The problem is – and always will be – the hype. The nickname “God” in college, and scouts’ insanely hyperbolic comparisons (a “switch-hitting Joe Mauer” with power) will tend to do that. Matt Wieters is a decent catcher that was packaged as this generation’s Johnny Bench. He may never reach the levels of greatness predicted for him, but I do think there’s one significant avenue that still hasn’t been explored.
My idea that I pitched at a production meeting a few months ago was spurred on by Shane Victorino’s heroics during the playoffs, but was first planted by Matt Wieters. Anyone who’s watched the Orioles in the past two years already knows what this link to his Baseball Reference page will say. From the right side of the plate, Wieters is one of the best offensive catchers in the game. From the left, he’s been slowly deteriorating since 2011, to the point he’s now well below replacement level from that side. And although I won’t be the first to raise the question, I’ll gladly raise it again: why not just give up switch-hitting?
The main counterargument is a legitimate one. “It’s not all numbers, there’s a human element here.” Completely true. As much as Matt Wieters has struggled as lefty at the major league level, there’s obviously a reason that he’s made it this far as a switch hitter. In fact, as recently as 2010, Wieters was more than serviceable (.265/.347/.397) as a lefty.
This isn’t MLB the Show where with a few button taps, Matt Wieters intrinsically understands how to pick up right handed pitches. After all, he hasn’t had to deal with a nasty slider running away from him in quite some time. Like most major league hitters, Wieters has a tough time dealing with breaking pitches.
But here’s the kicker, he struggles with them from both sides of the plate. According to MLB Inside Edge, Wieters hit under .200 against curves and sliders from both sides of the plate. Where he makes his bones as a righty is on fastballs, which he mashes to the tune of a .337 average. I don’t deny that he’ll struggle to pick up nasty hooks as a righty, but his ability to eradicate fastballs should be a much more seamless transfer.
Last year, only two right handed hitters had a lower average than Wieters’ .214 vs RHP; Dan Uggla and Darwin Barney. Just a .230 – .240 right on right average would still be enough of an improvement to plug a major hole in the Baltimore lineup against right-handed pitching.
Back in the early 90′s, J.T. Snow was Matt Wieters in the mirror, unable to hit lefties from the right side. In 1999, he made the change to bat exclusively left-handed. He never completely mastered right-handed pitching, but the result was a vast improvement. His career line as a right-handed hitter (.213/.295/.309) was anemic. Once he went left on left, his numbers became respectable enough (.246/.351/.358) to warrant his inclusion in the lineup vs LHP.
I just want to make it clear, I’m not saying Matt Wieters is a bad player. He’s one hell of a defensive catcher (if not necessarily a great pitch framer), and by all accounts, his pitching staff has a lot of trust in him, which is maybe the most important trait a catcher can have. The Orioles have definitely noticed these trends, and there’s probably a very good reason that this idea hasn’t been implemented.
But in a contract year for Matt Wieters, where he’ll be looking to maximize his open market value, maybe that reason won’t be good enough anymore. Maybe Shane Victorino’s case for the one-sided argument was compelling enough to spur some change. If either of those statements are true, maybe Baltimore will finally have the middle of the order catcher they drafted 7 years ago.
Image Credit: Keith Allison