David Wright: MLB’s Next .400 Hitter?

By Matt Musico

OK, don’t jump all over me just yet; I know that it’s not even June yet and the Major league Baseball season is only about 25% over with, but it’s been hard to ignore the obnoxiously high level of play from David Wright. Before he took the collar in last night’s win against the Pirates, he was hitting an outrageous .415, a number that was the fourth highest this late in the season since 1980, trailing Paul O’Neill (1994), Rod Carew (1983), and Barry Bonds (1993). As we get deeper into the season and Wright continues to float above that .400 mark, the questions will start to come: could he possibly keep it up and be the league’s first .400 hitter since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941?

Apparently, Terry Collins thinks that his superstar third baseman has the qualities to reach baseball immortality:

"“He’s got the physical attributes it takes to chase that mark. He’s strong. Not only can he hit the ball out of the ballpark, but he’ll take singles. He can run, so the choppers in the hole, he can beat some of those out. There are a lot of positives.”"

In Tony Gwynn‘s book, The Art of Hitting, he talks about hitting .400, and since he’s been the closest man since Teddy Ballgame accomplished the feat (.394 BA in 1994), his opinion carries a little extra weight. He noted that in any given year, a hitter steps up to

the plate between 600 and 700 times. It would be extremely difficult to get the number of base hits possible to hit .400 without neutralizing some of them and not wasting at-bats. So, the base on balls because a huge statistic as well as putting the ball in play instead of striking out; it gives a hitter a chance to beat out that infield single instead of walking back to the dugout after being punched out.

Now, I’m not writing this article to flat out say David Wright will be the first .400 hitter in over 70 years, but some of his statistics thus far show that he has a chance, if he can keep it up. When Ted Williams hit .406, he stepped to the plate 606 times; he led the league with 147 walks and only struck out 27 times, playing into Gwynn’s philosophy. When Gwynn hit .394, he only walked 48 times in 475 PA’s, but then again, he only struck out 19 times. Maybe if he walked a little more, we would be having a different conversation…

Now, let’s get to some of Wright’s statistics to make his case here. Even with his three-strikeout game last night, he still has more walks (29) than punch outs (26), a far cry from some of his recent career norms. So far, his walk rate (17.2%) is six points higher than last year and his K-rate (15.4%) is almost seven points lower than 2011. His batting average on balls put in play is an insane .473 because he’s waiting for his pitch, and not missing it.

Wright’s not chasing balls out of the strike zone like he used to; last season, he was swinging at pitches out of the strike zone at a rate of 24.8%. So far this season, he owns the second-lowest chase percentage in the league, currently standing at 17.1%. When he swings, he’s swinging at strikes, and when his line drive percentage is 29.8% (18% in 2011), it’s easy to see why his batting average is currently over .400. With more solid contact, Wright has been eliminating the “easy out” by increasing his GB/FB ratio to 1.67 this year, with his previous career high in 2005 at 1.12.

So, can he actually do it? I have no idea; that’s why they play the game. Today’s game is much different from when Ted Williams was playing, even when Tony Gwynn was playing; scouting reports get around very quick. However, we’re just about two months into the season and no one has really figured David Wright out yet. He’s got all the right ingredients: not chasing balls out of the strike zone, walking a lot, not striking out a lot, and he has enough speed to beat out a 15-hopper in the infield every so often. We’ll see what happens…only time will tell.