Thursday, September 9, 2010

Matt Wieters Facts

On May 29, 2009, Baltimore though the future had arrived when one of baseball's top prospects, complete with is own facts page, made his Major League debut.  Unfortunately, a bit more than a year later, that future still looked bleak.  On June 19, 2010, Matt Wieters completed a third consecutive 0-for-4, dropping his career line to .263/.318/.377 in 625 plate appearances over 158 games.  His 2010 line was a woeful .222/.283/.321, hardly worthy of his survivor-free batting practice sessions.  In a season where nearly everything that could go wrong had gone wrong, Wieters' failures were among the most frustrating for Orioles fans.

Just in case you gave up at that bleakest of moments, I'm here to rekindle your faith.  Here is the line that Matt has posted since June 20: .299/.383/.494 with 19 extra base hits (12 doubles, a triple, and 6 homers), 25 walks and just 26 strike outs in 193 plate appearances.  Small sample size, yes, but for a prospect with his pedigree, these numbers cannot be ignored.  Let's dig a little deeper into Wieters early career.

First and foremost, let's examine Wieters approach at the plate.  In 2009 and the first half of 2010 (which I'll designate herein as ending June 19), Matt was overmatched.  He struck out in 22.1% of his plate appearances, and walked about one third as much (7.4%).  When he did make contact, it usually wasn't very authoritative; he knocked extra base hits in just 5.9% of his plate appearances.  FanGraphs doesn't break out plate discipline numbers intra-season (at least, I don't know how to do that), but in 2009, Wieters swung at 70.2% of pitches  in the strike zone (above the league average of 66.0%), and he made contact on just 83.4% of those swings (below the league average of 87.8%).  Combined, Matt was swinging at at 47.2% of the pitches he saw, 190 basis points over the league average rate of 45.3%.

Now, though, Wieters doesn't look anything like the same hitter.  He's lowered his strike out percentage markedly (13.5% since June 20), and raised his walk rate to nearly match it (13.0%).  The contact he makes is much more solid: 9.8% of the time he's poked an extra base hit.  Even his full 2010 plate discipline numbers have improved.  His in the strike zone swing percentage has dipped (to 60.7%; league average is 64.4%), and he's making contact at above average rates (91.5% of the time in the strike zone; league average is 88.2%).  Rather than swinging more than most hitters, Matt is now more selective, swinging 43.2% of the time (below the league average of 45.6%).

Wieters' full 2010 season line is also a bit deceiving in that he is likely the victim of a bit of bad luck in the BABIP department.  Plugging in his 2010 season totals, I calculate his xBABIP as .318.  Adjusting his line (by adding 9 singles and 2 doubles) to reflect these additional 0.028 BABIP points turns him into a .283/.353/.429 hitter for the season.  Importantly, his hot streak since June 20 has been built on the back of a .316 BABIP, a number right in line with his career total and his xBABIP calculation.

So, what's the takeaway?  Well, it sure looks to me like Matt Wieters has successfully adjusted to Major League pitching.  He's striking out less, walking more, and being more selective at the plate.  His recent hot streak is absolutely not driven by luck in the BABIP department.  Combined with his prospect pedigree, there is every indication that this turnaround is real.  The Orioles now have the stud catcher we were all expecting.

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