Matt Wieters has not lived up to the enormous expectations placed upon him as a prospect and as a young player.
In his age-27 season, Wieters posted his second worst season in terms of wRC+ (86) and his worst since 2010 in terms of wins above replacement (2.4).
Still, even though Wieters hasn’t become the instant legend that led to sites like Matt Wieters Facts, he’s been very solid behind the plate for Baltimore. He’s excellent defensively and even in a down year was an above-average player overall. He may not sit on the ‘generational talent’ pedastal many had prepared for him, but he’s still very good.
To wit, he’s fifth in catcher WAR over the past three years. And even though he hasn’t been the top catcher for fantasy, he’s been valuable.
|Year||C WAR Rank||C Fantasy Rank|
It’s also worth looking at how Wieter’s dropped off in some areas in 2013:
|2011-13 (C rank)||.249 (20th)||66 (3rd)||77 (1st)||22 (2nd)||2 (10th)||100 (19th)|
I included the final row for a reason: Even though Wieter’s isn’t elite among hitting catchers, his counting stats are excellent for the position.
That’s why Wieters can get away with an 86 wRC+ and a .287 on-base percentage and still be the 12th best catcher in fantasy. It’s tough to imagine him not being ranked in the top-10 ahead of 2014 based on his track record of strong counting stats.
However, there’s still the matter of the drop off to analyze. What happened with Wieters this year?
Discipline: Wieters swung a bit more at pitches both in and out of the zone. His contact rate actually increased a bit, however, and he saw more pitches in the zone. He walked less, but didn’t strike out more, so maybe he was just being selectively aggressive? Well, his ratio of plate appearances ending with him ahead in the count dropped, to 34.8% from 37.6%. That’s not a huge change, sure, but considering his OPS was more than .250 points higher in those counts than even counts, it appears being a bit less patient hurt.
Batted Ball: Wieters hit a lot more fly balls at the expense of grouns balls this year. While it was important to keep the home run total up (his HR/FB rate dropped), it helped drop his BABIP to a career-low .247. The BABIP drop knocked his average all the way to .235.
Two things can happen if he maintains this batted ball profile – either he’ll maintain a low average and be a second-tier fantasy catcher, or his HR/FB rate will return to it’s previous level (he had seasons of 13.6% and 15.5% before this year’s 11.6%), increasing his home run total. His batted fly ball distance from the right side was actually third among all players in baseball and he was average from the left side, so you’d expect an above-average HR/FB rate (league average was 10.5%).
Platoon Splits: This is a major issue, although it’s one that seems unlikely to be remedied with ease.
|Year||wRC+ v LHP||wRC+ v RHP|
If you’re in a league deep enough to platoon catchers on a day-to-day basis, you’ve got a clear strategy right there.
For most, however, you can’t afford to carry a platoon catcher and it’s not worth foregoing Wieter’s top-tier counting stats just to avoid the average hit (he still hit 11 homers and had 52 RBI against righties in 2013).
Wieters will be a top-10 fantasy catcher in 2014. Either his average will come back up or the home run total should rise, and he was close to that mark in 2013 despite struggling. It’s hard to complain about his production unless you’re still hung up on his prospect status, but it’s that same status that makes it easy to wonder ‘what if’ about Wieters becoming a top-five or even top-three option at the position.
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