Washington Adding Matt Wieters Is a Much-Needed Move
The Washington Nationals have decided it wasn't too late to do the smart thing.
Long time Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has signed a two-year, $21 million deal with the Nats that includes an opt out after the first year of the deal, per @Ken_Rosenthal. The 30-year-old Wieters is a four-time All-Star with a career slash line of .256/.318/.421 and a wRC+ of 97. Last year, he batted .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs, a wRC+ of 88 and an fWAR of 1.7.
Wieters has dealt with injuries for much of his career, but last year he was largely healthy. He played in 124 games, his most since 2013. He was once one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, smoking 22, 23 and 22 home runs in each respective season from 2011 to 2013, and he still has some of that sweet, sweet, switch-hitting power, as he displayed in this two-homer game against the Detroit Tigers last September.
For some of his career, Wieters was also one of the best defensive catchers in baseball and, as he showed last year against the Texas Rangers, he still has that hose.
Among all qualified catchers last season, Wieters was fifth in defensive runs saved (DRS) with 3, and he was seventh in overall defensive rating at 8.4.
A former untouchable prospect in Baltimore's system, he failed to live up to that billing in his first two seasons, posting a wRC+ below league average in 2009 and 2010. But he then emerged in 2011 as one of the game's better all-around catchers and stayed that way through 2013, until injuries limited him to a mere 26 games in 2014 and only 75 in 2015.
As we mentioned, he got back on track with a solid -- and healthy -- 2016 campaign.
His ability to hit from both sides of the plate allows him to stay in the lineup virtually every day. His career numbers from the left and right side of the plate are fairly comparable as he owns a .262/.326/.465 slash line as a righty and a .243/.302/.377 slash from the left-hand side. Last year, however, he had better numbers from the left-hand side, posting a wRC+ of 93 there, compared a 71 wRC+ as a righty.
He also doesn't have huge home-road splits, despite having played his home games in a decidedly hitter-friendly ballpark in Baltimore. His wRC+ of 92 at home in 2016 was only slightly better than the 85 wRC+ he put up on the road.
Prior to signing Wieters, Washington was prepared to start the season with Derek Norris as their main backstop, which would have likely been fine from a defensive standpoint. Norris was tied for 3rd in DRS among catchers last year (7), and according to Stat Corner's pitch-framing statistics, Norris was tied for 14th among all MLB catchers in that department, with a Runs Above Average saved of 5.7. Wieters, meanwhile, was much further down the list at -7.3.
However, Norris' lackluster offensive abilities would have likely been a tremendous drain on the Washington offensive machine. In 125 games last year he hit .186/.255/.328 with 14 dingers and a wRC+ of 55. He also struck out in an astonishing 30.3% of his plate appearances, by far the most of his career, which helped explain his fWAR of -0.4.
For the Nats, a team with World Series aspirations, all the pitch framing in the world can't cover up that kind of offensive futility.
So Washington did what they needed to in signing Wieters for what will be a one-year contract if he plays well, and a two-year deal if he plays poorly.