On Fixing Matt Wieters

Alex Eisenberg had a post up recently at Baseball-Intellect called Fixing Wieters, in which he did a nice job breaking down Wieters’ swing to see why his production this year (.251/.329/.376) is so much lower than expected:

“The first thing I noticed was Wieters’ hands were lower in 2008 than they are in 2010. Move on to the load. As his front foot comes off the ground, you see the hands start to load, whipped forward and down. Looking at the two 2008 clips, you’ll notice the different positions of the bat after he whips it forward. This is what I mean when I say he varies the load. The clip of Wieters in Frederick shows him using a shorter stroke, with the bat pointing straight up rather than wrapped behind him. The Bowie clip has Wieters exhibiting a deeper loading of the bat, probably to generate more power. What Wieters is doing in 2010 is really wrapping the bat behind his head. He’s creating a longer swing for himself. Notice he also bars his arm more in 2010. What I mean is that there is less bend in his right arm in 2010; it’s straighter. This creates a longer swing path and can make it difficult for him to get around on pitches inside. The high hands, the barring of the right arm, and the wrapping of his bat all combine to make his swing longer. Wrapping the bat can also keep the bat head from staying in the hitting zone for as long a time as it should…

You also see at the point his foot lands, he’s in an athletic position and able to adjust to almost any pitch thrown at him. He was so good at spoiling pitches at the minor league level, but it’s something he hasn’t been able to do in the big leagues…

One of Wieters’ big issues this year has been his timing. Sometimes it’s not getting his front foot down in time, or letting his hands get too far out in front and not letting the ball travel deep into his hitting zone. My feeling is that no amount of time in the batting cage is going to fix this when your hacks are coming against soft toss pitches. If he isn’t already, he needs to practice with game-speed pitching so he can he really tackle any timing issues he’s having.

What Wieters is going through now, however, may not be helped immediately by mechanical changes as I mentioned earlier. He goes up to the plate without a plan to execute it seems. He’s not seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. He’s not recognizing the spin of the ball. You know how the game slows down for hitters who are in a groove? For Wieters, it looks like the game has become too fast. Somehow he has to find a way to string together a few good games and hope the game slows down for him because often times the remedy for something like this is to get some time off and that’s not happening any time soon.”

Because both scouting AND stats are important to get a fuller picture of a player, I emailed Alex to ask about what the implications of his findings would be so I could check them out using Pitch/FX (for data through July 9th, when the article was posted and Wieters went on the DL – the results are obviously more circumstantial than conclusive, in part because the sample sizes are not particularly big for Wieters). His response:

“A longer swing means a longer path to the hitting zone, making it more difficult to catch up to good fastballs.  That can result in Wieters potentially cheating to catch up to good fastballs, which can then lead to him being exploited by something off-speed because he’s not waiting on the ball long enough to pick up what’s coming.  It’s like a chain reaction.  I can only think of a couple occasions where Wieters made good contact with a pitch better than 94 or 95 mph this year.”

I assumed that if Wieters was having trouble getting around on a good fastball then he would be whiffing on faster pitches a lot, but that’s not quite been the case:

Contact Rate
Velocity Wieters MLB
90-93 89% 87%
94+ 84% 83%

So he’s not as good at making contact on faster pitches, but that’s generally how it works. His difficulties in that area seem pretty proportional to the MLB at large, given that he has an above average overall contact rate. There’s a difference between contact and putting the ball in play though (“in play” includes home runs here).

In Play On Contact
Velocity Wieters MLB
90-93 50% 50%
94+ 49% 46%

At higher velocities when batters make contact they tend to foul the ball off more instead of putting it in play. Wieters does better on that count, which means that, overall, he’s putting those 94+ mph pitches in play more often than the average batter. How well is he doing when putting the ball in play though?

Velocity Wieters MLB Wieters MLB
90-93 .294 .323 .451 .501
94+ .400 .327 .400 .486

Overall, Wieters’ batting average is at .324 on these pitches, which is right in line with the ML average. He’s doing better on the faster pitches, with 8 singles on 20 balls in play. No extra-base hits though, and even though Wieters’ slugging percentage is low in general, it’s not to the degree seen here. This might get to the loading issue Alex mentioned. So perhaps Wieters can get around on the fastball enough to put a bat on it, and even enough of a bat to put it in play, but he’s not hitting it with authority.

Quick aside: a guy who’s got some bat-speed problems is sometimes referred to as having a “slider speed bat”. It includes non-swings as well, but FanGraphs’ run values does have Wieters as +2.25 runs per 100 sliders seen versus -0.60 runs per 100 fastballs. Alex also mentioned that Wieters could have difficulty getting around on inside pitches. Here’s the contact rate on (all) pitches on the inner third of the plate (and farther inside), on the middle third, and on the outer third (and farther outside):

Location Wieters MLB
Inside 89% 88%
Middle 85% 87%
Outside 87% 83%

So nothing really out of line with the ML average. Here’s the same thing only on pitches at 92+ mph, but keep in mind that that makes the sample sizes for Wieters even smaller (from 40-80 pitches to 10-20).

90-93 94+
Location Wieters MLB Wieters MLB
Inside 92% 88% 83% 86%
Middle 87% 88% 82% 84%
Outside 88% 84% 85% 80%

So he does better both than average inside and away on the 90-93 mph pitches, but on the faster pitches he’s only better outside. Goes with what Alex was saying, even if the differences aren’t significant.

Overall, no huge difference jumped out at me through all this. Doesn’t mean there’s not something there though. One of the interesting things is that Alex only looked at Wieters’ swing from the left side, even though he’s hit better that way than from the right side (.263/.357/.390 vs. .220/.253/.341, or a 107 wRC+ vs. 57 wRC+). His line-drive rate is lower from the right side (19% to 13%), and his strike-out and walk numbers are both much worse (better than average 13% walk rate and 18% strike-out rate as a lefty, and 3% walk rate and 28% strike-out rate as a righty). I’d be really interested in seeing Alex bring Wieters’ other swing down, but he wasn’t able to find the videos he needed. (Also what Wieters looks like recently, since there may have been some changes in approach/mechanics.)

Since coming off the disabled list Wieters is hitting a robust .308/.455/.577 with 2 home runs in 26 at bats and 7 walks (one intentional) to just 3 K’s. A Ruthian tear would be most welcome.