August 13, 2009

A big thanks goes out to last week's Deconstructing character, Mr. Scott Kazmir, who got shellacked by the freaking Seattle Mariners for seven earned runs on nine hits on Aug. 9. To update his Pitch F/X data, 36 of his 92 pitches thrown were four-seam fastballs, and he hit the strike zone over 69 percent of the time, according to That percentage was right in line with his four-seamer percentages since his return from the DL. Obviously, all four-seamer percentages are not created equal. Isn't that in the Constitution?

This week, I'll discuss Kazmir's possible future All-Star battery mate. (Talk about going out on a limb for a segue way, right?) We're looking at Matt Wieters and the reason(s) why he hasn't lived up to the megahype cast upon him prior to and during his initial foray into the bigs.

Here's a guy who many experts predicted would finish among the Top 5 catchers by the end of the year. Here's a guy who leads the charge of a very talented young group of Baltimore ballplayers that includes Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Brian Matusz. Here's another example of why you can't just listen to experts drone on and on and instead must include your own reasoning for decisions. Wieters will probably be good, possibly great, but right now he's holding back your catcher spot if he's the starter. Let's Deconstruct our way through this mess.

2009 stats: .263 AVG, .682 OPS, 3 HR, 15 RBIs, 12 R*All statistics referenced through Aug. 10

Wieters has had one extended hitting streak in which he's justified the truckload of hype with which he entered the big leagues. In an eight-game stretch from July 20-31, the backstop hit .433 (13-for-30), albeit with just one double and three RBIs. But hit, he did! He also struck out only three times, which ran counter to the 20 percent rate he's displayed since getting called up on May 29.

That eight-game hitting streak has been the shining light of his rookie campaign, highlighted by a four-hit night July 28. He really hasn't done much else. Oh, there were the three straight multi-hit games June 9-12. There were the three homers -- all he's hit this year -- in a 14-game span from June 17 to July 5. Still, he hasn't been the consistent focus of a fantasy discussion since his late May arrival.

In many ways, Wieters' first two-plus months in the majors have been a feeling-out process. It's why he's been restricted to the eight-hole with a few dalliances at the seventh spot. It's also why impatient keeper-league owners might be willing to listen to trade offers for the 23-year-old. Not to say that you should expect any owner in a dynasty league to give up on him already, but Wieters' owners might be more willing to talk trade than they were in June.

If you're one of those owners, then there are a couple of stats to track that might convince you to keep the man you thought would start his career as a core offensive player.

After whiffing 30 times in his first 119 at-bats -- a 34-game stretch -- Wieters has struck out just five times in 45 at-bats over 12 games. That's a percentage decline from 25 to 11. What this signals is that Wieters might finally be gaining comfort in recognizing the Major League strike zone. With his 6-5 frame, there's a lot of room for pitchers to toss a strike, so it understandably took him time to acclimate. And acclimate he has. It's no wonder that he's hitting .289 during that 12-contest time frame.

He's also batting .310 at home, which comes as no surprise to those educated on the hitters' and pitchers' parks in the majors. Camden Yards is unquestionably one of the finest parks in which to hit. Fortunately for Wieters and his owners, he's been capitalizing on its cozy dimensions by slugging more than 120 points higher there --.440 at home as opposed to .316 on the road. Given his .222 batting average outside of Baltimore, Wieters profiles as a class home/away spot start. To those snickering about that being viewed as a positive attribute, that's not what I'm implying.

Ideally, Wieters will transfer his hitting prowess at home to ballparks throughout the American League. But he's a young guy with little experience. Even the best big leaguers can struggle on the road, but at least he's been a productive hitter in a ballpark in which he should be productive.

An area where he's been decidedly unproductive is with runners in scoring position. He's hitting just .196 in 46 at-bats, so he's neither received many opportunities nor taken advantage of them when available. It's a reason why catching stalwarts like Ramon Castro (21) Robinson Diaz (18) and Landon Powell (18) have more RBIs despite all fielding at least 50 fewer at-bats than Wieters.

Wieters had 121 RBIs in 578 at-bats over 169 games in three levels of the minors from 2008-09. The man knows what to do with runners on base. He's certainly been the run producer in lineups; one of the reasons why the O's called upon him before June. However, not every rookie can hit like Ryan Braun or Evan Longoria.

Some struggle to find their way and Wieters has. It doesn't mean he can't and won't produce RBIs. He looks to have plenty of years batting cleanup behind on-base machines Jones and Markakis, so he's set up for future success. The guess here is that his true RBI production might not come at any point this year. One also has to understand the defensive nature of his position. Center fielders and first basemen can run to their positions without carrying a large defensive leadership burden. Catchers don't have that choice.

Wieters holds the responsibility of nurturing a starting staff that boasts four players 25 or younger -- Jason Berken (25), David Hernandez (24), Matusz (22) and Chris Tillman (21). Now you see why he can't put all his focus on his plate struggles. The man has to help raise a group of starters.

This is why Wieters isn't a good play the rest of the year. Sure, he might have one or two notable hot streaks left in him. After all, there's six weeks left in the regular season. Yet between learning how to hit consistently and helping shape a promising staff of hurlers, it might take a full offseason before he begins to tap into the potential that made him one of the most anticipated call-ups in recent MLB history.

If you're in a keeper league, there probably isn't a valid reason to trade him now. His value was higher before he entered the bigs given many owners' abnormal expectations. It's best to sit on that value and let it grow, like owning a house in the midst of a deep recession.

For single-year players, I'd advise trading Wieters if there's still a team high on him. An offensive surge this year won't be the kind you might see from Joe Mauer or Brian McCann. He's not going to hit 11 homers in September, as Mauer did in May. He won't be the difference-maker even when swinging a hot bat -- at least not this year.

Next year, owners will want Wieters on their team. They'll want a potential .300/30/100 bat at catcher. Most of all, they'll want to maintain the patience that enabled them to hold onto him in the first place. A Wieters owner next year is one my Wieters-less squad might be chasing in the standings.

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Kyle had a chance to trade for Wieters in a keeper league just before his callup. Yet, like J.P. Ricciardi of the Toronto Blue Jays, Wieters' owner, wanted to be 'wowed'. Instead, Kyle kept a couple core young players and is better for it -- at least this season. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to send me an e-mail at

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