Matt Wieters Is Becoming Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters entered his rookie season of 2009 with considerable fanfare — especially among the baseballing nerd community. Even before he’d played his first major-league game, Wieters had been celebrated both as the sporting version of Chuck Norris and, by the PECOTA projection system, as very possibly the best hitter in the majors.

While perhaps overzealous, the expectations were based in some substance. Wieters slashed .366/.484/.594 in three years at Georgia Tech while walking (152) about 1.5 more times than he struck out (108) — as a catcher, no less. After being drafted fifth overall by Baltimore in the 2007 draft, Wieters slashed .343/.438/.576 with almost as many walks (102) as strikeouts (106) across three minor-league levels between 2008 and the beginning of 2009 — again, as a catcher. He was ranked as the 12th and then first overall prospect on Baseball America’s preseason top-100 lists from 2008 and ’09, respectively. If not likely, it seemed at least possible, that Wieters would be a star instantly.

The learned reader — or just the type of reader who knows how to access Wieters’ player page here at FanGraphs — will know that, while entirely satisfactory, Wieters’ rookie season failed to approach the frenzied heights one might’ve expected. The disappointment was magnified by early struggles that saw the catcher slash .263/.308/.369 through his first 273 plate appearances. In all, he posted a line of .288/.340/.412 (.356 BABIP) with a 95 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR in 385 plate appearances.

The subsequent season and a half weren’t much more impressive for Wieters. Really, up until the middle of this past August, Wieters appeared to be every bit the average, or maybe slightly above-average, major-league catcher. That has considerable value, of course, but it also represents something of a let down considering what it appeared Wieters could be.

The past month or so, however, has seen Wieters break out in a serious way. Since August 19th, the Oriole catcher has slashed .305/.374/.707 with nine homers, and a more than sustainable .267 BABIP, in his last 91 plate appearances. While one must always be careful with small samples, a couple of factors suggest that we ought to take Wieters’ performance as more than just the product of variance.

Firstly, let’s begin by appealing to Russell “Pizza Cutter” Carleton’s work on sample sizes and at what point they become reliable for various statistics. Specifically, we’ll look at the statistics that inform Fielding Independent Batting — namely, walks, strikeouts, home runs, and BABIP.

Over his first two seasons, in 887 plate appearances, Matt Wieters posted 87 walks (9.8%), 180 strikeouts (20.3%), 20 homers (2.3%) and a .317 BABIP — all leading to about a 90 wRC+. Using the minimum samples for each of the relevant stats, we find that Wieters has improved considerably. While his walk rate has decreased (to 8.4%) over the last 200 plate appearances, Wieters’ strikeout rate (17.0% over the last 150 PA) and home run rate (5.0% over last 300 PA) have both improved — with the latter showing marked improvement.

If we entertain the possibility that each of these new marks represents Wieters’ true talent, we find (via the magic of Bradley Woodrum’s Should Hit calculator, and plugging in Wieters’ career .303 BABIP) that Wieters is now no longer a slightly below-average hitter relative to the league, but rather something like a 130 wRC+ hitter. Assuming average defense at the catcher spot, a 130 wRC+ hitter is worth something like six wins (i.e. 6.0 WAR) every 650 plate appearances — a mark that fewer than 20 players are likely to reach in any given season.

The second reason we ought to consider Wieters’ recent excellence with more weight than we would another player’s is owing to something we might call the Alex Gordon Factor. Like Wieters, Gordon was an elite college hitter. Like Wieters, Gordon was taken very early (second overall, 2005) in the draft. Like Wieters, Gordon raked in limited minor-league at-bats. Like Wieters, Gordon was rated highly (13th and then first overall) on Baseball America’s prospect lists. And like Wieters, Gordon failed to live up to lofty expectations early on in his career — despite a great deal of evidence to suggest that he’d be excellent. In light of his history, Gordon’s fantastic 2011 (6.1 WAR in 666 PA) seems less like a real breakout and more like a foregone conclusion.

In truth, excellent college position players rarely fail in the majors. If we look at all the college hitters that were taken with the top-10 picks in the five drafts leading up to Wieters’, we get this list:

A short list like this doesn’t serve as a proxy for a more exhaustive study, but it does give us a sense of what we can expect from top college hitters. With the exception of Drew Meyer, all of these players developed into legitimate prospects. And with the exception of Jeff Clement, all those legitimate prospects turned into above-average major leaguers.

The moral of this story is that, despite his “merely” average first two-plus seasons in the majors, Matt Wieters’ pedigree suggests that his recent performance probably ought to be treated differently than if almost any other player (with the exception of Alex Gordon, maybe) were doing the same thing. While he may never be allowed to DH in the National League or regress to infinity, Wieters will likely end up being Matt Wieters of legend.

Baseball Reference’s game-log feature was very helpful in the composition of this post.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

44 Responses to “Matt Wieters Is Becoming Matt Wieters”

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  1. Brandon says:

    For O’s fans at least, Wieters disappointment offensively has been partially counterbalanced by his surprisingly excellent defense. Teams don’t run on the Orioles anymore. And God knows it’s not for lack of baserunners.

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  2. Bonzi says:

    The other thing worth mentioning, is that while his BABIP for this season is actually below his career number, his line-drive percentage over the season is higher.

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  3. joser says:

    Thank you for once again haunting M’s fans with the memory of Jeff Clement

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  4. James Bones says:

    Not sure I buy the conclusion that Matt Wieters hot streak is more relevant that any other player because Wieters had a higher prospect rating a few years back.

    Gordon’s WAR is inflated by defensive stats that seem of whack compared to his ‘brief’ history in the OF and his OPS is inflated by a very high BABIP. He still looks to me like an average OFer having a career year at 27 rather than a guy becoming a star before our eyes.

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    • baty says:

      You don’t have to buy the conclusion, but it’s certainly a possibility. Pedigree does mean something, even though it doesn’t always lead to the projected expectation.

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    • Matt says:

      Umm, regarding Alex Gordon’s ‘WAR inflation by defensive stats”, he’s been 5 runs above average per UZR and has 6 WAR, so even if you call him 5 runs below average defender he’s still been a very valuable player. That’s also ignoring the fact that most advanced metrics have rated him average to above average in the outfield since he was moved there. His BAPIP spiked and this might be a peak, but he had excellent college/minor league numbers and this is the first season he’s had to establish himself and hasn’t been injured.

      As for Wieters hot streak, time will tell. Bautista had a 1 month hot streak at the end of 2009 that turned out to portend things to come. And scouting/minor league numbers/prosepect ranking is certainly relevant.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        For every Jose Bautista, how many end of the year hot streaks have NOT tranformed the player for the rest of their career?

        Odds are in favor of the not.

        We could say, given the diversity of baseball history, that anything “is possible”, in that regard.

        The article is what it is, and given the sample size, it’s pretty much entertainment purposes only.

        In regards to projecting how good Matt Weiters was supposed to be … when was the last time/era/period that a catcher was the best hitter in baseball (not Joe Mauer for a single season).

        this was the first time that PECOTA had looked at a prospect and predicted an MVP-caliber, Hall of Fame-level season right off the bat.

        Isn’t it all just bad luck? Darnit.

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  5. beastwarking says:

    Bill Bavasi: the gift that keeps on MAKING ME ANGRY

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  6. Hmm says:

    As an O’s fan who gets to watch the awesomeness that is Wieters behind the plate, it will be a near-travesty if he does not win the Gold Glove.

    BTW, traditional catcher fielding stats (CS%, E, PB, WP) back this up pretty thoroughly.

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  7. DHolc says:

    Should PECOTA ever be allowed to do projections again after that Weiters’s rookie season gaffe? I jest, but come on.

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  8. Brian S. says:

    He’s the catcher I would take if I was building a team for the next seven years. He’s done everything well this year and his on base abililties should improve as he enters his prime.

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  9. Bob Loblaw says:

    Does anyone else get confused when Carson writes a “real” article?

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  10. Pat G says:

    Hasn’t wieters done something like this the past 2 septembers??? without looking at his split stats, id guess he’s a career .315/.400/.500 hitter in september for his career, i’d have to say its his best month without a doubt.

    dont over estimate the effect of the expanded rosters, fatigue, etc… he’s always gotten better this time of year its dangerous to expect him to take a huge step forward next season (i expect a step forward just because he’s getting closer to his physical peak and he’ll have another season of pitch recognition under his belt [which i believe players just get better at the more they play {unless they are a complete headcase}] i think we should split the difference between his last 200 PA and his previous 1300 PA

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  11. j_ordan says:

    obviously it’s quite possible that wieters is becoming a star or something close to it, but this post just reads like a very long winded attempt to ignore a small sample size because of a player’s minor league and college stats.

    so, wieters has shown in lower levels that he’s a great hitter, but his major league numbers have shown him to be slightly below average at the plate. now we have 300 PA (in september) or so that say, no, maybe he’s a superstar. the reading to me is that we still don’t know what we have with this guy.

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    • Larry R. says:

      You’re right…we should only talk about future events with 100% certainty.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      Matt Wieters 2012 projection: he’ll play some catcher, probably.

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    • Dave says:

      For a catcher, he’s definitely an above average hitter. How many players can say that they’ve hit 10 home runs this year from each side of the plate? And his defense is second to none. I’ll take those numbers from a Gold Glove catcher any day of the week. Plus, a 4.1 WAR is pretty good for a bust isn’t it?

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  12. Pitnick says:

    Of course you end up becoming yourself…

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  13. Garrett says:

    First paragraph mostly just points out how PECOTA is laughable.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      it would be more accurate to say that it points out how PECOTA does not always do a good job translating superlative minor league numbers at A and AA into accurate rookie year major league lines. personally, i did laugh! but not because of the article, my cat is just being silly

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  14. Jay Gloab says:

    Cole Hamels was the original sporting version of Chuck Norris.

    http://mysite.verizon.net/heyjude421/chf/chf.html

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  15. latham187 says:

    Look at the L/R splits. It looks like he’s getting comfortable vs.lefties, or just facing some shitty left handed pitchers. Regardless, I believe he puts it together for a breakout next season in 2012 and this is a preview to a very good if not excellent career.

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    • Pat G says:

      again i never said he wouldnt be valuable, he’s turned himself to an excellent defender if you trust one year of defensive data (which i assume for catchers is a bit stronger because its less based on range than CS% and PB%,) . Let’s say he saves a run or two on average a season, all he would have to do is hit .270/.330/.430 to have a very good career as a catcher (see Varitek, Jason). A positive defensive catcher with those numbers could see 40 WAR in a career long enough. But let’s not assume he comes close to the 6 WAR player that august and september suggest he should. but his initial projections were a bit over optimistic considering the position he plays. I’ll be the first to admit i wasnt as rosie as pecota but i thought he could easily come out in his first two years at near a .290/360/.480 clip. he could carry this hitting into next season, i just wouldnt bet on it.

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    • Dave says:

      What’s most shocking is he has 10 homers from each side of the plate. At the beginning of the year, if you would’ve told me Wieters would have 22 homers this year, I would have guessed the ratio would be about 16 (against lefties) to 6 (against righties).

      And considering he’s in the same division as Price, Lester, and Sabathia, I’d say he’s getting comfortable vs. lefties.

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  16. everdiso says:

    0/4 tonight.

    Matt Wieters continuing to become Matt Wieters.

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  17. Splits says:

    his triple slash line of .231/.283/.363 vs. RHP this season doesn’t inspire confidence in me. His season is buoyed by an impressive line against LHP, which he couldn’t hit in his first two seasons.

    I would not be surprised to see him continue to be an average offensive contributor with great defensive skills, which is fine and all, but not the star we expected to see.

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  18. Niched says:

    I think Wieters figures it out and becomes a very good hitter. It’s not that I see it in his stats. I just see it in his face and his body motion. He looks more and more confident and mature at the plate. I think his struggles the first two years were partly emotional. There was way too much pressure on this very nice, shy kid from South Carolina to save a storied, now terrible baseball franchise and return it to glory. Had Wieters been drafted by the Yankees or the Red Sox or even the Rangers or Dodgers, there would have been far less pressure on him due to their much stronger minor league systems in addition to their not always needing to rely so heavily on the newest prospects for offensive production. O’s fans understandably and unrealistically put too much faith on Wieters being great out of the gated. But it’s not like Wieters had Granderson and Teixeira batting in front of him and A-Rod behind him his first two years in the league. Not to say he will be the next Piazza with the bat, but hitters frequently need a few years (or more) in the majors to find their stroke. Bautista, Ortiz, Gordon, Cuddyer, Werth, Ludwick, Nelson Cruz and many others (two of those guys were former Orioles, yeesh), etc, etc., and Wieters is younger by a year or two or more than the ages when all of those guys broke out. And, of course, he plays a much more difficult position.

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  19. Mark says:

    I think it was Ichiro who once said, it takes three years for a player to be a “true” major leaguer. One year, to get the players feet wet. A second year, to understand all that is needed to do to prepare for the long season and every individual game. And a third year to grow into your own abilities.
    I liked the thought it takes time. And many players need that time to become whatever it is their true talent level is. We see too often SSS ruling fan and media opinion.
    Baseball is a game of failure, we all know this. Yet we demand perfection from the start.

    Very few can come up and be Dustin Ackley.

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  20. Patrick says:

    I really hope to read an article like this a year from now about Gordon Beckham.

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  21. RC says:

    Selective endpoints are awesome.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      did you know that from sept 18 2011 to sept 18 2011, adam dunn hit .400 with all of his hits off of lefty pitchers? looks like hes back

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