventual World Series berth.
Offensively Wright wasn’t all the way back to his old self, but he was still quite a pleasant surprise. While it was obviously a small sample size, given he only played 38 games, Wright still had pretty good offensive numbers for the Mets.
In those 38 games, Wright had a slash line of .289/.379/.434 with a wRC+ of 133 (which is 33% better than league average) and five home runs and seventeen runs batted in. While this production was still a bit off 8.4 WAR, 151 wRC+ 2007 season, this was still quite a surprise for Mets fans considering the severity of Wright’s injury.
There was some fear that Wright wouldn’t play at all in 2015, or perhaps ever again, but he did well to prove all those critics wrong with his stellar return.
While his offense was far better than anyone had hoped Wright’s defense left a lot to be desired.
Wright has been a bit hit or miss at third base throughout his career, but he has had great seasons in the past. Wright won Gold Gloves in both 2007 and 2008, finishing with UZRs of 6.3 and 5.9 in those seasons. Wright arguably should have even won a third gold glove, finishing the 2012 season with a 15.4 UZR for the year. Even with his past success at third base, Wright was just not the same player coming back from his injury last season.
With an injury like he had, at least some of this poor performance can be expected. With that being said David Wright was just a completely different player in the field. While his previous worst season defensively came in 2011, as measured by an UZR of -10.6, Wright was much worse in 2015. Even though Wright played nearly 900 innings at third base in 2011, and just over 300 in 2015, Wright’s UZR was a -4.1.
Extrapolating that number out using UZR/150, which basically scales that defensive performance to a 150 game sample, Wright’s score was -18.1, even worse than his UZR/150 from 2011 of -16.4. Wright cost the Mets four runs in the field in only 38 games, and likely would have cost them quite a bit more had he played the full season.
This takes us to one of the Mets main problems in the postseason and what could be a lingering problem next year — defense.
While Daniel Murphy will get the most negative attention for his World Series blunders, the Mets as a team just weren’t very good in the field during their World Series run. Clearly we as fans of baseball can’t blame that all on Wright (or Murphy for that matter), but he will certainly be a big question mark for the Mets going forward. This begs the question of whether or not David Wright is a better fit as a first baseman long term for the Mets.
The prospects of this move creates a whole new caveat to the whole situation, which is the presence of Lucas Duda as the Mets incumbent first baseman. While Duda wasn’t a gold glover himself, he was much better defensively than Wright.
In over 1,100 innings at first base last year, Duda finished the season with an UZR of -0.3, obviously not great, but much better than Wright’s negative -4.1 in very limited playing time. Coming off a strong offensive season, one in which he finished with a wRC+ of 133, Duda more than made up for his slightly below average defense.
Now while Duda is able to play the corner outfield positions, the Mets would be attempting to solve one defensive problem, in moving Wright to first base, by possibly creating another problem of Duda in the outfield. Even though Duda does have plenty of outfield experience over the course of his career, the results were really less than stellar. In just under 900 career innings in left field and 1000 innings in right field, Duda has career marks of -17.4 and -31.9 respectively.
So, clearly moving Duda to the outfield would create a whole other liability defensively.
What this means is the Mets really only have two options going forward.
Option one is trade away Lucas Duda and permanently install David Wright as the first baseman for the remainder of his career. Coming off a strong season, and still with two years of team control, Duda should have decent enough trade value if the Mets decide this is the better option.
Option two, which is the more likely option, is the Mets trudge through another year, or perhaps two, of David Wright playing third base until first base opens itself up when Duda is no longer under team control following the 2017 season. While this may not be the most advisable option, this is clearly the more likely option.
While David Wright has shown he can still be a force at the plate even with his severe injury last season, his defense has left a lot to be desired.
FanGraphs Steamer projections have Wright finishing the 2016 season with a still respectable, and more importantly above average, wRC+ of 111. Even if he is an above average player at the plate, Wright must be able to prove he is healthy, and that all starts with his defensive play at third base.
Either way, first base or third base, awful defense or not, all eyes will be on David Wright in New York next season.
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