Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Matt Wieters: Colossal Disappointment?

Eat it, Brien Taylor!

In this digital age, we are increasingly impatient. Still, I am often surprised at how quickly the cycle of baseball prospects turns. "What have you done for me lately?" is the name of the game. One bad season and a prospect or a young major leaguer is labelled, discarded and it's on to the next crop. The anticipation of potential is way more alluring than watching the prospect actually play the games on the major league level and develop however he may.

Still, I found the entry from this Baseball Prospectus article absolutely shocking. It's an installment compiling the 50 Most Disappointing Prospects of All Time:

Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
Drafted 2007, first round, fifth overall

As we were among the first to hop on the Wieters bandwagon, let us be among the first off of it. The backstop is heading into his age-25 season. Whatever his .343/.438/.576 rates seemed to portend, that’s gone, along with the notion that he’s a switch-hitter (he has hit .230/.278/.344 from the right side) or a power hitter. His glove and the dream of what might have been will keep him around for years, but stardom now seems spectacularly unlikely.


Wow. In a series of articles that lists players whose careers are over and done with (by and large), BP has written off Wieters completely after a couple of seasons.

But we have to apply context and perspective to Wieters' performance thus far. We have to compare him to other young catchers of recent years.

Since 1970, players with at least 200 games played by the end of their age 24 season and playing at least 85% of their games at catcher, ranked by OPS+.

Rk            Player OPS+   G From   To   Age   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1       Johnny Bench  139 454 1970 1972 22-24 .267 .342 .518 .860
2          Joe Mauer  125 415 2004 2007 21-24 .313 .394 .459 .853
3       Brian McCann  122 473 2005 2008 21-24 .297 .358 .501 .859
4      Jason Kendall  116 423 1996 1998 22-24 .308 .393 .439 .832
5     Thurman Munson  116 257 1970 1971 23-24 .277 .361 .392 .752
6        Ted Simmons  115 680 1970 1974 20-24 .291 .344 .430 .774
7          Ray Fosse  111 253 1970 1971 23-24 .291 .344 .432 .776
8     Russell Martin  110 272 2006 2007 23-24 .288 .366 .454 .821
9      Lance Parrish  110 384 1977 1980 21-24 .265 .316 .466 .782
10    Darrell Porter  105 537 1971 1976 19-24 .229 .334 .375 .709
11       Mark Bailey  101 279 1984 1986 22-24 .227 .344 .355 .699
12       Rich Gedman  100 377 1980 1984 20-24 .271 .309 .436 .744
13      Craig Biggio   99 334 1988 1990 22-24 .261 .330 .369 .699
14    Ivan Rodriguez   97 730 1991 1996 19-24 .285 .324 .429 .753
15       Kurt Suzuki   96 216 2007 2008 23-24 .271 .341 .381 .721
16   Benito Santiago   96 431 1986 1989 21-24 .264 .296 .410 .706
17      Matt Wieters   92 226 2009 2010 23-24 .266 .328 .393 .721
18     Butch Wynegar   91 723 1976 1980 20-24 .256 .343 .347 .690
19   Charles Johnson   87 221 1994 1996 22-24 .236 .321 .388 .709
20     Biff Pocoroba   87 326 1975 1978 21-24 .260 .343 .358 .701
Over the last 40 years, Wieters is in the top 20. Think about that. 40 years of ball, hundreds of catchers have come and gone and Wieters is among the best hitting catchers under 24. 40 years.

I think everyone needs to keep some perspective here and remember that Wieters was a top prospect not only because of his bat but because he could hit and was a catcher. It's an incredibly rare commodity to have a catcher who is a good, let alone great, hitter. Up to this point, in a historical context, Wieters has not embarrassed himself at all.

But when we consider all the best hitting catchers of the last 40 years, doesn't it seem that there are some guys missing from that list? Yes, there are. Here are the best hitting catchers over the last 40 years.

Since 1970, best hitting catchers by OPS+ with at least 750 career games and 80% of those games at the catcher position.

Rk            Player OPS+    G   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
1        Mike Piazza  142 1912 .308 .377 .545 .922
2          Joe Mauer  136  836 .327 .407 .481 .888
3       Jorge Posada  123 1714 .275 .377 .479 .856
4       Brian McCann  122  754 .289 .360 .489 .849
5    Victor Martinez  121 1004 .300 .369 .469 .838
6       Chris Hoiles  119  894 .262 .366 .467 .833
7       Carlton Fisk  117 2497 .269 .341 .457 .798
8     Thurman Munson  116 1397 .292 .347 .411 .758
9        Gary Carter  115 2295 .262 .335 .439 .773
10    Darren Daulton  114 1161 .245 .357 .427 .784
11    Darrell Porter  113 1782 .247 .354 .409 .763
12        Javy Lopez  112 1503 .287 .337 .491 .828
13    Ivan Rodriguez  107 2499 .298 .334 .466 .800
14     Lance Parrish  106 1988 .252 .313 .440 .753
15        Bob Brenly  106  871 .247 .330 .403 .733
16       Don Slaught  104 1327 .283 .338 .412 .749
17      Todd Hundley  102 1225 .234 .320 .443 .763
18      John Stearns  102  810 .260 .341 .375 .717
19   Mike Lieberthal  101 1212 .274 .337 .446 .783
20   Terry Steinbach  101 1546 .271 .326 .420 .746
21     Jason Varitek   99 1478 .258 .343 .436 .778
22      Ed Taubensee   99  975 .273 .331 .430 .761
23   Mike Macfarlane   99 1164 .252 .322 .430 .752
24     Mike Scioscia   99 1441 .259 .344 .356 .700
25       Ernie Whitt   99 1328 .249 .324 .410 .734
(By the way, I removed Bill Freehan from this list since he played a significant amount of his career before 1970...)

Some of the best hitting catchers in recent memory did not even debut until after their age 24 season. Piazza doesn't really count; he got a cup of coffee when he was 23 but at 24, he put up a monster season and took Rookie of the Year. But Jorge Posada? He only had 15 MLB at bats at 24. Victor Martinez had just 61 games and an 87 OPS+. Chris Hoiles had only 6 games under his belt.

Sure, it would have been great if Wieters had hit the ground running like Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk or Joe Mauer. But catchers typically take awhile longer to develop offensively in the majors. They just do. That's why the Nationals moved Bryce Harper to the outfield and the Royals have moved top prospect Wil Myers from behind the plate. They value their bats more than their catching skills and they know the position will slow their development at the plate.

But those top 15 guys (except for the criminally underrated Hoiles) were all All-Star caliber catchers. As a catcher, if you can be a league average hitter over a sustained career, you are one of the best at your position for a couple of generations or more. Wieters may not be Fisk, Piazza or Brian McCann but he could very well be Martinez, Posada, Hoiles or Munson. Not a superstar but certainly a star caliber catcher.

And really, would we all be that upset if he had a Jason Varitek level career? (Varitek, by the way, had his first full season in the majors at age 26...)

Expectations were sky-high for Wieter, no doubt. But he is still a catcher and the expectations have to be placed in context for his position. I still think Wieters will develop into a .800+ OPS hitter and he has plenty of time to do so. But even if he sticks "around for years", has a 10-year career as a league average hitter and a solid defensive catcher, is that one of 50 most disappointing prospects ever? No way.

And he certainly doesn't deserve that tag at age 24. Not on this planet.




All stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/1/2011.

10 comments:

Ross said...

Great post, the article called for this response. Really glad to see Neyer picked it up and commented on it.

I think Wieters inclusion in this list has a lot more to do with BP's PECOTA projecting Wieters with a .311/.395/.544 triple slash his rookie season than it has to do with his production thus far. As long as he stays at catcher for a number of years it will be very difficult to legitimately label him as a disappointment/bust.

steve said...

Wieters certainly has been a valuable catcher at his salary thus far. At the same time though, there are rather large subgroup of pedestrian players on the first list. If Wieters' career plays out like Charles Johnson or Benito Santiago, I'll find that very disappointing. That's certainly valuable and I'll take it, but massively disappointing nonetheless. I ranked all catchers with 400 PAs in 2010 by wOBA on fangraphs. Wieters ranked 12th out of 18 catchers in 2010. So in contemporary terms, Wieters' bat has been quite quite disappointing.

Jeff said...

Given the choice between Posey and Wieters I would take Matt. People get way too caught up in offense, where Wieters' defense and game management is head and shoulders over anybody his age (or several years older).

The bat will come around. I was at the game where he hit his first career HR and the way the ball jumps off his bat so effortlessly shows me that he will put it together one day.

Heath said...

Jeff: Not sure I would take Wieters over Posey (love Posey's athleticism) but I agree with the effortless power he has. Think his floor is a league average hitter.

Steve: Yeah but Jason Kendall is way up on that list, Ray Fossee, Russell Martin. Point is, it's waaay too early to label him a bust, success or anything.

Ross: If Rob Neyer linked to me, I can just quit now. I'll never do better than that.

steve said...

Health, and so is Kurt Suzuki, Russell Martin, Mark Bailey, or Rich Gedman. But I agree with you that it's too early to give up. I'm just that list doesn't give me a good reason to think so.

Daniel said...

fantastic stuff. I must say that I've grown slightly wary about the future of our young backstop, but I guess now that someone seems to still have faith and can really back it up.

I'm still a big time supporter; sky's the limit for this guy. that being said, I'll temper my expectations. I think there's still room to grow

Heath said...

But the list is as much about who isn't on it as is. The point is, you can't tell a damn thing about a young catcher at age 24. He could flame out, he could keep getting better. Thus, too early, way too early, for that label.

steve said...

Ah gotcha. I thought the point of the list was to show that Wieters was actually performing quite admirably, which I disagree with... at least bat wise.

Heath said...

Well, partially. He has not been TERRIBLE in the historical sense. But no, he has not been great up to this point.

Ross said...

Neyer not just linked but also quoted. Congrats on the accomplishment and the timely reply to BP.
Neyer Link