Monday, September 28, 2009

Is It Hot In Here, Or Is It Baseball Jesus?

The steaming pile of crap that is the Redskins has made me turn my attention to something slightly more uplifting...

...the Orioles.

[Side note: 60-95 is more encouraging than 1-2? This is the depth of my depression?? Epic fail.]

While everyone was busy giving up on the O's, something magical and previously unthinkable happened: Felix Pie became a major league hitter!

But in addition to that, and 354 times more importantly, there was a crucial development regarding the long-term future of the franchise: Matt Wieters became hot like fire. Or like Jim Zorn's seat. Zing?!

If you're like me, you've been religiously checking Oriole box scores the entire season for one thing and one thing only, that being Wieters' stats. Since his arrival, though, his play had been nowhere near the hype, leading to these types of painful interchanges between my buddy Eric, a Yankees fan, and myself:

Eric: Dude, so this is the savior of Orioles baseball? Ha!
Me: Just wait...

Eric: Haha, you took down the "Wieters Watch" on your site?! What happened? He must really be stinkin' up the joint. And I mean like taking dumps behind home plate.
Me: Yea well it was, uh, crowding the, uh, you know, the page...

Eric: Haha oh man, even Jesus Montero is better than Wieters. Your guy ain't gonna make it. He's too tall and moves around too much behind home plate. Joe Mauer with power? I'd rather have ZAUN.
Me: Crap...

Well, Eric, meet reality. Wieters' play recently has not only confirmed his place as one of the Orioles' best hitters, but it has him firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of major league catchers.

Here is a look at Wieters' progression throughout the season (statistics through Saturday; click to enlarge):

What a difference a few months make, huh? His .289 BA ranks 6th in the majors and 4th in the AL among catchers with at least 300 at bats. Among AL rookies? It's the best in the league. Who's got two thumbs and needs Viagra when considering those numbers? Not this guy.

Extrapolate those totals to 162 games you're looking at 15 HR and 71 RBI - by no means spectacular numbers, but surely something for a rookie to build on, especially when every accomplishment this year is purely a bonus. And while AL Rookie of the Year honors seem out of the question at this point (see: Jeff Niemann and Rick Porcello), a nomination appears more than realistic (see: subpar AL rookie class).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Wieters' game is that he hits from both sides of the plate. Yet, looking at those splits, it's apparent where he's more comfortable (click to enlarge):

While the big guy hasn't consistently shown the raw power everyone hoped to see, dingers like these have me confident he won't merely be a singles hitter his entire career. And that when Wieters does a pushup, he is not pushing himself up, he is pushing the earth down.

So, zingers aside, what does this all mean for Oriole baseball? Will they compete next year?

Not a chance!

But with Wieters, the Cavalry, Pacman, and Markickass, they have what the Redskins sorely lack in a place it's needed most: a fantastic core of young players in the league's best division. Both teams are in last place, but they appear headed in opposite directions.

And in a completely non-related story, Joe Mauer just purchased his first pair of Matt Wieters pajamas.

[Ed. Note: More advanced statistical analysis to come following the season from DCLS Stat Guru, Marion's Crackpipe.]

(Image courtesy of


  1. Okay, because I love to comment on all things baseball...

    My thoughts on Wieters. He's held his own at catcher in the Major Leagues at an age where most prospects are in AA. This is a major indicator of future success. That said, he went from having one of the best context-adjusted minor league seasons, if not the best, in the last 40 years to having a solid one in the Major Leagues. His profile went from unbelievable, generational prospect to merely great talent. Who would have complained about him just being a great prospect when he was drafted? That said, is it okay to be disappointed in his season not being more incredible and acknowledge that his status dimmed a bit? Sure. It doesn't mean the door is shut on him becoming Mike Piazza with defense, mind you, just that this season has been more of a bullet point against this happening than a supporting factor. He's on pace to be an all-star level can anyone complain? Maybe he went from Baseball jesus to Baseball Moses. It's okay. 23 year old catchers rarely hold their own in the majors; he's still far and away the most valuable talent on the Orioles going forward.

    The other caveat I would present, however, is that maybe we shouldn't get too, too ecited about September. There is plenty of research to support the notion that rookies, especially, can have big Septembers aided by the expansion of rosters to include all 40 men when the clanedar turns at the end of August. This has proven true of both pitchers and hitters. Why would rookies receive more of a boost than veterans? Quite simply, managers, especially in situations where they're out of contention, tend to play younger players in September and for some reason are more likely to play them when the other manager does the same. Thus, there's a sabermetric guideline (if not quite a tenet) that you should be cautious when rookies break out in September. Not eveidence of anything here, just a bullet point to add to the discussion.

    On the discouraging side, however, is that Wieters very modest season has actually exceeded Markakis' in value in about half of the plate appearnces, which is as much an indictment of Markakis as praise of Wieters. Markakis has had the worst season of his career, regressing when he should be improving, and doing so at an age where he's becoming increasingly unlikely to make major improvements. Ignore his RBIs (hopefully, we're at the point where all informed fans show this to be a stat that shows little information in terms of player value) and realize that his rate stats on the year have been extremely pedestrian and that as far as corner players in the AL East alone in 2009, he's been significantly less valuable than Drew, Bay, Youkilis, Damon, Swisher, Matsui, Teixeira, A-Rod, Crawford, Pena, Longoria, Adam Lind, Scott Rolen, and even a bit less than Lyle Overbay. Use your value stat of choice...this isn't a subjective argument. While I'd expect him to bounce back some next year to become a pretty valuable player, the idea of him becoming some superstar is not shared by savvy GMs at this point. Not impossible, but wow, he's been worth roughly 1-2 wins over a replacement level talent in 2009 and he's turning 26. Was it not this site that recently touted him as a guy who would be a star if he were in New York and Boston? At this point he's a guy you could only call a star in Baltimore, where a solid if unspectacular Brian Roberts has been the team's best player in 2009.

  2. Your Conscience,

    Your baseball wisdom is always appreciated here.

    I'm going to disagree on Markakis because emotionally, it's easier than not. Let's just leave it at that.

    And speaking of Roberts: 5 doubles in 7 games...can he do it? Either way, his 55 have tied Lance Berkman for most by a switch-hitter. Big ups to B-Rob, who we singled out at this season's midpoint as a guy who needed to step up in the second half.

  3. Roberts is as underappreciated at this point as Markakis is appreciated. To do what he does: get on base at a good clip, hit with medium power, steal bases at a high rate, and do it all at a premium defensive position, very, very good player.

  4. If you're going to undervalue Wieters' September based on historical above-the-curve statistical spikes of rookies, you just as equally cannot put too much weight on his slow start; another pretty standard rookie trend.

    So if it all balances out (below-realistic start and above-realistic finish), and Wieters still ends up as a top 10 offensive catcher, I'd say there is still room for a bust out of Jesus-on-Easter like proportions next year.

    As for Markakis...I'm not ready to let a few bad months mid-season outweight 3 solid years of .300 hitting and above average defense. If we're going to build a winner, he doesn't need to be an anchor anyways...plenty more pieces to the puzzle yet to come. Like, say, that elusive power-hitting first baseman. When the time comes, I'm confident Angelos will dangle that money and that's when Markakis' hitting skills will blossom.

  5. The only problem with the argument you mkae, Red Rover, is that we are trying to project Wieters going forward. Where is your evidence of the slow start standard rookie trend? I don't want exceptions to the rule or examples that prove your point. I'm looking specifically for evidence on a macro level that supports the idea that rookies tend to struggle below their true talent level prior to September. I've read many sabermetric essays and papers and have never come across one with evidence like you're suggesting. On the other hand, great sites like Baseball Prospectus have given evidence of the September boost that can be found relatively easily in their archives and I suggest you check these out. They've even been working on a series recently regarding deciphering rookie performance.

    I think he's been on the periphery of the top 10, sure.

    With Markakis, I'm not asking you to let the .300 hitting seasons be outweighed. I think they're closer to his true talent level. I'm asking you to look beyond batting average to stats such as OBP and SLG which I'll hope you agree are much, much more important than AVG and correlate at a much higher rate with runs scored, the basic idea behind an offense. The fact remains that in his age 25 season, he was average to slightly below in the two most important statistics in the sport, relative to offense. He's a corner hitter who hits with mediocre power through four seasons in the major leagues. I'm not closing the door, but I am saying you're long on proclamation and short on evidence. Above average defense? UZR has him as the 7th worst RF in baseball this year. Baseball Prospectus has him as 18 runs (nearly two wins!!!) below average with the glove this year, which is below replacement level defensively. The Dewan plus/minus system seems to agree with the first two assesments. When one fielding range stat says something, by all means be cautious. When all of the systems agree, it's tough to argue. He's been AWFUL defensively in 2009 in terms of fielding balls in his defensive zone. Overall, the package means that in his age 25 season he's been average for a RF offensively and terrible defensively. Defense rarely gets better as players age and lose speed, one might add, especially when they've already shown signs of regression

    By all means, remain hopeful, but can anyone here argue that Adam Lind, about the same age, has to now be considered the better player? He slugged nearly .600 this year!

    As far as Angelos shelling out the big bucks when the time is right, fine, great. But we've officially gone from projecting the Orioles in seasons to come to abstract conjecture.

  6. Yea, but Markakis is a good looking dude and no metric will ever take that from him.

  7. Call me crazy, but don't rookie seasons usually tend to be on the lower end of statistical output, career-wise? No, I don't have data for this, but it's common sense: players rarely start at their peak. No?

    Yes a September spike might be a statistical reality, but I'm talking about meeting halfway versus projecting a future based on a rookie summer of mediocrity. I'm not saying you should ignore the disappointing below-projected output. I'm saying that if you think Wieters peaked when he was a .260 hitter with mediocre power heading into September, you're nuts.

    I love stats and I'm glad you provide insight on them, especially re: Markakis. So now I'm afraid. So logically, I will provide excuses: lowered give-a-shit factor. Would you be laying out and sacrificing your precious body parts for this O's team right now? I'm holding judgment until it's time to go balls to the walls. Just because I can.

  8. Yea, but Markakis is like, fucking great looking.

  9. Two quick ones, bed time.

    1) I think Wieters is going to be a great player because both the stats and the scouts tend to agree that he will. He is FAR from his peak and I've repeatedly called him a great talent, at a minimum. I merely mentioned September as a bullet point, which I stated in my original post. And rookie seasons tend to be on the low end, yes, because players are typically younger and the peak age for a composite player is 27. If a 27 year old rookie came up, well, you would expect him to start at his peak. So this is mostly a product of agr as opposed to the "adjustment period."

    2) As far as Markakis goes, I think the Markakis of the last few years is the closer approximation of his true talent level (see Robinson Cano's down year in 2008 and big bounce back this year). That said, it's not that he got worse that concerns's that he hasn't showed big improvement at the ages where players typically would. He'll be at the start of his peak in 2010 and I think we'll be close to knowing once and for all by next year if he's going to be a true corner star or a nice solidly above average player. I'm concerned that his offensive profile contains no weaknesses but no incredible strengths either...

    This isn't to imply that he'll be anything like a part of the problem, but to say that hey may be a part of the core, as opposed to the leader.

  10. The season wrap-up will cover Markakis and his awful year. And as much as Red Rover is emotionally unable to call his season bad, my angry oriole emotions make it easy for me to call his season awful.

    Go Caps!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.