19 July 2013

Bounce Back Candidate for the Second Half: Matt Wieters

The Orioles come out of the All-Star break today in a good position to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year.  They are 4.5 games out of first place, and 1.5 games out of the second wild card spot.  Unlike last year, their 53-43 record basically matches up with their expected record based on run differential.  Add that to their 13-14 record in one run games, and there are no doubts this year that the Orioles are a talented team.  Individually, there are Orioles playing above expectations and below expectations.  While Matt Wieters is an Oriole currently hitting below his expectations, there are reasons to believe that he’ll be more productive in the second half of the season.

Wieters has never really become an offensive star the way that many had predicted while he was a prospect, but he’s been very valuable to the organization as a league average hitter (career 100 OPS+ exactly), while providing gold glove defense at a premium position.  Offensively, Wieters has had a very disappointing year, with his current slash line of .232/.291/.408 representing career lows in the average and on base categories.  His wOBA sits at .299, the first time in his career that it has been below .300. 

Despite the disappointing season to date, there is reason to believe that Wieters will have increased success after the All-Star break.  The most obvious and easiest thing to do is to point to his BABIP, which is currently .246, well below his career level of .286.  Since his BB% and K% are both around his career levels, he appears to be putting a similar percentage of balls in play this year.  However, the balls he has put in play this year seem to be finding more gloves.

A low BABIP isn’t always the result of bad luck, and maybe Wieters has been swinging at bad pitches, leading to weak contact and more outs.    This does not seem to be the case though, as the table below shows.  

As you can see, Wieters has been swinging at pitches outside the strikezone at exactly his career rate. The table doesn’t show this, but his 2013 O-Swing% is actually about 2% points lower than it was in 2011 and 2012.  While his plate discipline has not really appeared to have changed compared to his career levels, his BABIP may be suffering due to his increased O-Contact% (which is a career high), especially if he’s putting those balls in play, instead of fouling them off. 

According to his batted ball profile, the quality of Wieters’ contact this year has changed, although maybe not in a bad way. 

While his line drive rate is down from last year, it’s not all that different from his career rate.  The main thing that sticks out is the increase in fly balls, compared with his decrease in HR/FB%.  This FB% increase could also be suppressing his BABIP, as they’re less likely to become hits, but an increase in fly balls for someone with his physical attributes and power isn’t necessarily bad.  If those fly balls aren’t finding their way over the fence then that’s another story, and Wieters’ bad luck may come into play the most with his HR/FB%. 

As the figure above shows, Wieters has had several fly balls that were close to being home runs, only to be caught near or at the wall for an out.  If the 9 fly outs along the hypothetical wall (or passed it) would have made it over the wall, his triple slash line increases to .260/.316/.524, which actually looks pretty good.  Since turning all 9 of those fly outs into home runs is maybe too optimistic (it is), let’s take a look at his triple slash line would be if only 4 of those 9 fly outs would have made their way over the fence.  If that were the case, his triple slash line would improve to .244/.301/.460, which brings us a little closer to his career norms in average on OBP, and still puts him on pace for a career high in slugging percentage.

With a little more luck, Matt Wieters could have a strong second half to help the Orioles push their way to the playoffs. Dan Szymborski’s Zips projection system over at Fangraphs tends to agree, predicting that he’ll hit close to his career averages the rest of the season, doubling his year to date fWAR while playing in 28 fewer games.  With several Orioles exceeding their offensive expectations before the All-Star break, it’s important that Matt Wieters has a strong second half at the plate, especially if one or more of those hitters regress.

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