Will Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters Ever Live Up To Lofty Expectations?

By Thom Tsang
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Well, I guess sliced break is kind of overrated too, if you think about it.

This was the kind of hype placed on then-top prospect Matt Wieters; memes were created, and websites were made. And after he’d come bursting onto the MLB scene as a 23-year-old with a 1.2 fWAR, rookie season that featured a .288/.340/.412 line and nine homers over 96 games, it was easy to see what all the hoopla was about. This was Joe Mauer with power — a player meant for superstardom before long.

That was then and this is now, however; and if you thought Wieters would be hitting below .250 with a sub-.300 OPS in his age-27 season, clearly you weren’t much of a believer of the hype to begin with.

It’s not to say that the Baltimore Orioles‘ backstop is a poor player, of course; as one of the best defenders behind the plate and power in his bat, he is still a 2.3 fWAR player thus far in 2013, and he’ll likely finish the season with his third-straight 3.0-plus fWAR season.

Being merely good isn’t what was expected of Wieters, though; and considering that hes now taken steps back in each of the last three seasons, it’s hard to say that he hasn’t been at least a mild letdown thus far.

While he’s definitely got the whole “hitting the ball out of the park” thing down with 20 homers, the fact is that he’s been a sub-par hitter (that’s putting it nicely) at the plate otherwise, as his .234/.292/.426 line indicates. That .718 OPS — despite 19 homers on the season (third among MLB catchers) — follows a .764 mark in 2012, and .778 in 2011.

See a pattern here?

Oh, but he’s got a BABIP of just .241, so the baseball gods are just messing with him, right? Well, considering that he’s hitting line drives at a three-year low 17 percent rate, infield hits at a career-high 6.7 percent and pop-ups at a significant career-high of 12.3 percent … nah, not really.

Could part of the problem be the fact that at 33.5 percent, he’s swinging at more pitches outside than ever, while maintaining steady contact? That could be it, but that he’s put the ball in the air more than on the ground (0.87 GB/FB) for the first time ever suggests issues that go beyond discipline.

And as for defense? He’s still an elite defender (third-ranked 5.5 fielding runs above average) among his peers, and ZiPS has his projected to finish at 6.9 by the end of the season.

The problem? Even that would represent a four-year low.

Whether it’s at the plate or behind it, the fact is that the 2013 version of Matt Wieters is trending down when his 27 years of age says it should be trending up. Now, athletics primes are not hard targets but rather guidelines, so it’s definitely still very possible for him to break out and become a superstar among the likes of Yadier Molina, Buster Posey and Joe Mauer age 28, 29, etc.

Who knows, maybe he’s a late bloomer; but was that what the baseball world expected all those years ago? That he might end up just merely being a good backstop in his prime?

Expectations are funny things, and in this case, even good can be disappointing in a bittersweet way.

Thom is an MLB writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @BlueJaysRant, or add him to your network on Google

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