05 September 2013

The Struggles of Wieters

Photo: Keith Allison
I don't need to rehash all of the excitement that surrounded Matt Wieters's major league promotion in 2009. He was supposed to perform amazing feats on a nightly basis. He has not lived up to those lofty expectations, but he is an excellent defensive catcher who has given the Orioles consistency at a position where it's difficult to find productive players.

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.


Bret said...

He is 6th on the Orioles in wins above replacement and 15th among all MLB catchers in wins above replacement. A large part of his value comes from his defense which is harder to quantify. He is incredibly slow and can't hit. Not sure I define that as being good at baseball. He is good at being talked about as being good at baseball but I have yet to see results that suggest that. If I'm the O's I go to arbitration and offer him a pay cut and go to the hearing if he doesn't take it. He has had a horrendous year and is a big reason the team will be sitting home in 3 weeks.

Jon Shepherd said...

He is not getting a pay cut at arbitration. He will be at around 7MM next year. That is one of the lovely things about control year arbitration is that a player is almost always paid less than he is worth. He has had a below average season given his playing time (15th among all MLB catcher is in no way argued as being horrendous).

I still think he is a solid extension option and one that will probably be cheaper due to his offensive struggles this season.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

OK, so the "good at baseball" thing is really just a semantics argument, then. I just tried to note that he's not as good offensively as we'd thought he'd be, but he's probably better defensively. Being an average MLB hitter and a plus defensive catcher has value. He's not Buster Posey or Yadier Molina. But he's still valuable.

Bret said...

Well given that other than J.P. Arencibia he has the lowest on base percentage in baseball of any catcher I have trouble giving him credit for being a "average MLB hitter". .285 OBP isn't average in any world.

Time to tell it like it is. He is the biggest bust in the history of baseball ever when you factor in draft position, minor league performance and BA ratings the year he hit the Show (09).

Time to get Aaron Neville and tell it like it is.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

You can't include his OBP and discount his power numbers. He also has a career low BABIP; before this season, his OBP was never below .319 for an entire season. I mention all of that in my write-up.

I'm also not sure what you're trying to say in your second paragraph, but he's not the biggest bust in MLB history. That's a pretty ridiculous assertion.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

nice write-up and i think it was important that you mentioned just how much time he spends catching, which is no doubt the most demanding position on the field.

if you believe that the bat will improve (and I think it will, considering catchers bats don't develop as quickly as other positions), he would be an excellent extension candidate coming off a down year. It's easy to forget, but Yadier Molina didn't start hitting until his age 28 season (although he wasn't as highly regarded for his bat at an earlier age).

Bret said...

OBP is more important than slugging and his w/OBA which incorporates that fact is still only ahead of Arencibia and no one else that qualifies with enough ABs on fangraphs at C.

His BABIP is low because he is slower than smoke off manure on a frosty morning and because he rolls over more batting LH than most actresses in porn. That isn't going to change, if it were would have happened by now.

No way has he been "good" or an average hitter this season. Moroz said he deserves more than 10 million per. That is laughable. And yes his defense is very good but 4 runs saved isn't making Mark Belanger nervous. He has just been bad, Baltimore refuses to say the Emperor is naked for some reason.

Jon Shepherd said...

Eh, it really is not a Baltimore-coloured spectacles sort of thing. Wieters is regarded as a second tier hitter with first tier defense. That basically is the industry consensus and, yeah, he would get 10 MM on the market. His performance at the plate has been underwhelming, but it has been his worst in his career and there are underlying numbers that suggest that he might have been unlucky. Even if he got just the right amount of luck he is supposed to get, this season does not erase seasons past. Simply put, he shows power, is a good hitter of lefties, and has highly respected defense.

OBP certainly is more important than SLG. His .301 wOBA is poor for a qualified starting catcher. For a catcher, though, it is about average. That is a key thing to remember. There are more than 13 catchers in baseball. What you see in that fangraphs list is the product of survivorship bias and much of that leans toward hitting. Simply ignoring Wieters' defense (again, applauded by both scouts and several statistical metrics) is not useful in my opinion.

Anyway, again, it is cute to claim this is some sort of Baltimore conspiracy. It is also cute to continue the meme that somehow he is baseball's biggest bust. Brandon Wood, Andy LaRoche, Felix Pie, Travis Snider, Elijah Dukes, and Delmon Young come immediately to mind. An elite catcher held in high esteem by general managers, scouts, managers, and ball players does not qualify as such. You are taking a WAY TOO leaning stance on this. Perhaps it is in response to the fan boy crush due to the Davenport Translation feeding into PECOTA that first year, but, eh, I think you need to be more critical in your assessment here.

Bret said...

My judgement on busts for prospects involve 4 things. Where were they drafted, what was their minor league performance, how did scouts (Baseball America in particular) rank them after a couple years in the minors and what was their major league performance.

Scouting is a tough business, I don't view Tim Beckham as a bust. I view him as a poor evaluation made when he was 18. Ditto Matt Hobgood or any other number of players. They didn't not live up to potential, they never really had potential and the error was on the team for thinking they did.

Wieters was drafted top 5.

Wieters tore up the minors.

Wieters was 21 when drafted so not much projection was needed like for an 18 year old kid.

Wieters was number 1 in BA at age 23 with two seasons in the minors.

He has talent, he has ability but something is missing (fire, desire, heart you name it). That is what I mean by bust. The players you mentioned for one reason or another don't find my criteria. And I doubt you find one that does because Wieters is very atypical - can't miss in every aspect by every scout and he missed big time.

Unknown said...

completely disagree with the Wieters being a bust comment, even with your stated criteria. other players who fit that criteria (in Wieters OWN draft class) with less career rWAR.

1) Mike Moustakas - Drafted #2, Baseball America #9 overall prospect after 2010 season
2) Josh Vitters - Drafted #3, BA #70 prospect after 2009 season
3) Matt LaPorta - Drafted #7, BA #27 overall prospect after 2008 season

Wieters is not even close.

Bret said...

Vitters and Moustakas fit my criteria of being drafted at 18. Neither really had great underlying numbers in the minors. JV struck out 3 times as often as he walked throughout his minor league career and MM more than 2-1 which isn't great - ML slightly better but not much. Wieters walked as often as he K'd in the minors and showed huge power. Don't think the comparison works in any of those 3 cases.

Unknown said...

even with the EXTENSIVE criteria to qualify as a bust, I submit Travis Lee

Jon Shepherd said...

Well...I do not understand why you are using that criteria Bret. If is like noting a kid is good at math at 5 years old and then noting that he is good at it at 21 years old. We really should not care what he was doing at 5 years old. 21 years old is what matters. Likewise, creating a pool of players that teams and scouts have always thought highly of throughout the entire process of evaluation really has no functional use. I mean, do we cancel it all out because no one thought he was worth a great deal as a high schooler?

To be blunt, you have created a nonsensical pool of players where Wieters is one of a very few number and one we assume to be on the lower end of the production. I'm not sure how it is useful and finds such a process to determine busts as artificially increasing the baseline for that level.

I mean, this so called bust already has the highest fWAR and rWAR of any Orioles catcher. He has three seasons where he hit above average for a catcher and two at average. He is widely regarded as a plus to plus plus defensive catcher.

I don't think there really is anything to add.

Anonymous said...

he needs to take hitting lessons from davis and take some time off from catching every once in a while. his bat speed is non-existent now.

Anonymous said...

It probably wouldn't hurt to shop for a catcher in the 2013-14 off-season. Once that's done, Wieters could be kept as the defensive sub; and when he hits free agency, maybe we could let the Yankees take him (like what Buck has said) if the price tag is too high.

Jon Shepherd said...

It really is not a bat speed issue. It has been the same since he got up to Baltimore. Typically a major drop in bat speed will see opposite field power disappear.

One of his issues is that he has problems with breaking balls as a left handed batter. He is a very good hitter from the right side. In total, he is an average hitter to above average depending on the year. That is not a guy you employ as a backup.

Bret said...

At this point who cares what Wieters did in 2011? One of the major issues I have with him is that he has regressed during his prime years. And it isn't just surface numbers, his K's are up and walks are down compared to 2011. And in 2011 he was a very solid player but a great part of his value came from defense which has also regressed. A .328 OBP is certainly acceptable for a good defensive catcher with power but even then he wasn't what people said he was going to be. And two years ago he was 100 times better than he is now.

You need top picks to become stars, when they don't it sets the franchise back for years. See 1998-2006 draft for Orioles. The main reason this team isn't set for the next 5 years is that Wieters hasn't developed and that the screwed up the 2009 draft immensely. If Wieters were Posey and Mike Trout played RF instead of Markakis this is a world championship caliber team for years to come.

Unknown said...

So, what you're really saying is that if the Orioles had been blessed with perfect foreknowledge, and had two more perennial MVP candidates, they'd be perennial world championship contenders. That may be true, but not very helpful.

Bret said...

I don't think it takes a great deal of magic powers to take the best player available in a draft. No one in 2009 thought that was Hobgood including Baltimore, they just didn't want to pay anyone else.

Wieters was the best player and has the talent but he has no fire or desire to get better or live up to his potential. He plays baseball with the passion of someone who works at the DMV.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Perhaps if Wieters had more grit, maybe like David Eckstein, he'd be the best player of all time.

Honestly, I didn't think people were still making the grit/heart/desire argument about players. I was wrong.

Bret said...

I don't think it is grit, I think it is desire to improve. I'm not asking him to slide head first into 2nd, I'm asking him to work on being better at baseball which he obviously hasn't because he is much worse now than he has ever been.

I've seen him in BP, he hits the ball 6 miles. He has a cannon. He obviously has the plate discipline/recognition talent or he wouldn't have walked as much as he K'd in the minors. It isn't talent holding him back, it is mental and or an inability to want to improve. If he had no talent I wouldn't care.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Putting in the work to improve doesn't mean you actually do improve. Those are two separate things. Questioning his work ethic based on zero facts or proof is a waste of time and is better served for something like sports talk radio.

Bret said...

Pull up an aging curve on a normal player and tell me when most of them get better. I want an explanation for why he is getting much worse when most players get better (ages 24-27). It isn't talent and it isn't injury so it is something else. Sports talk radio at least admits that he has underperformed, you guys in an effort to be the smartest in the room forget that the Emperor isn't wearing anything.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Why do you always need an explanation? We thought he'd be better than he is. That doesn't mean he's a horrible loafer or someone who lacks desire. It just means that he's a decent ballplayer instead of an amazing one -- and decent players still have value.

The more he plays, the more we'll know about him. Resorting to cliches about his effort level and needing to know why he's not performing like an all-time great player don't really help in this situation.

Jon Shepherd said...

I know how condescending this sounds, but this is one of the worst usages of population derived trends and recognition of suotable sample sizes married to unobservable and somewhat fantisized underdtandings of the inner workings of a player's mind.

I appreciate comments challenging perspectives, but sometimes I find the challenge uninformative and grasping roo tightly to a preconcoeved conclusion to the point where data disagreeing with that assessment completes destabilizes the foundation of that contention.

Perhaps, Bret, you need to regroup and starr from square one to put forth a rational argument of Wieters lack of value because what is presented here is not that.

Unknown said...

you cant compare a normal player's aging curve to a catcher's aging curve, because they are different. I already mentioned it, but I'll say it again, Yadier Molina only started hitting in his age 28 season, after years of being a below average hitter.

Wieters was a great draft pick (past and present). The only 1st round pick with a higher rWAR taken after Wieters was Jason Heyward, and apparently no one really knew about him except the Braves since he was in their backyard. Looking at every Orioles 1st round pick since the late '90s, Wieters is one of their best.

They probably do need to target a catcher in the offseason, but not to replace Wieters. A suitable backup who can hit RHP's would be ideal (a cheap option could be George Kottaras, or maybe Steve Clevenger is already that guy). Someone productive enough to allow Wieters to rest or DH a little more.

Bret said...

If you look at someone like Francisco Cervelli - he has very little talent but he busts it all the time and treats every at bat like life and death and cajoles the pitcher. If you can't see that Wieters is low energy then you don't watch baseball. Jose Lobaton ditto to Cervelli. Wieters offensively has been much worse than Lobaton by any measure this season and Lobaton plays in a pitchers park. Had Wieters outplayed Lobaton O's are in postseason and TB is on the outside. Plain and simple fact.

They have no better catchers right now but that is more a reflection on the organization than on Wieters. I'm not saying cut him, I wouldn't sign him long term though and I would go to a hearing this year. Good field no hit catchers should not make 8 million dollars. Varitek and Posada and Yadier are 3 examples but there are plenty more that never developed. I do not want to buy the decline years of a player without a major discount. The one thing Wieters has done is stay healthy, at age 32-33 that is a dubious prospect.

Unknown said...

Francisco Cervelli? He of the 200 major-league plate appearances over the last three seasons? Jose Lobaton? the part-time catcher having by far his best season? These are the guys you'd rather have catching than Matt Wieters?

If you notice a guy's "hustle", 95 times out of 100 he isn't very good.

Bret said...

Jon, there is nothing preconceived about a .287 on base percentage. There is fact and there is fiction. Baseball is not a Magritte painting no matter how much you try to make it so. He has sucked this year. That isn't an opinion, that is a fact. His OBP is horrible catcher or non-catcher. His w/OBA is horrible catcher or non-catcher. His fielding if anything has gotten worse (6 passed balls his first 3 years, 10 in the last 2). His offense certainly has fallen apart compared to 2011 when things looked somewhat promising. The team is ready to compete, if he and Markakis had played even at an adequate level this year the team is 100% in the postseason in some form (likely WC but in nevertheless). I'm sick of everyone ignoring the elephant in the room. He is the elephant.

Bret said...

Yeah well Cervelli has 1/3rd the WAR of Wieters this season in 1/8th of games played. Lobaton has nearly the same WAR in many fewer games played. I agree Cervelli and Lobaton aren't very talented or good, but they are as good (not talented) as Wieters this year. That is the problem.

Amanda B said...

Bret, how do you know that these players are in fact "busting it" or playing with heart, desire, or fire? What measures are you using to quantify that information?

Having a pop-time below 1.9 seconds consistently doesn't inform me that he's not playing with heart or desire. It informs spectators that he's got a great arm defensively.

Having only 5 passed balls informs spectators that even with this iffy pitching staff, he's still "busting it" behind the plate.

Sure his offensive numbers are down - but I wouldn't say that he's a complete bust as you've insinuated. He's grounded into less double plays this year than he has in any year he's been in the MLB - which suggests that he's changed his mentality at the plate. He's not giving up outs to other teams. And while his power might not be explosive yet, he's just 3 homeruns shy of his career high.

Until you can quantify heart, desire, and "busting it," you're in a losing battle.

Bret said...

I think it is pretty obvious that Wieters is a low energy, low emotion type of player. I don't have a problem with the emotion issue because I think several players on the Orioles are too emotional (Jones and Machado's at bats for instance) but he doesn't seem all that enthused most of the time. Part of it I think is that Baltimore has absolved him from any blame for anything and basically given him free reign to suck with no criticism. Believe me, if he were in NY or Boston he would be hearing it everyday. Here...crickets.

Unknown said...

It's pretty irresponsible and ignorant to label Wieters and Markakis the reasons why the Orioles aren't shoo-ins for the playoffs when they've gotten nothing out of their DHs and the bench. Wieters and Markakis are having bad years; the DH / bench are having abysmal years. Perhaps Wieters is struggling because he's overworked, and he's overworked because Teagarden et al have been unplayable.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Yes, if only we could aspire to be more like Yankees and Red Sox fans...

What is happening here?

Bret said...


I'm not going to blame 35 year old Brob and Wilson Betemit's injury for the team's issues. Certainly they are a factor but Davis has been out of his mind, Machado has been tremendous defensively to more than make up for his current offensive shortcomings and Hardy/McLouth/Jones have all been at least as good as could be expected. And I'm not going to blame the pitching because everyone knew the pitching was a weak point.

Get 4 WAR out of Wieters and Markakis and that is 6 more wins this season and that is play in game. 1st round picks, both make good money (particularly NM) and both are young and both are supposed to get it done. That is where the blame lies. I like that Boston and NY holds people accountable. Accountability is not something to dislike even if you hate the teams which I do.

Amanda B said...

Why is it that stoicism is equated to no enthusiasm? Again, how does that measure into his performance? The numbers suggest a rough year...though not anything that has been out of his norm.

One thing about Wieters is that he has been relatively consistent throughout his career. If his numbers this year don't match up, I would be really surprised.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

So you're saying sites like this one don't hold Orioles players accountable (whatever that means)? We've already written about Markakis plenty, and Wieters has gotten his share of write-ups (including, you know, this one, where I'm pretty sure everything I wrote wasn't all rainbows and unicorns) . Wieters is better than Markakis, though, so I don't think it's an equal comparison.

Bret said...

You guys aren't in the press box. If Wieters did this in Boston he would have people in his face constantly and so would NM. You can argue that is a bad thing, I believe it is a good thing. The average Baltimore fan thinks Wieters is having a fine season. They don't boo him, they don't boo Markakis. It takes them 3 months of awfulness to boo Pedro Strop. I would like to see his feet being held to the fire because the lack of development stuns me.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

How would booing and getting in players' faces make them play better? Do you think they want to perform poorly? I don't understand what you're saying.

Did booing Pedro Strop help anything? He was frustrating to watch, sure. And we all know that relievers are fickle, but he's pitching pretty well right now.

If you want to argue about organizational lack of development (other than Manny Machado), that's an entirely different topic.

Amanda B said...

So you're upset because an entire city doesn't want to boo a player? What press box are you sitting in that supports in your face, demeaning tactics, and how is that plausible for journalistic integrity?

You are blatantly using garbage statistics to manufacture a viewpoint that people won't share because it isn't right or realistic.

You're taking the most demanding position in baseball and breaking it down to t-ball level. Unfortunately it's not that simple and can't be fixed by painting a pained expression on a face that shows his own frustration because you're not satisfied.

Bret said...

If my daughter doesn't do something I ask her and I say nothing she either assumes

A. She doesn't need to listen because I have no spine


B. I won't care

Wieters is on cruise control, he got a huge bonus, he makes great money, the fans cheer him and wear his jersey, the media props him up, etc. He isn't going to reach his potential if everyone is happy with him being average (on talent alone). Not everyone is self-motivated, fear and humiliation are good motivators, he will get neither playing in Baltimore because everyone has already determined (incorrectly) that he is a good player.

Amanda B said...

I guess self motivation means nothing when you've worked your way to the MLB.

I'm going to reserve comments on your parenting because if you speak to her in the same clich├ęs you're throwing out here, she'll just stop listening anyway.

Again, find a way to quantify his lack of effort and I'll find some validation in your stance.