The other day on the radio, I heard some argument as to whether or not the Orioles should sign Matt Wieters to a $10 M a year contract. The part that got me was that even the people in favor seemed to assume that Wieters would take such a deal. When I expressed that idea, I received a fair bit of push-back – it seems like people don't think that Wieters is actually that good. These people are mistaken.
The bar for offense at the catcher postilion is not very high. The bar for offense at the catcher position is really not very high when said catcher also saves you upwards of 10 runs a season with the glove. Therefore even a league-average hitter is going to be quite valuable (in the neighborhood of 3-3.5 wins above replacement), if he's also a plus defensive catcher. Such a player, if he were a free agent now, might be expected to sign for something like $15 M a year (with the influx of money into the sport recently driving up salaries it seems).
So, is Matt Wieters such a player? Maybe, but he's probably better. In 2011, Wieters started to hit for some more power. Over the next two seasons, he hit a combined .255/.329/.442. That doesn't look that impressive, but it's good enough for an above average .335 wOBA. Combined with his plus defense, that allowed him to average 4.3 fWAR over the two years. That's quite good, obviously – tied for the third highest mark for all catchers for '11-'12, behind Yadier Molina (signed a 5 year, $75 M deal; is four years older than Wieters) and Buster Posey (signed for 9 years and $167 M; not arguing Wieters is in Posey's class).
But Wieters' poor start to 2013 means he's no longer that guy, right?
The batting line is down, but the walks, strike-outs, and power numbers are all pretty much the same. The only real difference is a drop in BABIP. Wieters is hitting more flyballs so far this year, which probably has something to do with it. I imagine it will come up though, and if it was actually at the .275 level like the last two years then his batting line would be more like .249/.320/.443 – not too far off from the first line in the table. And once again, while that doesn't look like much it's actually a bit better than what the average Major League batter has done this year – walks plus power makes up for a mediocre batting average quite well. On the other hand, the BABIP might come in a bit lower if Wieters keeps hitting a lot of flyballs, but the flip side to that is that the extra balls in the air might allow him to a few extra home runs. Either way, I expect him to finish the season as around a league average hitter, and that's after getting off to a slow start.
Someone actually suggested to me that Wieters has gotten worse as a hitter since he came up, which I guess is based on his batting average being .288 as a rookie (buoyed by a .356 BABIP that was just not going to be sustainable for a slow-as-molasses catcher). He's mostly the same guy, but just double the home run power – which seems like a plus to me. Maybe people allow their expectations to get the better of them – Wieters surely isn't the guy we thought he might be given his Minor League numbers (and that's unlikely to happen). But judging him just based on what he's doing as a player, I don't think it's reasonable to call him a "bad" hitter; he's solid – average-ish to a bit above. And he's just turning 27 this season, which in no way precludes him from getting better. Not that he'd need to to make signing him for $10 M a year a very easy decision for the Orioles.