|Photo: Keith Allison|
Still, as one of the most hyped prospects of all time, Wieters was supposed to be much better offensively. In parts of five major league seasons, he has a slash line of .255/.320/.420, which is decent (especially for a catcher), but not great. But this season, he's hitting just .230/.285/.414 -- numbers that rival his line from 2010 (.249/.319/.377) as the worst of his career.
So what are the problems with Wieters this season? Let's run through them.
1) He's walking less. He's walking just 7.6% of the time this season, compared to 8.7% for his career. Last season he walked a career high 10.1% of the time.
2) Low BABIP. Wieters currently has a .239 BABIP (career average = .283). One contributor to that is a jump in his fly ball rate (44.2%; career average of 39.2%). (Just as a reminder, fly balls are less likely to be hits than groundballs and line drives, but they are, obviously, more likely to turn into home runs.) His HR/FB rate (12.3%) is also right around his career average (11.9%). So, yes, Wieters has 20 home runs, yet he's still underperforming at the plate. (It's also worth noting that Wieters has three "lucky" home runs this season, tied for second most in baseball. Then again, he also crushed this ball against the Rockies, which was impressive.)
3) Slightly worse plate discpline. Wieters is swinging at more pitches out of the zone and more pitches overall than he has in any other season. The increases aren't that significant, but swinging less and walking more should be a bigger part of Wieters's game.
4) Inability to hit right-handed pitching. Wieters's career splits vs. right- and left-handed pitching:
vs. RHP: .308 wOBA
vs. LHP: .357 wOBA
And in 2013:
vs. RHP: .279 wOBA
vs. LHP: .361 wOBA
So maybe he's not quite that bad against righties, but he's never been able to hit them nearly as effectively as lefties. So should Wieters abandon switch-hitting and hit exclusively from the right side? More than a few fans have suggested that he stop hitting left-handed. In fact, Shane Victorino is (temporarily, at least) doing just that and has done pretty well (small sample size alert). But such experiments don't happen often. It might be worth a try, but there's no guarantee it would work, either.
5) Workload. Wieters leads the majors in innings behind the plate by a pretty healthy margin. He's accumulated 1013.2 innings at catcher; the next closest player is Yadier Molina at 940. So, yes, those extra innings are helping with Wieters's overall defensive value behind the plate, but it's also possible that all of that time is wearing on him and therefore hurting his offensive production.
Overall, the average major leaguer hits slightly better than the average catcher. Here are the 2013 averages (with Wieters's splits mentioned again for reference):
All hitters: .254/.318/.398 (.314 wOBA)
Catchers: .248/.315/.394 (.311 wOBA)
Wieters: .230/.285/.414 (.301 wOBA)
As explained above, there are reasons to worry about Wieters's hitting abilities. And although it's not unlikely that he could put together a couple of nice offensive seasons in the near future (he's only 27), there's really nothing to suggest that he's going to be anything better than he has been in his five seasons in Baltimore. And, really, that's fine. A major-league-average-hitting catcher with strong defensive skills is certainly a valuable asset. (How valuable? Jon has already covered that topic.)
As Daniel Moroz noted over at Camden Crazies in May, Wieters is still a good baseball player. But he's not as good as most fans thought he'd be, and it's hard not to hold that against him -- fair or unfair. Then again, numerous highly drafted and highly rated O's farmhands have failed to live up to expectations, so maybe Wieters should at least be more appreciated for still being useful and an important contributor. He's not "Mauer with power," but there's no shame in that.