New York Mets: 3rd Base
By: Bob Cruikshank, PT, DPT | Staff PT
Some people consider the captain of New York baseball to be someone other than Derek Jeter. David wright of the New York Mets has been a highlight despite the franchise’s struggles over the years. Wright is a 7 time all-star who boasts a .296 lifetime batting average over a 14 year career. Over the past few years Wright has struggled to make the roster of the New York Mets due to injuries, but he recently was honored by the Mets at the end of the 2018 regular season with one final game, starting at 3rd base, to end a successful career. Fans were frustrated by the absence of Wright, but understanding his diagnosis, the mechanism of injury and its impact related to baseball mechanics is vital to understanding why he spent so much time away from the sport.
Wright was diagnosed in 2015 with spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis can occur from conditions such as arthritis or degenerative joint disease that decrease the space in the spinal canal, which the spinal cord runs through. It is more common in the geriatric population but can also occur in a younger population due to various reasons, one being congenital bone structure and formation creating a smaller space in the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis is exacerbated by positions of the trunk. Trunk flexion, such as reaching your toes, increases joint space and usually improves symptoms related to spinal stenosis. Trunk extension causes a further narrowing of the spinal canal leading to more encroachment on the spinal cord and nearby nerves which increases discomfort. Positions of rotation can also lead to further narrowing of the spinal canal exacerbating symptoms.
Batters need both trunk extension and rotation in order to be efficient and effective when making contact with a pitched ball. Pain with trunk extension could cause a hitter to compensate and swing with an exaggerated downward trajectory to avoid discomfort. The time the hitters bat is in the strike zone aligned with the trajectory of the pitched ball would be decreased with this compensation. This creates poor likelihood of quality contact. If the hitter did not compensate and used typical swing mechanics, further irritation could occur from the narrowed space in the spinal canal. David Wright’s quality at bats decreased since the time of diagnosis’s in 2015. In 2016, He posted 55 strikeouts in 164 plate appearances (33%). In Wright’s prior 2 full seasons without time spent on the DL or injured reserve (2014,2013) he posted 113 strikeouts in 535 (21%) at bats and 79 strikes outs in 492 at bats (16%). Although other attributes such as age (35) and other injuries could have slowed Wright down, it’s likely due to his injury that his strikeout numbers increased. Spinal stenosis does not prevent Wright from playing baseball but it makes difficult due to the biomechanics needed to be successful. In addition, any factors further decreasing space in the spinal canal, that may not cause symptoms or discomfort in the general population, will cause greater discomfort and be less forgiving such as inflammation, disc injuries and degenerative changes with age. Wright has retired as of the end of regular season play 2018, which gives the Mets an answer for the remaining 2 years of an 8-year 138 million dollar contract. Despite the injuries, David Wright’s successful career will leave him as a likely hall of fame candidate.
Bob Cruikshank is a Kirkland Native and played at Lake Washington High School, Select Baseball, and lastly the University of San Francisco.