I have always had a fascination of looking in depth at all of the lesser known statistics and trying to use everything that is available to get a better understanding of that player's past, present and future. That being said, I plan to do a full write-up of every Orioles position player to see if we can learn something about these guys that we didn't know before, myself included. I have always had a bias towards hitting, so most of my focus will be on that, but I will give attention to fielding and base running as well.
Let's start with Matt Wieters....because he is a very big man and would probably grind my bones into dust if I did not give him his dues. Most of us know his back story, 5th overall pick in the 2007 draft, was touted as a can't miss prospect (possibly relating to the fact that at his size, it's difficult to not see him); the minor leagues was about as easy for him as T-ball using one of those thick, red whiffle ball bats.
In 2009, Wieters was given 96 games and 385 at bats; a decent enough sample size. He then played the next 3 years without anyone contesting his full time starts, getting 502 ABs, 551 ABs, and 593 ABs in order. In his first year, Wieters had some predictable struggles for a rookie, posting career lows in BB% and K% (7.3% and 22.3% respectively.) Since then both numbers have seen steady improvement which have significantly contributed to his increase in production (although his 2012 strikeout rate of 18.9% is less than ideal.) That being said, the league average strikeout rate last year was 19.8%, so this is hardly a devastating blow to his production. That being said, Wieters had a 15.2 K% in 2011, which is quite impressive...dare I mention Mark Reynolds strikeout rates as a comparison? I can't help myself; Mark Reynolds 2011 K%....31.6%....HOLY @#$% that is bad, and that wasn't even his worst year.
In taking his 3 full years of starting in consideration, you see legitimate improvement to his flashy statistics, HRs doubled from 2010 to 2011, which of course leads to a much higher SLG% as well as those other worthless stats like runs and RBI. But when you dig a bit deeper you can see where that progress is stemming from. I have a man crush with following Line Drive percentage (LD%). On average, groundballs result in a hit about 24% of the time, flyballs about 15%. Line drives have a 71% chance at being a hit. So if I were to throw on a hat with an orange cartoon bird, step into the batters box at the yards, and hit a line drive every time i got to the plate, I would have somewhere around a .710 career batting average...Cooperstown here I come. It is for this reason that I have taken to analyzing LD% in every hitter I look at and put far too much stock into it's results. In 2010, Wieters hit a paltry 15.4 LD%; league average is around 20%. Combine that with only having an 8.0 HR/FB%, and it is not hard to see why his 2010 offensive production was so disappointing. Since then...its been all uphill (and hopefully we are yet to see the peak of that hill.) His LD% in 2011 was raised to 17.7% at the expense of fewer groundballs. He also increased his HR/FB% to 13.6%. Long story short, Wieters hit the ball harder and therefore more balls landed in the grass and in the stands. Those numbers continued to climb in 2012 with a 20.4 LD% and 15.5 HR/FB %.
So where does he go from here? Excellent question Mark, I am glad you asked it. Frankly, with a .274 BABIP and a 20.4 LD%, one could say that Wieters was actually unlucky last year and that his stats should have been even better through no fault of his own. He is a terrible runner, but almost every catcher is. He is one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball (rated just behind the Cardinals Molina for the best, depending on how you like to judge your catchers.) Assuming his running and defense stays the same, which they probably will, his value is going be judged based on his hitting. His contact percentages are right at or slightly above average, as is his swing % numbers. From what I am seeing in his last few years of data, there is no reason that Wieters should not continue to improve offensively. His career wRC+ of 100 says that he has been the model average hitter. Wieters has shown the ability to be a good, above average hitter; when combined with being incredible defensively and still having potential to continue improving his production, Matt Wieters should be considered one of the best catchers in all of baseball right now, and Buster Posey better watch his back.