Sunday, September 27, 2009

Matt Wieters Settling In

Since this space featured a post concerning OLD catchers yesterday, it seemed like a good time to check in on Matt Wieters, the rookie catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Remember him? During the spring, there wasn't a more highly anticipated rookie than Wieters. There was outrage (this blog was no exception) when he didn't make the club out of Spring Training and even more so when the Orioles started the season moribund. But then Wieters was called up as expected at the end of May. His start was rather sleep-inducing as he began slowly and the spotlight passed him by. How has the rest of the year gone?

The answer, happily, is that Wieters is starting to get comfortable in his new digs. Let's look at his season:

He started 2-11 in May. June wasn't a whole lot better. He started 21 games that month and batted .257. He was regularly in the bottom portion of the lineup and only had seven RBI for the whole month. His OPS was an unimpressive .691.

He hit a lot better in July and batted .323 for the month with a .364 OBP, but again, his production was limited as he had just three extra base hits the entire month and only drove in six.

Wieters regressed a bit in August as his playing time increased. In 24 games, he hit only .250 and had an OPS for the month of only .654. But he did double his previous month's extra base hit total and drove in thirteen runs, so that was a big improvement.

The Orioles have put Wieters in the third hole in the batting order and that's where they are hoping he will spend his career. September has shown signs that the move was warranted. His line for September is: .347/.412/.520. So after all is said and done, his season will end up right around league average in batting, and after the way he started, that's promising. It does appear that he was tentative and a little lost when he first arrived but is more aggressive and more comfortable.

Wieters also started slowly in the field. Base runners were stealing with ease against him early. But he has tightened it up and now stands at 26% for the season, which is just below the league average of 28%. The good news is that his caught stealing in high leverage situations is higher than the steals allowed in those same situations. Will he ever be great in this area? It seems too soon to tell.

Some times it is hard to live up to the great expectations that arise when a supposed "can't miss" prospect comes on the scene. The pressure of that situation must affect different players different ways. Most were disappointed by what Wieters showed early and moved their interest on to other things. But Wieters has marched on and is slowly getting his groove on. Time will tell if he will develop into an elite catcher in the major leagues. But after seeing what he's done over time, the prospects still seem like that will be a distinct probability.

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