Matt Wieters was supposed to be a switch-hitting Joe Mauer with power. He ranked as the top prospect in the game prior to the 2009 season, and he inspired a Matt Wieters Facts page with gems like, “Scott Boras Hired Matt Wieters As His Agent” and “Matt Wieters Took Batting Practice This Morning. There Were No Survivors.” Given that backdrop, anything less than MVP-caliber performances from Wieters wouldn’t satiate the masses. And that’s a shame, because Wieters has quietly become one of the better catchers in the game while attention has been fixed on finding the next Next Big Thing.
Take a look at Wieters’ offensive performance over the period of 2009-2011:
2009: .288/.340/.412, .330 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA)
2010: .249/.319/.377, .303 wOBA
2011: .265/.324/.417, .326 wOBA
Some people might look at those lines and say that Wieters had a promising rookie year, tanked in 2010 and is hitting slightly worse in 2011 at 25 years of age than he did as a 23-year-old. Viewed through that prism, Wieters looks like a disappointment. But that thought process is flawed because it doesn’t frame those numbers within the context of changing run-scoring levels across baseball.
In 2009, major league teams scored an average of 4.6 runs per game. That total fell to 4.4 runs per game in 2010 and is down to 4.2 runs per game in 2011. Look at the effect that drop has had on the collective MLB line for hitters over the years:
2009: .262/.333/.418, .329 wOBA
2010: .257/.325/.403, .321 wOBA
2011: .253/.319/.391, .315 wOBA
The line for catchers over that time frame has nosedived from .254/.320/.395 in 2009 to .249/.319/.381 last season and .242/.314/.379 this year. With teams scoring fewer runs, comparing a hitter’s line in 2011 to years past is an apples-to-oranges exercise.
Put in proper context, Wieters’ 2011 season is indicative of a young player making solid offensive progress. At a time when hitters are faring worse as a whole, Wieters is showing more power, hitting fewer ground balls and striking out less. His park-and-league-adjusted line this year is two percent better than average (102 wRC+), while his rookie season was five percent below average (95 wRC+). But it might not feel that way to some fantasy players, given Wieters’ gargantuan expectations and the difficulty in mentally adjusting to the lower run-scoring levels in the game over the past several seasons.
Wieters has the sixth-highest wOBA among catchers qualified for the batting title, and his rest-of-season ZiPS projection ranks in the top 10 among backstops who figure to get frequent playing time. Yet, he’s still on the waiver wire in 13 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Some owners waiting on Superman are missing out on a quality, mid-twenties catcher with upside remaining.