19 March 2015

Wieters Isn't Needed at DH


Matt Wieters, who continues to recover from Tommy John surgery that was performed last June on his right elbow, is dealing with tendinitis in that elbow and may sit out from catching duties for a week. According to Showalter, it's too early to panic:
"Talked with Dr. Andrews today. It's normal. It's around a nine-month period. It's not a setback. I'm surprised we haven't had any of this before. He's not feeling anything acute or anything. Just after listening to him describe how he felt today, Richie (Bancells) on the safe side said just call Dr. Andrews.
"With all the time we have left, we thought it would be prudent to just try to get ahead of it. He's been doing a lot of things on the half field and throwing program. He's been doing things that he didn't do when he was healthy. There's been a lot there. His legs feel great, though. I don't think it puts anything in jeopardy, but we'll see."
Wieters should end up being just fine ("there’s hope that this is just part of Wieters’ normal recovery process"), and this could all be a minor speed bump. But the tendinitis does slow down his recovery, and it puts his status to be ready for opening day in jeopardy. That's not the worst thing in the world, either. Wieters, who's in a contract year, obviously wants to put together a strong season in order to rebuild his value. The Orioles also want a productive year from Wieters. And he's clearly at his most useful when he's behind the plate.

Wieters has a solid defensive reputation, though he's not a well-regarded pitch framer. Catching is extremely demanding, and he's pretty good at it. But he's not good enough offensively to get by without catching nearly all of the time when he's actually in the lineup. That's part of the reason why he's only received 136 plate appearances at DH in six seasons (about 5% of his total plate appearances). Players like Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Santana, who barely catch anymore or have stopped completely (some of that being injury related), are all much better hitters. So Wieters needs to be behind the plate as much as possible. That doesn't mean the Orioles should force him into a full-time catching role if he's not physically prepared for it. And they aren't doing that, and are doing their best to be cautious and stick to a recovery program.

It's obvious that Wieters is much more valuable when he's catching. He has a career wRC+ of 98. In 2014, the average major league catcher had a 93 wRC+. The average DH? 106. And the O's already have several capable DH options. Delmon Young has a career 114 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Steve Pearce (138 wRC+ against lefties), Travis Snider, and Chris Davis will also see a number of DH at-bats. Perhaps the Orioles could give Wieters a rest by DHing him occasionally against left-handed pitching to also keep his bat in the lineup. He does own a career 122 wRC+ against lefties (and as is often discussed, maybe he should give up switch-hitting altogether). But that would negate much of Young's role, and that also assumes Wieters would be able to handle full-time work. Wieters would also probably be better off sitting than DHing anyway; he'd get to rest more, and the inclusion of his bat in the DH role isn't an added bonus.

The O's are seemingly more prepared for Wieters to sit more than normal than in previous seasons. Besides Wieters, the O's have four catchers on the spring roster: Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger, and two non-roster invitees in J.P. Arencibia and Ryan Lavarnway (Brian Ward was recently cut and is ticketed for Norfolk.). Because of his excellent defensive work last season, Joseph has the upper hand and is the presumed favorite to assume the backup role (which could quickly turn into main catching duties depending on Wieters's status). But the spot behind Joseph is up for grabs.

As Ryan discussed last month, Tommy John surgery is rare for position players, let alone catchers, and Wieters's value could very well drop. It's often repeated that Wieters was on his way to a career year offensively before he got hurt last season. And with a .308/.339/.500 line (134 wRC+) in 112 plate appearances, he may have been. Now Wieters has to overcome elbow issues while also trying to rekindle what was working for him pre-injury in 2014. The O's are counting on bounce-back years from some key players; Wieters is certainly one of them. But he should be given as much time as possible to recover, and his bat isn't needed in the lineup at DH.

Photo: Keith Allison

24 comments:

Erik said...

Wieters has a significant platoon split in terms of value. So he should be usable as a DH from one side. His wRC+ batting as a RH batter is above the DH average, even against RH pitching (136 AB). (Fangraphs)

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Did you even read the post?

Matt Perez said...

The variables I'd include is that using Wieters as a DH could potentially impact his value for the upcoming offseason.

If he doesn't play much then it becomes unlikely that the Orioles will offer him a QO. Him showing that he can hit lefties as a DH will increase his value and make that more likely. On the other hand, doing that makes it harder to resign him.

The other thing is that if the Os don't plan to resign him then it doesn't matter if we play more than we should and this has impacts on the rest of his career as long as he performs this year. No need to let him rest extra this year so that he'll be able to be at full strength next year.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Matt, those are good points. Thanks for bringing them up. If the O's expect to make a playoff run, they're likely going to need production later in the season. I'd prefer them to give him as much rest as possible, especially early in the year. If they want to burn him out because they don't expect to re-sign him, then fine, I guess. But that does seem pretty heartless and maybe not in the best interest of either the team or Wieters.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I guess the larger point being, it might be a while before we know how much Wieters can handle, since Tommy John surgery is so uncommon for catchers. But the O's don't need Wieters filling in at DH when he isn't catching. They have other suitable options.

Matt Perez said...

I agree with your main point. I was throwing out some reasons why even though your main point is accurate that the Orioles may decide to do the opposite.

I'm not saying that the Orioles should force Wieters to play if he thinks he needs a day off. And if he thinks he needs frequent days off then you have to give them to him. Likewise, if the doctors say he can only catch 80 games this year then you need to reassess how you use him.

I'm more thinking that the Orioles should avoid doing what the Nationals did to Strasburg. A lot of people thought that giving him a strict innings limit after TJ surgery was the way to go but most players didn't see it that way. And going into free agency next year you can bet that Wieters will want to play as much as health permits. I bet Boras would appreciate the Os being slightly aggressive and letting him catch 120 games (if he can) rather than being conservative and only letting him catch 80.

Baseball players want to play.

Philip said...

Is Wieters, at his best, a better defensive catcher than Joseph?
Joseph seems to have a better and more accurate arm.
If Joseph can hit .240-250 instead of .207, and his defense remains excellent, keeping Wieters might be moot.
Trade him at the deadline( peak value) and let him go.

Benjamin Stoehr said...

I'm enamoured with Joseph's pitch framing skills. Has this blog explored the potential impact that has on O's pitchers outperforming their FIPs? And the potential impact that has on retaining Wieters? I feel like pitch framing is something that catchers can do as the rest of their game suffers, so maybe Joseph would also age better despite a late start at the big league level?

Pat Holden said...

Benjamin, As far as I know, the only article about Joseph pitch framing that we have run is the one from last summer. I was going to link to it, but you commented there, so I guess you've seen it.

Benjamin Stoehr said...

Roger, thanks Pat!

Erik said...

Oh, I don't believe in Young for a minute. I am astounded that we signed him.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Why? He's a platoon option who can he lefties. It's not like they broke the bank to bring him back.

Philip said...

Hello?
Re: query about Caleb defense <\> Wieters defense?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I don't think Joseph has played enough to say anything definitive about his defense vs. Wieters.

Jon Shepherd said...

To update that column...Joseph's performance decreased a little bit as the season progressed. Instead of projecting to 25 runs saved over a full year thanks to pitch framing, his projection became 22 runs.

It is better to have 2 years worth of framing data instead of just 2/3rds, but he showed himself to be pretty valuable in those 2/3rds. If Wieters was healthy, then it would be, to me, almost a no brainer to deal him. As is, Wieters needs to establish value or wind up being tagged at the end of the year.

Anonymous said...

There is no question that the Orioles have much better options at DH than Wieters. If Showalter wasn't the manager, then this issue wouldn't even be discussed. Wieters, as discussed in the article, is not a good hitter for a DH and the Orioles have much better options available. Showalter is EXTREMELY loyal to certain veteran players such as Wieters, just like he was with Markakis over the last several years of very mediocre hitting, just like he was with Vlad Guerrero keeping him at hitting cleanup even when he wasn't hitting at all the whole second half of the year, just like he was with Jim Johnson during his terrible last year here with blown save after blown save, similar to how he was with Kevin Gregg when he was here, etc.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

To be fair, Wieters does not DH often, and he very well may not in 2015. It's interesting to see criticisms of Showalter; they're pretty rare.

Steve said...

Batting Vlad 4th made sense. A poor batting order is not catastrophic and players can be picky. Sometimes a happy player is more important than an extra 3 runs over the length of a season.

Marc Schenker said...

It's simple: Wieters needs a whole year of the first 26 games of last year. On the other hand, why are they pushing a Tommy John casualty at the 9 month mark? Everybody says as Wieters goes, so go the O's. They may or may not be right, but the reason the experts, or so-called experts put the O's in last place is because everything needs to go right and that means no injuries. I don't believe Wieters is the key. I think Davis and Machado are.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Two things: In all likelihood, he's not going to hit as well as he did last year for an entire season. Also, the Orioles are not pushing him. This was the timetable him and his doctors came up with, and the O's are being as flexible as possible. They want Wieters to be in the lineup and productive just as much as he does.

Erik said...

From what I understand, recovery from the elbow surgery is longer for pitchers, not as long for position players. Pitchers make a *lot* of hard throws in a row, with rotation, etc. So it should not be 14 months.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Paredes is another viable option for some time at DH, methinks. He hit really well down the stretch last year, and has been tearing it up in spring training. His defense is abominable, but with Machado and Davis back we won't be needing him to play the field.

There's really no room to give Wieters any AB's as the DH this year - the team has a surfeit of other guys who can probably do the job better.

In fact, I'm going to voice an unpopular opinion that I voiced last year - I'm not entirely sure we need Wieters at all. Joseph is a stellar defensive catcher and a much better pitch framer. I don't buy Wieters' offensive performance from the start of last year, and I'm simply not convinced that Wieters is really a more valuable player, all told, than Joseph.

Tim said...

Yeah, I remember when Anonymous wrote that.

Berdj Joseph Rassam said...

Wieters is a very good player. And a team player at that. Wieters will play wherever his manager tells him to.