2009 O’s Retrospective: Matt Wieters

In part thirty of my almost 50 part series “Better Know An Oriole” (otherwise known as 2009 Orioles Retrospective), I take a look at rookie catcher Matt Wieters… THE FIGHTIN’ SWITCH-HITTING JESUS!

There was a lot of hype surrounding Wieters coming into the season, and the community projection for him was .289/.359/.482 with 10 HR. I myself had him at .275/.344/.438 with 9 HR, and noted that I gave a lot of weight to his being a catcher (and thus needing more transition time). Wieters started the year slowly at Triple-A, but turned it on and was batting .305/.387/.504 through 39 games before being called up.

When Wieters started out batting .259/.316/.407 in the majors before the All-Star break, a few people were worried. After the break he hit .301/.351/.415, and people were happy – especially with his torrid .362/.425/.511 September. Overall, Wieters hit .288/.340/.412 with 9 HR and a very, very slightly above average .330 wOBA. When he was brought up, he looked uncomfortable at the plate and his swing (with its big leg-raise) was a bit awkward. By the end of the season he looked like a major league hitter. That doesn’t mean everything’s all hunky dory though.

Wieters’ PrOPS line from The Hardball Times – which normalizes for batted-ball profile, strike-outs, walks, and home runs – was just .255/.309/.399. A .359 BABIP is probably not going to be sustainable for him, so the .288 batting average is higher than it should have been. A big part of Wieters improvement from the first half to the second was actually an increase in his BABIP. He continued striking out more than the average batter, finishing the year with a 24.3% strike-out rate. He also continued walking less often than the average batter, finishing with a 7.3% walk rate. On the bright side, Wieters showed decent power – especially to the opposite field – and likely should have finished with a couple more home runs given his 8.4% HR/FB rate.

Despite having a reputation as a very patient hitter with a good eye, Wieters swung at 25.4% of pitches out of the strike-zone (a little worse than average) and 70.2% of pitches in the zone (a fair bit more than average). This despite not having the best contact rate – his 77.5% was decent but below average (80.5%). I had a discussion with Heath from Dempsey’s Army about this issue earlier in the year, where he brought up that that Wieters was seeing a good number of pitches per plate appearance (4.1). I wrote a post up at MLB Notebook looking at different groups of players split with P/PA and the swing percentages:

“Guys with a P/PA higher than average and walk less than average: 23

This is the group that Wieters falls in, and while there are a couple of encouraging signs as far as patience goes (Nick Markakis is in there this year, for example), the average wOBA is .313 and the good hitters are guys like Adam Lind, Scott Rolen, and Billy Butler…

Conclusions? Well, guys that walk tend to see a good number of pitch and not swing at too many of them, and vice versa. Players that had an above average P/PA held a very slightly bigger edge over their below average counterparts (.341 wOBA to .317) than did the players who swung less (.339 wOBA to .319). I guess I partially owe Heath an apology, as Wieters’ solid P/PA takes a lot of the wind out of any concerns that he’s swinging too much. On the one hand, he’s doing things that good hitters generally don’t do.  On the other hand, he’s doing something that good hitters generally do.  Since it’s still possible to be successful with the former scenario, I guess the latter takes some precedent. Wieters walk rate should go up, but it’s unclear as to whether or not he’ll be above average with it. I still maintain that not swinging is more indicative of “patience” than generally seeing more pitches per plate appearance (and I’d still like Wieters to display more).”

To avoid accusations of being a Debby Downer, I want to bring extra attention to this: even though Wieters didn’t hit as well as expected, he was still a good player. The bar for offense from a catcher is pretty low, so Wieters was able to produce 1.9 Wins Above Replacement in his 385 PA. I think next year he’ll be a bit more patient and firmly entrench himself in the middle of the O’s line-up.

Photo by AP.