Catcher Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Post-Hype Analysis: Matt Wieters
One of the most frequent questions I get via email: "what do you think of Matt Wieters?"
Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters was the recipient of enormous hype two years ago. Some of that hype went pretty overboard, and indeed I was guilty of that myself, referring to Wieters as "Joe Mauer with 30-homer power" or "Mike Piazza with a much better glove." It looks stupid right now, but it made sense at the time. Wieters was a very good defensive catcher with a career minor league line of .343/.438/.576, showing loads of power, power, strong plate discipline, without excessive strikeouts. The scouting reports were great and the statistics were virtually flawless. There was no reason to think he wouldn't develop into a superstar.
But so far that's not how things have turned out. He hit .288/.340/.412 in 2009 (OPS+96), but just .249/.319/.377 (OPS+89) last year. His career line stands at .266/.328/.393 in 887 plate appearances. He might have hit in some poor luck last year with just a .287 BABIP. On the positive side, his defense (after some rough patches in '09) improved last year, keeping his WAR value safely positive at 2.3.
His career WAR so far is 3.8. Basically, if you trust WAR anyway, Wieters has still been a good player as catchers go, safely above replacement level anyway. That's nice, but it is a far cry from a guy expected to be a cross between Johnny Bench, Roy Hobbs, Batman, and Chuck Norris.
His Sim Scores through age 24 aren't especially encouraging. The top ten are Kurt Suzuki, Mike Sweeney, Jerry Moses, Joe Azcue, Russ Nixon, Jesus Flores, Thurmon Munson, Nig Clarke (early 20th century guy, not really comparable), Ramon Hernandez, and Del Rice.
Sweeney turned into an excellent hitter, but only after he switched positions. Suzuki has been solid, but of course we don't know what his career will look like in the long run. Munson was a fine, fine player until his unfortunate demise, but not a Hall of Fame type. Ramon Hernandez has been very solid and I think he's been an underrated player, but again, not a superstar. Moses, Azcue, Nixon, Rice...all had long careers as catchers but none of them were stars.
If the historical precedents mean anything, there's still a chance that Wieters will live up to the offensive potential he showed in the minors (the Sweeney outcome), but it is not the most likely outcome. We should be happy if he turns into an above-average, very good, solid player along the lines of Munson or Hernandez. But the most likely outcome is an unspectacular, if long, career. Baseball Prospectus Comparables are a lot more optimistic: Ryan Doumit, Chipper Jones, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, and Mark Teixeria show up as the top five comps, although only Doumit is a catcher.
Of course, the historical precedents might not mean anything, and there are all kinds of limitations with using Sim Scores and BP comps in this manner, especially for a guy with just two years under his belt. My personal take is that Wieters is still going to have a long career as an above average player. At this point I doubt he'll hit like Sweeney did unless he switches positions, but overall I think he will turn out somewhere between Munson (career WAR 44.4) and Hernandez (career WAR 26.4).