Thursday, January 12, 2017

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer - 

I will preface this article by stating that, in the past, I have not been a fan of signing the Orioles former rising star, he just seemed to be missing key components, such as pitch framing ability, good career offensive numbers against RHP, and the previous Tommy John Surgery on his throwing arm gave me concerns about his durability.

However if you look deeper at his numbers and his performances in 2015 and 2016, you see the possible makings of a trend that may be enticing to Billy Eppler and the 2017 Angels squad.

First let us examine Matt’s defensive numbers as seen in the table below:

 photo Weiters1_zpsm0lrem1i.png

There are a couple of interesting items to talk about here.

Matt’s pitch framing was actually good earlier in his career (2010-2012) but fell off in recent years. It is possible that he could work on this part of his game and improve but he will likely never be an elite pitch framer. He probably will not hurt a team too dramatically in this department.

Obviously the 2014 CS% of 8% is an outlier. That was the year he tore his UCL and ultimately required TJS so his career CS% of 33% is probably a much more reliable number in regard to his ability to control the running game.

It is not fully shown here but from 2010-2012, the Fielding Bible loved his Defensive Runs Saved numbers, averaging over 13 runs saved over that 3-year period. It is not a total stretch to believe that Wieters can reclaim some of that former glory as he is further removed from his injury. FanGraphs consistently gave him positive DEF scores over the years with some large variance year to year.

On the offensive side there are some really interesting details that may be a trend or could simply be an outlier.

First let us look at his 2015, 2016, and career batted ball numbers:

 photo Weiters1_zpsm0lrem1i.png

The first thing that leaps off the page is the dramatically high line drive percentages over the last two years. They are significantly higher than his career numbers which indicates a clear improvement, similar to Cameron Maybin, in hitting mechanics and/or his approach at the plate. This is definitely a plus for any acquiring team.

Additionally Matt has made improvements in his all-fields approach and ability to hit line drives up the middle of the field. More importantly he does this from both sides of the plate which is another added plus to his offensive profile.

Wieters hard contact percentage has also improved against right-handed pitchers over the last two seasons. Combined with his exit velocity increase of approximately 1.5 mph in 2016 over the previous year, you begin to see the signs of a player who is recovering and improving after a serious injury in 2014.

Beyond the batted ball data, Matt had mixed actual results from 2015-2016 that may have concealed the improvements in his batted ball profile:

 photo Weiters3_zpstbvucqph.png

If you stare at the chart too long you may begin to feel like you are in choppy sea waters. There are spurts of leaps and stutters over the last two years but the general trend seems to be heading in a positive direction.

In 2015 you can see the impact of his high line drive percentages in his BABIP. He did better against RHP that year but his overall contact rate both in (Z-Cont %) and out (O-Cont %) of the zone was lower than his career average which is reflected in his higher strikeout rates.

The following year, in 2016, he significantly lowered his strikeout rates and saw a corresponding increase in contact percentage but unfortunately more of that contact was outside the zone (i.e. chasing pitches he should not chase). This led to some of his BABIP issues and poor contact from the right side of the plate which resulted in more outs.

So it appears that Wieters is fundamentally sound and, other than the arm issue, durable behind the plate. He will be a slight negative in terms of pitch framing with possible room for improvement but the most value he will bring is with his bat which is above average against LHP and appears to be improving to league average versus RHP, which, for a catcher, is quite good.

In terms of a fit with the Angels, Eppler and Scioscia could roll out Matt against RHP’s and have Maldonado hit against his more dominant side versus LHP’s. On the days Martin catches they could slide Wieters over to 1B to platoon with C.J. Cron who is dominant against RHP but has faltered versus LHP so far in his career.

The platoon at catcher would move from a Perez/Maldonado combination (approximately a 76/95 wRC+ split for RHP/LHP) to a Wieters/Maldonado tandem (approximately a 90/95 wRC+ split for RHP/LHP). Also the full-time C.J. Cron 1B scenario (approximate 119/91 wRC+ RHP/LHP split) would move to a Cron/Wieters platoon (approximate 119/114 wRC+ RHP/LHP split).

This would be an upgrade over Perez against RHP without a doubt. The overall impact to offense is slight but noticeable providing better balance to the lineup. estimated in early December that Matt would receive a 3-year, $39M deal this offseason. In the current market that may be a touch high but it is probably in the ballpark.

Castro signed at $8M per year ($24M total) while the injured Ramos signed for about $6M per season so someone like Wieters might get more, particularly if he accepts a shorter contract. However with the market in a seemingly depressed state it does not seem like Matt will get more than $10M per season.

There is a potential fit with the Angels but it is not a great one. The recent 2-year trend in Wieters line drive percentage is particularly exciting from an offensive point-of-view and there seems to be room for Matt to recover more on the defensive side as well.

In the end if the Angels plan to spend this much money it might be more worthwhile to trade for Miguel Montero, if he is available, who has superior pitch framing skills and would probably not cost us a significant amount in prospect currency. He hits RHP well which would complement Maldonado and in turn allow the Angels to roll out Jefry Marte in a platoon role with Cron if they do not trust C.J. against LHP.

Of course Matt Wieters would be a cash only deal for the Halos which would relieve Billy Eppler from not having to dip down into the barren farm system to execute another trade this offseason.

The recent rumor that the Angels are interested in Wieters may just be Jon Heyman generating clickbait, Scott Boras drumming up the value of his client, or actual interest in the former Orioles star by the Angels.

In regard to the latter there is a positional fit and Matt would improve the team, perhaps significantly if his trends continue, so it is not a stretch that he could be in an Angels uniform by the end of Spring Training.
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