ST. PETERSBURG - JUNE 01: Catcher Matt Wieters #32 of the Baltimore Orioles singles against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on June 1, 2012 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Matt Wieters was Baseball America's #1 overall prospect back in 2009, but has had difficulty reaching the lofty expectations of Orioles fans and fantasy owners at the big league level. The lofty expectations were the result of his fantastic 2008 season in the minors, playing at two levels -High A and AA, Wieters hit a combined .355-.454-.600 with 27 HRs, 89 runs, 91 RBI, and an excellent 76-82 strikeout to walk rate in 437 at bats. For a catcher to hit for power and average, with an excellent eye at the plate, his choice as the #1 prospect in baseball was an easy one.
After his tremendous 2008 season, he was promoted to AAA to start the 2009 season, where he hit .305-.387-.504 with 5 HRs, 25 runs, 30 RBI and a 30-20 strikeout to walk ratio in 39 games. The Oriioles had seen enough and promoted him to the big league club, where he hit .288-.340-.412 with 9 HRs, 35 runs and 43 RBI in 96 games with the Orioles. Pretty good numbers for a 23 year old catcher. That performance led to some ungodly projections from Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system heading into the 2010 season. The hype was thick and Wieters was over-drafted as a result.
His 2010 season was disappointing, as he hit just .249-.319-.377 with 11 HRs, 37 runs and 55 RBI in 446 at bats. But, one thing he did do well was take the free pass, as he walked in 9.4% of his at bats. A couple things he did not do well, was hit for power-his ISO was just .124; and hit line drives, as his line drive rate was just 15.4%. You're not going to hit for a high average with a line drive rate of 15%.
More on Wieters after the jump:
Matt Wieters had a solid 2011 season overall, hitting .262-.328-.450 with 22 home runs, 72 runs and 68 RBI in 500 at bats. His line drive rate jumped to 17.7%, and he cut down his strikeouts from 18.7% to 15.2%, so he made some strides at the plate. After he hit .259-.336-.504 with 14 HRs, 34 RBI and a solid 36-25 strikeout to walk rate in the second half last year, many, including me, expected him to break out in 2012.
Wieters started the 2012 season where he left off in 2011, hitting .279-.364-.574 with 6 HRs, 15 RBI, 8 runs and a solid 13-8 strikeout to walk rate in April. In May, he slumped in a big way, hitting just .188-.282-.323 with just 2 HRs, 7 RBI and a 24-10 strikeout to walk rate.
What is ailing Wieters? Well, he isn't hitting right handed pitchers. He is hitting just .229-.315-.458 vs righties, but has hit 8 of his 9 HRs off of them thus far. Actually, when he isn't hitting a home run or double off of a righty, he just isn't hitting. His career triple slash line vs. righties is better - .260-.326-.406 - but not much better.
His BABIP has always been below the major league average of .300 for his career, so maybe he will always be a low batting average guy, but many expect better from him. Thus far in 2012, he is hitting .244-.330-.449 with 9 HRs, 25 runs, 24 RBI and a decent 40-19 strikeout to walk rate in 176 at bats. His BABIP is still low at .266, but his ISO is up to .205, slightly better than his .188 ISO in 2011. He is walking more and striking out more this season, but the increase in the K rate to 20% is hopefully just a short term blip.
His line drive rate is down from 17.7% in 2011 to 15.3% this season, and his ground ball rate hovers around 45% thus far. The combination of the 20% strikeout rate, the low line drive rate and the high ground ball rate, doesn't scream good batting average.
Fantasy owners may have to temper their expectations on Wieters if he can't improve upon his 2011 season. But, if he can improve his power vs 2011, fantasy owners will take a league average batting average in return for 25 bombs. He is on pace for 27 HRs and 70+ runs/RBIs, so a slight improvement on his batting average, via a few more line drives, and possibly a few more long balls, and he could approach 30 HRs this season.