There's a new A-Rod in New York. His name is David Wright. After stellar, career-launching seasons in 2005 and 2006, Wright has seen somewhat of a power outage from the latter half of 2006 spill over into a full-blown slump in 2007. I didn't really realize the magnitude of the situation until I typed in "David Wright slump" into my search engine. Apparently all heck has broken out as the Mets blogoshpere tries to speculate about what's wrong. For the first time, I've even read about whether or not Wright is "clutch." So after commenting on what it would be like to have A-Rod at Shea, it appears Wright is getting his own A-Rod treatment. (Okay, enough about A-Rod already!)
I previously used Wright's swing as an example for comparison of other young hitters and I would not have imagined that his swing could have changed that much. Why mess with success, right? Even manager Willie Randolph said recently that Wright's mechanics are "pretty sound." But I imagined wrong... way wrong... and I was really surprised to see some major differences in the way Wright is swinging the bat. Randolph suggested that there was a "fine line" with his mechanics, and if so, Wright is quite a ways from wherever that line used to be.
Here is a look at two angles, front and side, with 2006 on the left and 2007 on the right. The 2007 clip is from the same swing, a double to left-center on a 93 mph fastball. The 2006 clips are also fastballs (front/top view is also 93 mph), hit for homers into left-center:
There is plenty to look at here so I will break it up into a few segments...
Starting with the front view on the top, the first thing that jumped out at me was the bat angle. It is much more vertical. While I am aware that some very knowledgeable hitting coaches teach a vertical bat position, it seems detrimental here - too much for too long. Holding the bat vertically can alleviate some muscle tension early in the swing because the bat feels lighter in that position, but eventually the bat has to get in line with the rotating shoulders and this is where Wright seems to be struggling. Starting the bat vertically and bat position at launch are quite different. If a hitter is not in a good position to hit, it is going to be hard for him to hit. Simple enough. Here's the look at how the bat angle at "launch position" has changed:
Ted Williams advocated a swing path that was slightly up through the ball, and Wright looked to have this going for him last year. The result of such a swing path is usually a "high" finish because the bat comes through in a plane similar (about parallel) to that of the shoulders. You'll see in both clips, however, a follow through that I would term "excessively high," especially in relationship to his previous swing.
This is an indicator that his swing plane might be too steep (in an upward direction) which can hinder momentum transfer. As if that weren't enough, this increased "uppercut" can also create that dreaded topspin - perhaps just enough to keep some long fly balls from leaving the ball park. Could this account for his increasing ground ball rate and drop in homer production? Seems logical.
Now let's use the side shot to focus in on the lower half and how this relates to setting up a good hitting position. Of course the major visible difference is the stride - Wright is now going with a miniature leg kick. I had not seen much of Wright's swing this year until recently, but apparently this has already been pointed out. If you're familiar with my previous articles, you may have picked up that I view the stride, as it is traditionally defined, to be more of a surface observation, but often a very useful symptom to other issues.
Take a look at just the side view and see what you think.
It took me a while to warm up to how early Wright used to get his front foot down, but I got on board because it did not appear to hinder his load-unload process. In other words, he used it to provide balance as he shifted into footplant. It looks to me like Wright used to have more flex in the knees and was able to carry his forward shift for a longer duration. This is important because it sets up the weight against the front foot and tightens the sequence of the kinetic chain... or simply put, it quickens the unloading of his swing.
The way Wright's stride appears now, he is reaching more with the front leg which leaves a little more weight behind when his hips begin to rotate. The shot above shows his front knee opening up just a bit sooner in 2007 - less efficient rotation as a result of the "stride" and positioning of the body.
What to do?
If Wright and the Mets' staff are confident in his mechanics, then there is no need to jump ship so quickly. Maybe Wright went out and tried to change some things on his own, but this may be a case of trying to do a little too much. More is not always better.
Really I would just try to retrace the steps as closely as possible to the period last year when he was most successful. I know I am sitting in a Louisiana classroom and not a Major League dugout, but it makes the most sense to me. I did not come across anything explaining the reasoning behind making drastic swing changes, but maybe there is a method to the madness that I am not aware of. Changing that bat angle back to the 45-degree ballpark would be an easy enough adjustment, and returning to that "no-stride" approach, a la Andruw Jones during his 51 homer season, would seem like the next step.
Surely, with the Yankees coming to town, now would be a good time for Wright to reassert himself while in the national spotlight.