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July 5, 2011

The BP Broadside

Leave My Mind Alone!

by Steven Goldman

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Thou Dost Protest Too Much, Wieters Apologist
Started off my Independence Day holiday with this in my in box:

You REALLY nailed that Wieters is an all-time bust! Bottom Line is that he is the best fielding catching with no passed balls / best arm /calls a great game. While no one will confuse Matt with Joe Mauer—in terms of hitting, keep in mind his hitting production is about 3rd or 4th best for all catchers in the AL. Russell Martin—now there's a piece of sh*t!—W

Let’s try this one more time: I’m very happy for Wieters’s many defenders that they found a great defensive catcher under their Christmas tree, but that’s not what they were looking for. If it were, the Orioles could have saved their bonus money four years ago and signed Henry Blanco for the major league minimum. This was a first-round draft-pick, rated the best amateur position player in the country at the time of his selection, who hit .343/.438/.576 in the minor leagues. That the Orioles wound up with a potential Gold Glover who is also an average-at-best hitter is the consolation prize, not something to crow about. The man was supposed to be a switch-hitting Yogi Berra and you got Jim Sundberg instead. Congratu-bleepin’-lations.

On the theory that something is better than nothing we’ll score that a win, but let’s face it, W, the player did not live up to advanced billing. Retroactively ratcheting down expectations is dishonest. If you could go back to 2009 and ask people if they would be disappointed if Wieters turned out to be a good fielder with an average-to-below-average bat, you know what they would have said. They would have wept openly and then soiled your shoes.

Regarding Wieters’s lack of passed balls, aren’t you the least bit suspicious of that? Orioles pitchers have had 61 wild pitches with our tarnished golden boy behind the plate, while he has been credited with just five passed balls, none this year. I don’t know if the same Official Scorer who decided in 1990 that Cal Ripken would just NOT make an error short of swallowing the ball is still at work in Baltimore, but this smells like his handiwork.

Just a couple of factual corrections before we leave this behind forever, along with the possibility that Wieters will ever be a star: going by True Average, the lad is not third- or fourth-best among American League catchers, but tenth, and let’s face it, in the group of catchers the AL has going this year, even fourth would be a sorry thing to brag on.

Russell Martin ranks ahead of Wieters thanks to his great April (.293/.376/.587, a bout of hitting that the Yankees will be paying for all year long—Martin has hit an incredible .184/.301/.291 since then, not including last night’s 0-for-3). He isn’t a starting catcher anymore, but among his souvenirs are three offensive seasons (2006-2008) that Wieters has yet to equal, not to mention his own Gold Glove citation. Wieters may ultimately prove to have a longer and better career than Martin’s, but it hasn’t happened yet, so please show Mr. Martin the appropriate respect.

I assume that Sundberg isn’t well-remembered today, but right now he seems like a good comp for Wieters. At one time the career leader in games caught, “Sunny” was a six-time Gold Glove-winner and three-time All-Star who hit .274/.351/.379 over a six-year peak that lasted from 1977 to 1982. That doesn’t sound like much, but in today’s terms that would work out to be something like .295/.360/.400 with 10 or 12 home runs. Overall, he hit .248/.327/.348, which seems to be about the same ballpark as Wieters’s career-to-date .265/.325/.394 when you adjust for time and place. Sundberg was a good, useful player, and so is Wieters, but neither deserves to be called a star. A star is what Wieters gave signs of being. I accurately labeled him a disappointment, and a disappointment he shall remain.

There Is a Sucker Born Every Minute, But Might as Well Go With the One You Have
Bob Klapisch tweets:

Yankees says Mets have made K-Rod available—“door is wide open”—but are only marginally interested. Prefer to wait on R. Soriano.

Of course the Mets would offer Francisco Rodriguez to the Yankees. If they bit on one overpriced closer—I refer, of course, to the Yankees’ dirty secret, the pitcher Brian Cashman was forced to swallow sideways, Rafael Soriano—they’ll likely bite on another. No doubt the Mariners will be calling to offer them Brandon League for Manny Banuelos next. “Hey, he’s leading the league in savess so he must be good, and Ron Washington thinks he’s an All-Star.”  

The Yankees don’t need Francisco Rodriguez, of course. By most measures, their bullpen is among the most effective in baseball, particularly with Joe Girardi having gotten over his April reluctance to use David Robertson—the pitcher pitched infrequently and in low-leverage situations in the season’s first month. Luis Ayala has been shockingly good, Boone Logan has recently turned around his career with a new, almost sidearm approach, and Corey Wade has filled in very nicely—or did until Monday night, when he allowed a two-run home run to Carlos Santana. To that point he had not allowed a run in eight pinstriped innings.

Wade is nothing special and his reversion is to be expected, but he’s also the point: relievers are hard to judge because they work in small samples, and there is little reason to pick one up on name-recognition value alone. Rodriguez has had some terrific seasons in his career, but in two of the last three years, including this one, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself from the great Reliever Cloud (a product soon to be offered by Baseball Prospectus—up- and download your interchangeable relievers to our servers at no additional cost with the purchase of a subscription, use them in any stadium you want).

When it comes to swapping relievers, it’s not hard to name at least 10 bullpen-dwellers on non-contenders who would be more valuable pickups despite being more obscure. The Cubs have three, the Padres have, well, everybody. If the Orioles want to pick up the phone on Koji Uehara, no one is going to hang up. It would be both penny- and pound-wise to bid on the Nats’ Tyler Clippard before looking at K-Rod.

Unfortunately, like the magpie, some people are just attracted to shiny stuff.

You Know You Like Him Anyway
Reviewing traffic figures over the weekend, I noticed that BP’s most-clicked player card belongs to Eric Hosmer. Way down at #6, we have Chone Figgins, who you readers apparently have anointed as BP’s Schadenfreude Player of the Year. Anyway, since Hosmer is apparently more popular among our readers than Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, and Jose Bautista, I thought I would give you more of what you like. Here we go: Hosmer! Hosmer! Hosmer!

You’re welcome.

A Final Passing Thought
As good as he has been this year—and at .286/.324/.454 we have him ranking 12th among center fielders—is any team going to be burnt worse than the one that picks up Melky Cabrera at the trading deadline? He’s still impatient and still a switch-hitter who isn’t—his .248/.286/.333 line against southpaws fits right in with his career .250/.318/.347 against them. Still, kudos for him for being the best, um, Melky he can be.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Sacramento

I wish we had a "Like" button for BP articles.

Jul 05, 2011 10:03 AM
rating: 0
 
Jason Wojciechowski

You could give it a Google +1 -- http://www.labnol.org/internet/google-plus-one-bookmarklet/19474/

Jul 05, 2011 15:32 PM
rating: 0
 
timber

Speaking as a Royals fan, I can't wait for some team to overpay for Melky. Frenchy too, if I can get it.

Jul 05, 2011 10:44 AM
rating: 3
 
cburnell

Your determination not to acknowledge any progress on Matt Wieters' part or the possibility that you overreacted seem out of place at a publication that prides itself on statistical analysis and commentary. Frankly, it strikes me a mean-spirited.

Yes, most Orioles fans hoped he would hit for a much higher average and single-handedly lead the franchise out of the desert to the World Series. Was that unrealistic. Perhaps. But he is making progress, blocking balls and throwing out runners at a fantastic rate. Most O's fans will take that....

Regarding your original blog post, get down off that high horse before you get hurt. You did indeed label him as a bust. If you recall, your introduction described the article as "a list of the Top 50 Busted Prospects, players of whom much was expected but from whom little was received." Or did you forget that?

While you may be right that he is no longer the second coming of Johnny Bench or the "switch hitting Jesus", he isn't a "busted prospect" either.

Step back from the hyperbole....

Jul 05, 2011 11:56 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Let me pose this hypothetical to you: if Bryce Harper comes up next year and hits like Wieters but plays a brilliant outfield, will you say that you're satisfied with the way things worked out? Would it be mean-spirited to ask at that point if he had lived up to expectations? Would I be on a high horse then? Maybe a Lipizzaner? What about the other 39 guys I've mentioned in the four-part prospect disappointments series? Was I mean-spirited about them? Why is it only this one guy who gets a pass based on defense? You were going to get Johnny Bench and you got Bob Boone and you're OKAY with that? I guess beggar franchises can't be choosers, but let's not be dishonest about what was on everyone's mind when the guy was drafted and went through the minors. NO ONE said, "Oh, we'll be really happy if he just turns out to have a good glove."

You are correct about one thing. I did use the word "bust" in the initial entry in the series, which I didn't think I had. I hadn't intended to, because my intention was to do something far more nuanced. In picking the players I carefully held to the distinction that a "bust" was a player who largely failed to perform at all and a "disappointment" was a player whose work gave legitimate support to expectations and then failed to live up to them.

Thank you for reading, writing.

Jul 05, 2011 12:27 PM
 
cburnell

If Bryce Harper comes up hits .262 in his first MLB season and plays a brilliant outfield, will Washington Nationals fans be satisfied? Probably not. The hype has been tremendous and is only growing. Should that somehow impact views of Wieters? No. Each prospect is an independent event.

But labeling a 25 year-old as a bust and among the most disappointing baseball prospects of all time -- before he has had an opportunity to prove himself -- does strike many people as mean spirited. And convenient or otherwise, that is what you did.

You have now retreated to the position of asserting that Matt Wieters is only a disappointment. Fine. One can make that argument. One can also reasonably argue the contrary position. But that wasn't the thesis of your original post or your dogged defense of it today.

Finally, it is not necessary to question the honesty of everyone who vigorously disagrees with you. Go back to that nuanced analysis....

Jul 05, 2011 13:16 PM
rating: 3
 
evo34

You don't seem to comprehend position scarcity, among other things.

Jul 05, 2011 16:29 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

Goldman's right. Wieters was supposed to be Mike Napoli with a better glove; he's turned out to be Jeff Mathis with a better bat.

You yourself confess what a disappointment Wieters has been by admitting Orioles fans' expectations were unrealistic. Adding "Perhaps" afterwards is dishonest - they WERE unrealistic, because what he was expected to be was a lot different than what he actually is.

Wieters isn't a bust because he's a league-average catcher; but because he was supposed to be so much, much, much more.

I will note, however, that offensively, catchers bloom later than other players. It's far too early to dismiss Wieters' chances of putting up a few very good offensive seasons.

Jul 05, 2011 13:34 PM
rating: 1
 
jhardman

I really disliked the tone of this article. Wieters could still bloom into something, but maybe he won't and the general "factual-ness" of the article remains the same. That leaves us with the "nyah" portion of the article. Since the referenced message was included for all of us (it was originally a private message), it seems as if it was used to represent a response from a higher post - from the editor's chair of the site.

Leadership, this ain't.

I have always been a huge fan of Jim Sundberg. Too bad he got referenced in this exchange. I'm sure he'd look at his World Series ring and laugh.

Jul 05, 2011 13:52 PM
rating: 5
 
sportspopery

I have to agree with you on this. The gap between expectations and reality with regards to Wieters' production is ensconced in the realm of the true. He has disappointed offensively, and there's no getting around that. An exploration of this and his blossoming as a defensive stalwart (which has occurred on this site and others of its ilk) is what's in order. I don't think, however, that the barely concealed snark (on both ends) helps the discourse on understanding the various vagaries of player development.

As for the assertion that Orioles fans have 'nothing to crow about', I would respectfully point to the Jim Sundberg comp that was offered. If Wieters has the sort of career Sundberg had, then he'll be a valuable asset to the Orioles and talk of his being a disappointment will fade.

I will say, though, that the gap between his minor league numbers and his evolution as a player in the bigs is quite startling. At first glance, it doesn't make sense; but perhaps a glance at his BABIP totals from the minors and in the majors tells part of the story. In 2008 and 2009, his BABIP numbers were .375 and .352 at AA and AAA, respectively. Last year, it was .289; and this season, it's at .293. He was a 2.0 WAR player last season, and through 72 games, he's matched that total; in no small part due to his defense. His development, needless to say, bears close watching as it may be premature to write off his offensive ceiling, due to both his position and his steady improvement this season.

Jul 05, 2011 18:17 PM
rating: 0
 
McNulty

I also REALLY disliked the tone here. Its gotten too personal for Goldman defending his bust article.

"You accurately labeled him a disappointment" - as if this is a factual statement. Dragging Ripken and an official scorer into this? Come on man.

Lets say Wieters has 2 passed balls on the year (keep in mind half his games are away, but whatever). Does that diminish his defense skill? He's still impossible to run on. His defense has been superior this season.

And I really don't understand the graph about Russell Martin. Show him respect? For what reason, because he has pinstripes?

Between this and the GM for a day article, I'd hope you defer to someone else to write O's related content from now on. Perhaps you can do me the honor of an entire article blasting this comment, too.

Jul 05, 2011 22:40 PM
rating: -2
 
lmarighi

I'm pretty sure that the line about "respect" was in regards to the fact that although Russel Martin is playing poorly at the moment, he has had several very successful seasons both at the plate and behind it. It's inaccurate to say "he's a terrible player", much more accurate to say "he's playing poorly now, and may not return to his previous form."

Jul 07, 2011 04:46 AM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

Thanks for the article. As an Oriole fan I love it when I have yet another opportunity to look back at the team and realize how many hopes and dreams I've had have been crushed like so many bugs on a highway. Maybe you could have a weekly piece laughing at and taunting the remaining 14 O's fans, with a different and exciting embarassing, gag-inducing moment from the last 15 years highlighted in each.

Jul 05, 2011 14:09 PM
rating: 4
 
SGreenwell

Hey, I pull a little bit for the Royals each year because of all the writing Rob and Rany did on them on the Internet back in the day. Maybe Baltimore can come in some fans that way too.

(My second suggestion: Omar Bobbblehead Day at Camden Yards.)

Jul 05, 2011 16:06 PM
rating: 1
 
djardine

Oh man, major props for the Omar ref. The ball park should sell honey nut cheerios on those nights as well.

Jul 05, 2011 19:45 PM
rating: 1
 
ofMontreal

I think that tomorrow or so, Steve will realize it was just the PECOTA talkin'.

That said, his bat is mighty slow. I keep thinking that in a year or two it will catch up with his ability. Cause I like watching him catch and he's a legit first rounder in action. He just might have more ability than experience still.

Jul 05, 2011 15:52 PM
rating: 0
 
evo34

It's not Wieters fanboys who were offended by your absurd and continuing claim that he is a bust. Rather, it's every rational baseball fan who happens to understand that:

1) In order to be a "bust," by definition, most players drafted after you need to have outperformed you. To date, Wieters has a career WARP of 3.9. Only three players drafted in the first 20 picks of 2007 have achieved a higher WARP than Wieters since the draft. If you want to look at just the college guys in the top 20, Wieters ranks 2nd out of 8, behind only David Price (#1 overall pick). I.e., exactly where you would expect him to be, if not a little higher.

2) Calling anyone a "bust" at age 24 is risky, unless he has already experienced massive failure. But calling someone an all-time bust, when that someone is still in very beginning of what looks like will be a long career...well, that's just desperate page view grubbing.

You're basically projecting your own misguided expectations (that apparently a top 10 draft pick should be an All-Star immediately) onto the rest of world. The original article you wrote was an embarrassment to the site, but not nearly as much as this follow up. I mean, if umpires are conspiring to keep Wieters' passed ball numbers down, who knows what else they are doing to help him along and try to make you look bad? I'm sure you'll think of something by the time you do the next follow up.

Jul 05, 2011 15:57 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Umpires have nothing to do with passed ball/wild pitch designation. Scorers do.

Jul 05, 2011 18:38 PM
 
evo34
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Sweet nit to pick. So the scorers are actually the ones involved in the conspiracy... Even more likely.

Jul 05, 2011 21:14 PM
rating: -4
 
vertumnus

"1) In order to be a "bust," by definition, most players drafted after you need to have outperformed you."

Huh? What is the definition of "bust" so that this is true?

More broadly, your point seems to be that if Wieters goes on to a 10 year career as a .260/.320/.400 catcher with good defense, then he can't be called a disappointment.

No, that would be a disappointment. And you're being dishonest in how you're framing it. He's not just a "top 10 draft pick". He was the #1 prospect in the game (Baseball America among others) heading into 2009, having destroyed AA with a line of .365/.460/.625. As a switch-hitting catcher. Everyone was projecting stardom for Wieters, not just PECOTA. Meeting expectations is relative to those expectations.

As an example: If Stephen Strasburg (in an alternate universe where he stays healthy) turned out to be a pitcher who could give a team 180 innings of 4.15 ERA starting pitching for 10 years, would it be fair to call him a disappointment? Maybe even a bust?

Jul 05, 2011 21:03 PM
rating: 1
 
evo34

Where do get the idea that Wieters has already played a 10-year career of mediocrity?

Jul 05, 2011 21:13 PM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

I have no idea whether scorers are givig Wieters unfair breaks, but in response to one remark above, actually it _is_ more likely that a scorer would do something like that than an umpire. Scorers are home town guys furnished by the team.

I agree that it's too early to use terms of finality about how Wieters will pan out, but while I respect the intellect of 99% of BPers, I don't really get the apparent fury about Steve's opinion. Articles like lists of busts are by their nature partly subjective, and really exist to generate discussion; here's one that succeeded at that. After all, what on earth is affected by this list, besides people's blood pressure? I may disagree with one or two of the choices, but I don't feel any outrage about it. My reaction is hmm, something to think about, maybe so, maybe not - rather than suspecting personal bile.

Jul 06, 2011 05:11 AM
rating: 2
 
cburnell

I can't speak for everyone, but it seems especially harsh to label as a "bust" a 24-year old who has made it to the majors and contributed to his club, raised his batting average by 20 points, steadied a young pitching staff, and thrown out 44% of runners attempting to steal and discouraged far more.

The determination and doggedness of some to point out his shortcomings and the overblown expectations make it appear that they take delight in championing a position which sounds like they are rooting for his failure. That's a common phenomenon among rival fans and fansites. But, I always regarded BP as above that. The commentary and analysis are presented as relatively objective and above the "food fights" engaged by other fan sites.

To Orioles fans, Matt Wieters seems like a genuinely likeable young man. He appears to work hard on the fundamentals, care about the game and is a leader on the field -- that means alot to a struggling fanbase. It seems unnecessary and offensive to declare a human being one of the greatest failures in the history of the sport based on two seasons of work before he reached age 25. Moreover, apart from his initial salary demands, the expectations were largely the creation of others. It seems unfair to affix such a damning label on him based on the hype generated by others -- fairly or not.

To be sure, many Orioles fans hoped for some holy combination of Brooks and Frank Robinson with a catchers mask. But his failure to live up to that doesn't make him a bust, it makes us fans.

So go ahead, point out his shortcomings. Remind us that the reality is far short of the hype. But for God's sake, remember that the guy just turned 25 and is playing perhaps the most demanding position in the game.

Jul 06, 2011 07:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Schere

I think you're right, so far: Wieters has underperformed expectations by a mile. His defensive prowess (which is real) can't make up for the lousy offense, and lord knows he hasn't made the pitching good (not that any catcher would).

I still think

1) your tone is poorly thought out - remember the vocal minority that's getting to you on this issue may deserve it, but you're posting this for all of us. I would think this would be old hat for all of you at BP, or any internet venture, by now.

2) you should at least acknowledge the possibility that PECOTA, which at one time not so long ago produced the most aggressive predictions of any reputable source, is now under-predicting his future line. Right?

3) you should (as others have said) acknowledge his youth and, you know, the possibility that you will be proven wrong in time. (the term "so far" probably should figure prominently here.

all FWIW, which is not much.

Jul 06, 2011 08:05 AM
rating: 1
 
BrewersTT

@cburnell: I think everything you say is absolutely correct. I just (and it's just my feeling, I could be missing the obvious) see it as nothing to get really exercised about, because harsh, unfair and premature words don't add up to really meaning anything. It's just one writer's opinion, in an article that falls under the "fun" category rather than the "advancing our understanding" column. Nobody's future opinions will be affected - his performance will drive that - and Wieters himself will never know what Steven Goldman thinks. So it seems like no harm is really done in any meaningful way. But I don't mean to offend those who feel differently; I just don't quite understand the impulse to take umbrage. But enough said already, i guess.

Jul 06, 2011 19:12 PM
rating: 2
 
MightyMoGreen

Like left-handed pitchers, it often takes a little more time and seasoning for catchers to reach their offensive potential. The good news is that (whatever you make of the WP/PB thing, and I'm inclined to agree with S.G.) Wieters is a high-end defensive catcher, which will give him the time to develop his hitting skills while staying at a position of rotisserie scarcity.

It's fair to call him a bust relative to the hype and expectations, but it's also fair to question the legitimacy of those expectations in the first place. If Wieters hasn't started hitting mo' betta' by 2014, then it probably won't happen.

If Bryce Harper came up as a corner OF and failed to hit it would be a much much bigger deal, because that's all corner OF's really are supposed to do. Anything they offer defensively is biscuits and gravy on the side. As the physical demands of playing catcher are also much greater and have a tendency hamper offensive numbers, Bryce doesn't buttress your argument.

Jul 07, 2011 06:21 AM
rating: 1
 
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