David Wright's bizarre numbers

David Wright's 2009 numbers? As Ben Shpigel writes, they're befuddling (to say the least!).

    Almost sheepishly, Wright shrugged when asked for an explanation. He is just as clueless. Defying more than 125 years of precedent is not an easy thing to explain. Midway through June, Wright was leading the major leagues with a .365 batting average going into Wednesday's games while striking out as often as the sport's most feared sluggers. Except, in Wright's case, there have been few home runs to go with all those strikeouts.
    In a sense, Wright has become a composite of the best and worst traits of Ichiro Suzuki, Juan Pierre and Dave Kingman, on pace to hit 11 homers, strike out 159 times and steal 48 bases while batting 51 points higher than his career average.


    Through Tuesday, Wright had hit safely on 49.7 percent of the balls he has put in play, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That is the highest percentage in baseball this season, and if Wright maintains that pace he will hold the career record, surpassing Babe Ruth's 48.1 percentage compiled in 1923.

    Ruth struck out a lot, too, but he balanced that with tremendous power. Johnson said he expected Wright's home run totals to increase and his strikeouts to decrease, pointing to Wright's recent hot stretch. In batting .558 over his last 11 games going into Wednesday, Wright struck out only seven times.

    "That tells me that things are starting to click,” Johnson said.

    At some point, Wright expects his numbers to even out. He will hit a few more homers and strike out a little less, and some of those balls that are dropping in for hits may wind up in fielders' gloves. But until that happens, Wright will keep doing what he has been doing, which has hardly been done before.

As you know, there are some fairly rigid and established laws regarding batting average on balls in play.
Pitchers tend to give up, roughly speaking, a .300 batting average on balls in play. Yes, you'll find some variation that's not due just to luck, but a pitcher that's given up a .330 batting average on balls in play has probably been unlucky; a pitcher who's given up a .270 BABiP has probably been lucky (or throwing a lot of knuckleballs).

Hitters aren't subject to the .300 rule, at all. Tony Gwynn batted .341 on balls in play; Ozzie Guillen, .280. Wade Boggs batted .344 on balls in play; Dave Kingman, .252.

What sort of batting average on balls in play can we expect from particular batters? As Spock says in Wrath of Khan, "Like all living things, each according to his gifts" ... Except that luck plays a large factor for a batter, because over the course of the season he might bat 600 times, whereas a starting pitcher might face 900 batters. Those extra 300 trials mean a lot more time for things to even out.

David Wright's gifts? Entering this season, he had batted .336 in his career when the ball wound up in the field of play. After last night's 0-for-3 (plus two strikeouts), he's batting .473 this season on balls in play. Can this continue? Of course not. He probably will hit a few more homers (and a few fewer doubles) and strike out a little less. But when it comes to "those balls that are dropping in for hits," there's no may about it. Wright has been incredibly, absurdly, off-the-charts lucky, and a significantly higher percentage of the balls he hits will wind up being turned into outs.

I'm sure this sort of thing has happened before, two or three months into a season. What's interesting is that until (roughly) now, nobody's been paying much attention.