The topic of Matt Wieters is a divisive issue for many Orioles fans (and non-O's fans too). Usually, most people end up on either one side of the Wieters discussion or the other -- either he's going to be great for a long time, or he's never going to pan out as a top prospect and dominate at the major league level. But his talent is evident, and even though he took a few steps back at the plate this year, he still improved in a few categories that suggest that he'll be able to turn things around next season.
I've already written about Wieters a few times -- once in May and once in early August. Wieters looked like he was turning things around in August when he raised his batting line to .253/.330/.380, but his numbers dipped toward the end of the season, and he ended up with a line of .249/.319/.377 and a .303 wOBA (weighted on base average). Frankly, that's just not very good.
Still, something that was consistent for Wieters throughout the season was his improvement at the plate with walks and strikeouts, i.e., he walked more and struck out less than in his rookie season.
2009 BB%: 7.3%
2010 BB%: 9.4%
2009 K%: 24.3%
2010 K%: 21.1%
Unfortunately, returning to three trouble areas -- hitting the ball hard, hitting too many ground balls, and hitting fastballs effectively -- I used in the two previous Wieters articles suggests that he still has work left to do:
1) Hitting the ball hard
2009: 18.5 LD%
2010: 15.4 LD%
2) Ground balls
2009: 41.9 GB%
2010: 46.4 GB%
2009: 6.6 runs above average
2010: -1.3 runs above average
So Wieters didn't hit nearly enough line drives, which also helps explain his drop in BABIP from .356 to .287, hit too many ground balls for someone his size (and lack of speed), and struggled slightly with fastballs, though he did get much better from August (-5.0) to the end of the season. These are categories that Wieters absolutely needs to address and improve on.
Also, despite his walks increase and strikeouts decrease, plate discipline still may be an issue, or at least something that he still needs to work at. This season, he swung at more pitches out of the zone (29.9% from 25.7%), fewer pitches inside the zone (61.0% from 70.2%), and swung at fewer pitches overall (43.5% from 47.2%). He made better contact on pitches both inside and outside the zone, but his knack for expanding the strike zone likely hurt his numbers.
It's worth noting that Wieters was still valuable last season, mainly because of his defense behind the plate. Though I have no idea how FanGraphs accounts for catching defense, in 2009 Wieters was -2.0 fielding runs above average, and that number jumped to 5.0 fielding runs above average this season. That mostly contributed to his value, which according to FanGraphs, was 2.4 wins above replacement. And out of all AL catchers, Wieters finished tied with Jorge Posada in WAR -- good enough for sixth place. If he starts hitting the ball, he will undoubtedly climb that list and his value will grow.
I think Wieters is going to have a big season in 2011. He may have taken a step back in overall numbers in 2010, but I think he'll start to put everything together shortly. He already has a ton of pressure on his shoulders, but he looked much more comfortable behind the plate -- and that's something I think will translate to his at-the-plate skills next season. He may have expanded the zone a little too much -- maybe he was trying to drive in runs on pitches that maybe he should have been taking -- but he still walked more and struck out less, something that suggests at least some amount of progress.
The next step for Wieters is to start driving the ball and hitting the ball harder. He already possesses that power, and he can also hit the ball to all fields. Basically, it's time for Wieters to transform into a power hitter. Many people thought Nick Markakis was progressing into one, but now he's essentially a doubles hitter who also uses the entire field. And that's not a bad thing, but Markakis just doesn't hit for enough power to be an elite hitter. But not only does Wieters have that power and skill set, but he can also give the Orioles that power from behind the plate, making it even more valuable. (I'm trying really hard not to blame Terry Crowley in this paragraph, but his presence as hitting coach in all of this is some food for thought.)
I've also been trying not to make excuses for Wieters, just note that the talent is there and that he still can put everything together. Next season, which will be his third, would be an outstanding time for him to make that jump.