06/21/09 12:59 PM ET
Wright producing despite strikeouts
Slugger has amazing .460 batting average on balls in play
By Tim Britton / MLB.com
Wright is the National League's leading hitter with a .344 average entering Sunday's finale with the Rays at Citi Field. But the third baseman has hit just four home runs and has struck out 69 times -- the fourth most in the NL.
Strikeouts usually come with power, not with average. So what gives?
"I'll be honest with you: I can't figure it out," manager Jerry Manuel said. "I really don't have [an explanation]."
Wright's .344 average is impressive, but it pales in comparison to his astronomical .460 batting average on balls in play. Wright is hitting 48 points higher than anyone else in the Majors when he makes contact at the plate.
No player has finished a season with a batting average on balls in play above .400 since 2002, when Jose Hernandez of the Brewers turned the trick. That was the same season, though, that Hernandez struck out 188 times, falling one punchout short of tying a Major League record largely because the Brewers sat him for most of the season's last 10 days.
Consequently, Manuel and the Mets are concerned about how long Wright can keep this pace up. A player's batting average on balls in play tends to standardize over time, and Wright's career BABIP is .345. If that were his average on contact this season, he would be hitting just .235.
Worse yet, if Wright had a BABIP equal to the league average of .296 this year, he would be hitting .198.
The Mets only hope that inflated mark of .460 has more to do with Wright being good than being lucky.
"I don't know if that will last with the strikeouts and the balls put in play for the average to be that high," Manuel said. "But he seems to be doing that right."
Wright's also been more streaky than consistent this season. He has had prolonged stretches in which opposing pitchers simply couldn't get him out, which he follows with equally long stretches of equally intense ineptitude.
Wright started the season with a 10-game hitting streak during which he hit .342. He proceeded to bat .227 for the rest of April. During a 13-game hit streak in mid-May, Wright batted an even .500 with 14 RBIs. He followed it up by going 5-for-35 in the next nine games. And after hitting .558 from June 4-16, Wright has just one hit in his past 17 at-bats entering Sunday.
Manuel admits that type of capriciousness from one of his star hitters isn't ideal.
"If it's a flip of the coin, you really don't want it that way. You want consistency, but at the same time, we're talking about a guy that's leading the league in hitting," Manuel said. "Now I guess the question becomes, where does that fit into winning? How does that fit in? Is that good?"
Those questions add another layer of complexity to Wright's odd season. The Mets aren't exactly doing any better during his scalding streaks at the plate. During Wright's three aforementioned hot streaks, the Mets are 5-5, 7-6 and 5-6. That's an even 17-17 in games in which their third baseman is batting .472.
Wright is hitting just .208 in the Mets' other 32 games. The Mets are 17-15 in those.
Even Manuel and hitting coach Howard Johnson are confused.
"Sometimes I sit there and tell HoJo, 'We are critiquing him, and we're talking about the league's leading hitter,'" Manuel said. "We've got to be careful in what we say and what we do, because we're talking about the guy that's leading the league in hitting. He is somewhat unorthodox, which gives us room to critique. But we could be very wrong in our critique. We have to kind of bear that for awhile."
Unorthodox can be used to describe Wright's entire season. Manuel, however, is sure of one feeling he has toward Wright's year: jealousy.
"I wish it was like that with me every time I hit it," said Manuel, a career .150 hitter with a .160 average on balls in play. "I would have hit .210."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.