Matt Wieters may have known I was writing this sentence before I even started typing it, and he may be reading it now despite being nowhere near a computer, but what he hasn’t done is hit the ground running to start his major league career. (He may yet hit a home run with Fred Manfra’s mustache though.) Right now, Wieters is hitting a pretty bad .254/.307/.377 with a .310 wOBA. The plate discipline and patience he showed in the minors just hasn’t materialized yet, and that – along with some worse than expected power numbers – has been of some concern. As a “power” hitter, Wieters isn’t expected to whiff only twice a week like Cesar Izturis does, but he’s still going down on strikes pretty often – 23.8% of the time, which is worse than average. Additionally, he’s only walking a below average 7.1% of the time, which is down from even the 12.4% rate in Triple-A this year (15.4% in Double-A last year, and 16.1% in A-Ball). One of the root causes of the poor K & BB rates is that Wieters is swinging at 26% of pitches out of the strike-zone (which is a bit more than average) and almost 70% of pitches in the zone (fair amount more than average). This despite his slightly below average contact rate (79%). Since he’s willing to chase, pitchers are a little more inclined to throw him pitches out of the zone. I don’t know if he’s just over-anxious or has some issues with pitch recognition (the pitch values data from FanGraphs – which is where I get most of this other data – shows that he’s been particularly bad with respect to sliders, cutters, and change-ups, while handling fastballs and curveballs just fine) but until he takes a more patient approach at the plate I don’t think we’ll see quite the hitter we expected. And if he’s not putting the ball in play enough to hit for a high average, and he’s not walking enough to otherwise keep the OBP up, then he’d need to at least hit for some power to be a plus at the plate. That hasn’t happened either; despite the occasional ability he’s shown – such as hitting two of his three home runs to the opposite field and, as a personal example, one mammoth ball I remember seeing him hit just foul towards the Warehouse- only 7% of flyball are finding the stands (in fair territory). Wieters has probably been a little unlucky in that regard and that number should go up a bit, but right now he seems more like a 10-15 HR man than a 30 HR man. None of this really diminishes his future potential though. In his Trade Values series at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron ranked Wieters the 5th most valuable asset in baseball:
“Don’t freak out about his first 120 trips to the plate. He’s still a switch-hitting catcher with every offensive tool you could wish upon a player his size. He’s going to be the Orioles best hitter sooner rather than later, and his upside is off the charts. Baltimore has some great pieces to build around, but he’s the best of the bunch. Joe Mauer with power might be too lofty of an expectation, but a switch-hitting Brian McCann with a few more walks is still an amazing talent.”
(By the way, Adam Jones came in 19th and Nick Markakis was 35th.) So yeah, despite all the “bad this” and “bad that”, Wieters is still a fine player right now. Prorating out to a 500 plate appearance season and assuming average defense, Wieters would be worth 1.5 Wins Above Replacement – that’s below average, but still pretty solid. I know the expectations from some people were legitimately very high (as opposed to humorously high, though actually realistic – like mine) but it would behoove us to employ the same patience that we hope to soon see in a certain switch-hitting Jesus*. * Referring to Matt Wieters, and not to former back-up outfielder Jesus Tavarez (career .239/.289/.303 hitter, including a .182/.308/.455 line with the Orioles in his final season in 1998), who was the only other switch-hitting Jesus I could find who ever played in the majors. Didn’t want to confuse all the Jesus Tavarez fans out there.** ** I kind of hope Mr. Tavarez reads this. If so, just know that now there will likely be at least a couple (more) people who remember you for a while, for a pretty odd reason. Better than nothing, I’d guess. And I’d like to add that the two players (Wieters and Tavarez) are currently tied for the most career home runs by a switch-hitting Jesus (3). Maybe I should call Jayson Stark.