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The Advance Scout: April 27-29 vs. Mets

New York Mets in a Box

Record/Position/Streak: 13-8; First in NL East; L1 (6-4 in last ten)

Runs Scored vs. Runs Allowed: 116 (5.52 RS/G) vs. 69 (3.29 RA/G)

Otherwise Noteworthy: 1st in NL in OPS (by .027 points); 1st in NL in ERA (by 0.35 R/G)

Scheduled Starters: Friday, Oliver Perez (2-1, 3.31) vs. Matt Chico; Saturday, Tom Glavine (3-1, 3.07) vs. Jerome Williams; Sunday, John Maine (3-0, 1.71) vs. Jason Bergmann

Mets Blogs: Amazin' Avenue; Eddie Kranepool Society; Faith and Fear in Flushing; Metstramdamus; Mets Blog; many, many others.

They're Feelin': All superior because they've got the better team in the Big Apple (and thus the best team in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!). But guess what? We've got Jesus Flores. Bang! Zoom!

Baseball is full of matched pairs. Sometimes these pairs are arranged by familiar relation, and sometimes they're arranged by position, and sometimes they're arranged by proximity. I don't believe David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman are related, but they are and will continue to be thought of in relation to one another. They are both young third basemen from Virginia Beach who man the hot corners of National League East teams. If all goes to plan, they will face each other 18 or so times every year for the next dozen years or more; if all goes according to The Plan, many of those encounters will come as representatives of healthy and heated competitors.

Wright and Zimmerman are both struggling at the moment. Wright is functioning at an impotent .263/.371/.329 pace, while Zimmerman currently checks in at .245/.290/.351. A week ago, when Zimmerman's batting average plummeted to .209, he said he was not too concerned and referred to the slow April he had last season, too. The explanation has sufficed, especially since Zimmerman's shown signs of coming out of it. In the past week, Zimmerman has launched a grand slam during garbage-time in Florida on Sunday and delivered a couple of key hits. It is not unreasonable to predict Zimmerman's early- and mid-April struggles will be forgotten a month from now.

In New York, where the lights are bright and the media scrutiny is tight, things are probably not so simple for Wright. From a scan of the articles up there, I perceive the reporters are looking for a root cause for Wright's struggles, as opposed to a remedial context for Zimmerman's early slumpiness. A popular theory seems to be last year's All-Star Home Run Derby messed with Wright's swing, as inferred by the New York Times:

He hit 27 home runs in 2005, his first full season, and had 20 homers in the first half of last season. After he finished second in the Home Run Derby at last year's All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, Wright's power numbers dwindled in the second half. He hit only six home runs the rest of the year and one in the playoffs.

Affixing the Home Run Derby as the cause (or a substantial contributor) to a power slump is a popular custom, and that's one reason why big names often beg out of the competition. Yet, looking at the statistical record, I'm not sure it's such an easy diagnosis with Wright. It appears he had a streaky 2006 season, at least in terms of power, both prior to and after the Mid-Summer Classic. For instance, Wright had a two-week homerless streak from April 13-26. Wright homered twice during the next game, on April 28. He then went about three weeks -- April 29 to May 20 -- without a dinger. That's five weeks of homerless baseball interrupted by a lone multi-homer game.

After that, Wright started heating up and then got red-hot, homering ten times in June. So you can look at those monthly splits from a distance (like I am) and say, "He homered ten times in June, and then the power dropped off. It must've been that Home Run Derby." But again, it's not so simple, unless you want to make the Home Run Derby Effect retroactive to June 24. That's when he entered another ten-game homerless streak.

Wright homered twice in five games directly prior to the break, but then he homered in his third game back. And then Wright's homer stroke fell off the cliff, with only a single homer between July 18 and August 29. This seems a pretty profound slump. But is a six-week power slump interrupted by one homer all that different in kind from a five-week power slump interrupted by a multi-homer game? Probably not.

Now, every player's season has peaks and valleys, but Wright's peaks and valleys in 2006 strike me as particularly exaggerated. It certainly appeared that something external broke up his rythmn in mid-July, and maybe it was that the homer contest in Detroit. But I'd imagine the effect was made larger because he had been hitting out of his mind in recent weeks before the break. He was going to come out of that hot streak sooner or later. And while it is normally tough to pin causality on one factor, it's especially hard with Wright since he had cooled down in the two weeks before the break and had an extended cold streak earlier in the season to boot.

Brock Hanke, an author for the Big Bad Baseball Annual (R.I.P., BBBA), fashioned a theory alternatively called "iambic development" and "serpentine development." The latter is probably a more illustrative title with which to explain the concept. Essentially, Hanke premised his theory . . . hypothesis, I suppose is a better way of looking at it . . . his hypothesis on the truism that baseball "is a game of adjustments." A young hitter comes to the big leagues, he has some success, the word gets out on this guy, he is pitched differently, and he has to adjust. He adjusts, the opposition needs to find another weakness to exploit, it's exploited, and then the player has to adjust again. The cycle repeats itself until the player is mature and established enough -- or is exploited enough -- such that exploitable weaknesses are either diminished or held steady in a war of attrition between batter and pitcher. That's the way I've always perceived Hanke's thoughts on serpentine, at least, although it's been awhile since I read his actual works on the matter. At any rate, you can graph the young hitter's performance in periodic break-outs, and the image you'll get is one of a serpentine slither coiled from point-to-point, up-and-down and up-and-down.

I don't know if any of this holds water. I know I've seen graphs of serpentine development for some players in old copies of BBBA, so to some extent the effect exists neatly enough to make the neat little snake image. Now, whether that's due to periodic adjustment necessities or essentially random fluctuations or whatever, I cannot say. Often, I think those are the same things, just spelled differently. But that's not really a question I'm equipped to address adequately at this moment, obviously.

Anyway, I bring up the serpentine-adjustment model because the Times article linked above is a point of reference. From the article:

Wright said that his lunging prevented him from adjusting to off-speed pitches. "The really good pitchers are able to exploit this," he said. . . .

The Mets' hitting coach, Rick Down, said that he noticed Wright lunging at the ball but did not see many other problems with his swing. "He has some movement in his swing, but that happens with any hitter," Down said.

Wright said: "It wasn't the start I was looking for. You have to make adjustments."

A player of Wright's quality no doubt will make the necessary adjustments, whether from the lunging or from some other weakness. In the meantime, it's something to try to observe this weekend. Is he lunging? Is he exploitable with off-speed pitches? If so, this might be a good matchup for Jerome Williams, who throws a nice changeup -- and you bet Williams could use all the good matchups he can get.

[Update: The New York Times provides a more recent and more thorough look at Wright's problems. It appears he has issues with both his approach and his mechanics at the moment. Exploit, exploit!]