Nobody seems to make more of an impact with an RBI on this 2017 Washington Nationals than Matt Wieters. Last night he had another RBI on a single, and the Nationals won 3-2. In fact, so far this season when Wieters drives in a baserunner, the Nationals have a 22-5 record. He has done everything from a walk-off hit this year to the dramatic grand slam game winning RBI’s on Sunday in Wrigley Field.
Even when Wieters starts and does something or nothing spectacular, the Nationals are 56-25 which is a .691 winning percentage, and when Wieters doesn’t start — the Nats have a losing record of 10-19. This just seems to defy all logic. How can that be? Wieters is tied for 35th of all MLB catchers in fWAR at +0.5. Part of that positive WAR came from a quick start to Wieters career with the Nationals as he lit it up in April slashing a healthy .301/.400/.534/.934 and then he dropped off.
The eye test can dispute Wieters skills as a defensive catcher as we have seen that he actually un-frames strikes and that is backed up by Baseball Prospectus which has Wieters as the 85th worst pitch framer as a negative out of 89 catchers in 2017 and 83rd worst in what they call “Fielding Runs Above Average” which in Wieters case is actually “Fielding Runs Below Average”. Jonathan Lucroy is by far the worst and Tyler Flowers is by far the best in the Majors. But the contradictory stat is from Fangraphs that rates Wieters as the 9th best overall defensive catcher in the Majors. Those ratings seem like almost polar opposites. Interestingly, Jose Lobaton rated as only the 30th best pitch framer and was actually behind Derek Norris in the ratings.
The Nationals had similar ratings with Wilson Ramos last year as he was a true All-Star and an integral part of the team. With Wieters, much of his value has to be the intangibles. It is hard to put a finger on why the team has been near a .700 winning percentage with him starting behind the plate. Part of this goes back to his ability to hit with runners in scoring position where he is batting an impressive .321 and .429 in high leverage situations this season. Most of it has to be the pitcher’s confidence in pitching to Wieters. There is a stat called catcher’s ERA and Wieters is at 3.76. Lobaton is at 4.97. There is your difference. That is a canyon sized difference. Lobaton’s catcher’s ERA last year was 3.57.
Wieters has been hitting about 20 points higher overall after a day-off compared to playing back-to-back games. That doesn’t move the needle that much, but a catcher with fresh legs has to make a difference.
If you believe Thom Loverro, Matt Wieters should take the blame for the Nats early season bullpen issues in an article titled “Overreach for Wieters helped create bullpen woes”. Say what? How can that be unless there was a crystal ball that someone had where they knew they would sign Wieters after Spring Training camp opened in February. Loverro’s logic makes no sense although it is always fun placing blame. The Nationals tried in November, December, January and early February to improve the bullpen. It really took until July to do it, but in Loverro’s world it is always about the money.
The one thing we can agree on is that the Nationals overpaid Matt Wieters. The one thing we can’t agree on is how the Nationals keep winning with him and losing without him. Maybe the solution is as simple as finding a better back-up catcher. Where have we heard that suggestion before?
Keep Wieters rested and ready and maybe, just maybe, he can replicate in October what he did overall in the month of April!