2011 Orioles Projections: Matt Wieters

Last week I posted an early run at projecting the Orioles for 2011. It looked reasonable enough overall – 76 wins or so – but going player by player is more fun. Starting the trip around the diamond will be catcher Matt Wieters.

The components I’m looking for are playing time (plate appearances), batting (BA/OBP/SLG), and fielding,

Playing Time:

Wieters accumulated 502 PA in 2010 and 548 in 2009 (combined between Triple-A and the big leagues). The average number of plate appearances for the top 15 catchers in baseball last year was 494 and the year before it was 525. The latter doesn’t seem crazy, but I’ll go with a slightly more conservative 500 PA. Wieters is a big guy crouching behind the plate for 150+ pitches a night, which will result in some wear and tear.

Batting:

The easiest way to start out is to go from plate appearances to at bats using a projected walk rate. Wieters walked in 7.3% of his plate appearances in 2009, and upped that to 9.4% last year. Almost half that difference was due to intentional walks though. Looking at his plate discipline numbers from FanGraphs, Wieters swung at pitches outside the strike-zone at a slightly higher than average rate again in 2010, but he went from swinging at strikes at an above average rate to a below average rate. I can see some improvement with patience and pitch recognition next season, but a more stacked line-up is probably going to cut into how often Wieters will see four wide ones. Setting it at 9.5% might not seem like any real improvement, but it is a small step forward (and I could easily see Wieters getting it above 10%).

Ignoring sac flys and whatnot, that would mean about 453 at bats. Getting batting average out of that involves removing the strike-outs. Wieters K’ed in 24.3% of his at bats in 2009 and 21.1% last year. He was able to cut it be upping his contact rate from 3% below average to 2% above average, but given his swing and contact rates one would think his strike-out rate would be even better. I’ve got a small drop to around 20%, though it could be lower if he keeps a similar approach or higher if he tries to hit with some more power.

Taking out the K’s leaves about 362 balls put into play for Wieters. He has posted flyball rates around 39% in his two major league seasons, which is about average. With 362 balls in play, around 141 would be flyballs. Wieters’ home run per flyball rates are 8.4% and 8% in ’09 and ’10, which is below average. We’ve seen flashes of power from him occasionally, but I don’t trust that number to go too much higher until I’ve seen some of it consistently in games. I’m going with 9% for 2011. If that proportion of his 141 flyballs leave the yard, Wieters would end up with about 13 home runs.

The 362 balls in play was all non-strike-out at bats, but the balls in play from BABIP excludes home runs. There would then be about 349 of those. Wieters has a .317 career BABIP, with a .356 mark as a rookie – quite high – that dropped all the way to .287 last year (a little low, maybe). His expected BABIP for the two years were .309 and .312 respectively though, and so a slightly above average rate (.305) doesn’t seem unreasonable. That would give him 107 singles, double and triples. Distributed between the three based on Wieters’ career numbers gives 83 singles, 23 doubles, and 1 triple. He had a higher proportion of doubles last year, but also fewer home runs (it was the other way in 2009). This splits the difference (leaning slitghtly towards more extra-base hits).

So now we’ve got all the components. 119 hits in 453 at bats is a .263 batting average. Add 48 walks for a .334 on-base percentage. Slugging would be .404.

A .263/.334/.404* line isn’t quite as good as the .265/.330/.425 from the initial projections, trading a fair bit of power for a little OBP. Either way, Wieters would be a slightly below average to average hitter.

* Updated due to a calculation error. Bumped the HR/FB% up a little since a SLG under .400 didn’t seem right. Still ended up dropping Wieters’ bat by ~3 runs.

Fielding:

Wieters looked much better behind the plate last year, and the 2010 catcher defense rankings at Beyond the Box Score had him as 4th best in the majors at +8.4 runs. DRS only did stolen bases, but was at +5 runs. The Fan Scouting Report was +13 runs, plus +4 in 2009. I’ll be a little more conservative at +5 runs over a full season, or +3-4 for 500 PA.

WAR:

Adding it up, Wieters would be at around 2.5 Wins Above Replacement in 2011. Not a star yet, but above average and with a fair chance to already be the team’s best player. There is, of course, a lot of untapped upside potential still there though.

Let me know how you think Wieters will do next year here.


Stats: BB% & K%, FB%, HR/FB%, BABIP, wRAA, DRS, Fan Scouting Report, WAR