After the hype, Wieters having solid rookie season

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Now that he’s failed to live up to the immense hype and disappointed the people who misguidedly thought that he’d immediately be an MVP candidate as a 23-year-old rookie, Matt Wieters is quietly playing very well for the Orioles.
Wieters had the best game of his young career Tuesday night, going 3-for-5 with a three-run homer, a double, and five RBIs, and followed that up last night by twice gunning down Carl Crawford on steal attempts before delivering a walk-off homer.
Crawford had been 57-of-69 swiping bases prior to testing Wieters, who became the first catcher since April of 2007 to nail Crawford twice in the same game and has now thrown out 28 percent of steal attempts overall to rank solidly above the league average. Wieters has also pitch-called his way to a better catcher’s ERA than veterans Gregg Zaun and Chad Moeller.
Of course, while playing solid defense behind the plate is nice and all, the focus will forever be on Wieters’ bat. Since breaking the 4-for-28 (.143) slump that started his career, Wieters has hit .287 with a .340 on-base percentage and .411 slugging percentage in 282 plate appearances spread over 71 games. Obviously those aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but they’re significantly above average for a catcher.
His overall .273/.325/.395 line is modest, but an adjusted OPS+ of 86 ranks 15th among all catchers with at least 300 plate appearances and is pretty damn good for a 23-year-old rookie backstop. In fact, here’s the complete list of 23-year-old catchers with a higher OPS+ during the past 20 seasons: Joe Mauer, Jason Kendall, Russell Martin, Brian McCann, Charles Johnson, Ivan Rodriguez, Dave Nilsson. Each of those guys was an All-Star at least once and Wieters will be too.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.