Playing in the 2006 All-Star Game in his second full major league season wasn’t enough for David Wright, who made himself even more valuable this year.
The 24-year-old third baseman has a chance to become the first New York Mets player to win the National League MVP award. He has boosted his 26-homer, 20-steal production to 30-30 status while playing his usually outstanding defense. His 30 homers through Sunday aren’t much of a surprise to those who have watched his development, and he says the 34 stolen bases shouldn’t be either.
When it comes to stealing that many bases — in 39 attempts — it’s all about picking his spots based on counts and other game situations. And it’s about an attitude handed down to the team from hitting coach Howard Johnson, first-base coach (and all-time steals king) Rickey Henderson and manager Willie Randolph.
“It’s definitely an aspect of my game that I take a lot of pride in,” Wright said of his baserunning. “Did I think I would be able to steal 30? Probably not. But you just have to be smart about it.”
Wright realizes he’s not a burner like teammate and fellow MVP possibility Jose Reyes. But he does have above-average speed and a strong tutor in Johnson, a former Mets third baseman who had 30-30 seasons in 1987, 1989 and 1991. Darryl Strawberry in 1987 put up the franchise’s only other 30-30 performance.
Johnson was a hitting coach for two of Wright’s minor league teams, and he began this year as New York’s first-base coach. HoJo took over as hitting coach July 13, replacing the fired Rick Down. To Johnson, baserunning tips are an important part of coaching batters.
“They’re less likely to pitch around [Wright] because if they walk him, he can get himself into scoring position and we can score more runs,” Johnson said.
Since Johnson moved into his new role, the Mets have improved from ninth to fourth in the National League in runs. With 198 stolen bases, they have 60 more than the next team in baseball.
The running game will be a key component for the Mets in the postseason if they survive the pennant race after losing seven straight late-season games against second-place Philadelphia and starting last week with a series loss to the Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium.
“Our team clicks when we steal bases and put pressure on the defense,” Wright said. “At Shea Stadium, just like [at RFK], you can’t wait around and play for a three-run homer.”
Nationals manager Manny Acta said last week Wright should be MVP if the Mets win the NL East and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins deserves the award if his team finishes first.
MVP or not, Wright already has made his hitting coach proud by joining the 30-30 club.
“It would be like my own kid doing it,” Johnson said. “Watching the guy mature as a baseball player and knowing what kind of person he is off the field and the way he approaches every game, he deserves everything good that happens to him.”