Matt Wieters: Effects of Tommy John Surgery

Matt Wieters was having a great season in 2014 until early May when his elbow began barking. Eventually his season was lost and he needed Tommy John surgery. Owners may not want to own a hitter coming off such an injury, especially a catcher. So looking forward to 2015, I will lay out a couple points on how to evaluate Wieters as a huge buy low candidate.

So for a timeline of Wieters last season.

April – Everything is fine and Wieters is hitting: .333/.381/.544 in 74 PA

Early May – His arm starts hurting, but everyone thinks he will be fine with some rest.

Wieters, 27, had his elbow looked at by Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday and was told he is not a candidate for surgery. An MRI found an irregularity in his elbow but it is beleived to be an old injury — perhaps from his days as a pitcher in college — that was aggravated. He will rest before catching but may be able to DH during that time.
The elbow first started barking last month, reportedly. Wieters has not played since Sunday.

In 30 PA in May Wieters hit .200/.200/.300.

Mid May to Mid June – On the DL, not playing.

Mid June – Wieters and the team decided he will have Tommy John surgery

Manager Buck Showalter announced the news before Monday night’s game at Tampa Bay.

“We were hoping to get real lucky today, but I think we all knew where it was headed,” Showalter said. “It really wasn’t making a whole lot of progress.”

Showalter said the team is hopeful that Wieters will be ready for Opening Day next season.

“If not, it’s not going to be if, it’s going to be when,” Showalter said.

Wieters had his ailing elbow examined Monday by Dr. James Andrews and will have Tommy John surgery (TJS). He has not played since May 10.

Wieters will have the injured ligament replaced by a tendon from the right wrist.

Current (sort of) – Wieters is making progress and here is the last report I have on him.

Wieters underwent surgery in June to reconstruct a ligament in his right elbow.

“It seems like about every week or two weeks we’ll get a good breakthrough with something and move forward,” Wieters said. “Then we’ll have another week or two of trying to get to that next phase or feeling where we’re trying to get it back to feeling as normal as possible as quick as possible.

“But it’s all going well,” said Wieters. “We keep getting closer to it.”

Wieters admitted he won’t know if he will be able to have a full Spring Training until he resumes throwing, which may not happen until November.

“For me, the big thing is, anytime we get to add new exercises and new strengthening things that kind of give us more optimism and gives us something else that we can work on.”

So right now it looks like he may possibly be ready for spring training.

With the background information complete, how will he perform in 2015? Well, I sort of lucked because I just looked at hitters coming back from TJS. Eno bugged me about a month ago to see how hitter performed after coming back from TJS when he interviewed Carl Crawford. When I looked just at hitters, I took their last completely healthy season and compared its results to the next three seasons. I used wOBA, which will give a good idea of the hitters’ overall talent. Additionally, the average starting age for the injury was 27-years-old, so these players have peaked offensively and are on the decline.

Season 1 to season 2: -.026 wOBA
Season 1 to season 3: +.005 wOBA
Season 1 to season 4: -.009 wOBA

So from their last healthy season to the season of the injury, the hitters’ production dropped off. This is not surprising since hitters will play through the injury for a while and their stats will suffer. This can be seen with Wieters since he wOBA was .401 in April and .217 in May. The other numbers are encouraging which show he should come back with his normal production. I expect him to hit around .250 with 20+ home runs in 2015.

For a time frame, the beginning of the regular season sounds about right for his return. Hitter don’t take nearly as long to return to form compared to pitchers. The biggest issue with Wieters will be his arm strength and his ability to throw runners out. Historically, his pop time is around 1.86 secs.  His owners could watch some spring training games to see if he close to this value.  If push comes to shove, he may not catch and instead DH.

Being the DH may not be a horrible thing, but right now we don’t know how the DH situation will shake out in Baltimore. Being the DH, while his arm finishes up healing, will keep him in the lineup and his value up.

After a great start to 2014, TJS derailed Wieters’s season. I could see him being undervalued going into 2015 as people don’t know what to expect from him. Looking at historical numbers, he should retain his hitting value. The key will be to follow his ability to throw runners out and therefore catch. If he can’t initially catch, he may still be able to hit as the DH.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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RIP Oderous Urungus
9 years ago

I finished the year with Wilson Ramos as catcher, but picked up Wieters as a DL stash. Both are $1. Who would you rather keep?

RIP Oderous Urungus
9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Zimmerman

It’s a dynasty, not really a keeper so I can keep as many players as I have space and money for. Catcher is usually a position I throw a couple of bucks at and replace off the waiver wire as the season goes on, so Wieters could be a good upgrade for cheap.