Before reporting to Camden Yards, Matt Wieters traveled through the time-space continuum and righted all the wrongs in Orioles history: He wiped Cleon Jones’ shoe polish off the ball, settled the 1981 baseball strike so they could win the division, straight-jacketed Jeffrey Maier, and intercepted Roberto Alomar’s loogie before it hit its mark.
After crushing minor league pitching in 2008, Wieters was all the rage. And that hype train was what spawned this hilarious-at-the-time page. Now, it looks silly in hindsight.
You see, Wieters has now come to the plate 3,004 times for the Orioles, and has posted just a .323 wOBA. For a catcher, that’s not bad, though it ranks just 20th among qualified catchers since 2009. But of course, we weren’t expecting “not bad” from Wieters. Clearly, we, or at least a select few, expected greatness. This has yet to be achieved.
Last year, Wieters’ season was cut short by an elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery. He was limited to just 112 plate appearances and played his last game on May 10. Though no one was sure exactly when he would make his 2015 regular season debut after recovering from the procedure, it was initially expected that he would be ready either for the opener or be available soon after. That didn’t happen. His rehab dragged on and he didn’t end up making it into his first game until early June, which meant he missed the first two months of the season.
Since Jeff Zimmerman’s research suggested that Wieters’ ability at the plate would be unaffected by the surgery, he was an intriguing target in drafts and auctions with some real profit potential. So the fact that he missed those two months helped wipe out much, if not all, of that profit potential for those owners willing to take the risk. And then of course it was announced that he wouldn’t catch on back-to-back days, which further cut into his playing time.
Looking at his performance, it certainly seems like he was still in recovery mode. Or, he could have just had a down season, because that happens. His strikeout rate marked a new career high as his SwStk% jumped above 10% for just the second time and his ISO fell to its lowest mark since 2010.
But interestingly, his ISO didn’t drop because of a loss of power. His HR/FB was right in line with his history as was his doubles rate, and his batted ball distance rocketed to 306 feet, after generally sitting in the 280s historically. The real driver behind his apparent loss of power was a decline in his fly ball rate. He took a page out of the Joey Votto playbook, selfishly hitting line drives, at the expense of flies that have a much better chance of going over the wall. All those line drives assisted in posting a BABIP well above .300 and his career average. It’s probably not sustainable, but discovering that his ISO decline was probably not the result of a loss of power is important when projecting his 2016 performance.
Wieters is a free agent and word is the Orioles are unlikely to extend him a qualifying offer. The knee-jerk reaction is that a move to a new team could hurt his offensive upside, as Oriole Park is quite hitter friendly, sporting the third highest left-handed home run park factor in 2014. But Wieters actually posted nearly identical home/away HR/FB rate marks over his career, so perhaps a move wouldn’t be so detrimental, though of course it will depend where he ends up.
Coming off a lost 2014, Wieter’s preseason value was at its lowest mark ever. This year has likely done little to revive his draft stock, which should once again provide savvy owners with some serious profit potential. While it would be silly to suddenly expect the 29-year-old to suddenly have the type of breakout we had been awaiting for years, he still plays more than most catchers and at the very least is a 15-20 homers, .260 guy. That’s arguably top five and we know he has the upside for more. The best part is that his price will be nowhere near that expensive.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.