If we're lucky, Matt Wieters won't surprise us. I say that because at age 31 the idea that somehow Wieters will suddenly fulfill the expectations that were set nearly a decade ago should not even be considered. No, the surprise that Matt Wieters may have in store would be a precipitous decline, not unheard of from aging catchers. If you look at his most similar batters you can see examples of this. Michael Barrett done at 30. Jody Davis, Earl Battey done at 32. Charles Johnson, John Buck done at 33. Rich Gedman, probably should have been out of the game before 30.
That's not to say it will happen to Matt or that we should be worried about it for next year, but I just want you to have the right mindset in place. This isn't about getting a bat to replace Ramos' 2016. This is about getting a bat to replace the potential issues with a Norris/Lobaton platoon in 2017.
What kind of bat is it? Wieters has been surprisingly consistent in his underwhelming performances since his first full year. He'll hit for a low-ish average, say around .250. He won't walk very often meaning his OBP will be fairly low, around .310. And he'll pop 15-20 home runs, ~20 doubles*, slugging under .420 or so. He won't strike out that much (K rate under 20%). He will ground into double plays. A reasonable approximation of this performance might be Kurt Suzuki's short 2012 stint played out over a season, or perhaps a more impatient, contact oriented version of last year's injury recovering Jayson Werth. It's a bat. Won't embarrass, won't impress.
Do fancy stats suggest anything is getting better or could get worse? Nah. BABIP is fairly consistent with other full years, so he's not sneaky bad or good with the average. His power is definitely fading, but not fast enough that you worry he can't get 15+homers in a full year. K-rate is stable, though he is making less contact then at his prime, especially with pitches in the zone. HR/FB rate is stable.
If I'd be worried about one thing it would be the increase in softly hit balls over the past two years. 19.6% last year. 20.2% last year. Since the hard % hasn't dropped I imagine this again speaks to contact issues. He's swinging hard but having issues lining the ball up right. But as long as the K-rate stays where it is some of those squibblers will find their way through the infield for hits. Short of it is I think we're just explaining the deterioration we've seen since his mild peak,
where he might have challenged 25 homers and had a few more walks, to
what he is now. It happens to all players at some point and Wieters looks to have already started the process. This makes that 2nd year iffy for the Nats, and makes it easily understandable why 4+ years wasn't out there, but as for what we care about today, Wieters in 2017? Average is the best guess.
Behind the plate Wieters is a mixed bag. In things not 100% controlled on him he's ok. He can throw out runners, but is beginning to have plate blocking issues. Outside of Gio none of the Nats strike me as particularly wild, not the relievers either, so if the latter continues I don't think it'll matter that much. The bigger issue is Wieters is a poor pitch framer and has consistently measured as such. How much does that matter? It's unknown but it can't be dismissed.
Wieters will be better than Lobaton. He will hit better and produce more than Severino. He may not hit better than Norris, who was deviled by some bad luck last year, but then again he might. That's the thing about Norris - you can see him hitting above average and you can see him repeating last year's debacle**. For a contending team that's too much variation to have, especially with no good back-up. Wieters is a good attempt at a solution to a problem where the Nats had a questionable attempt at a solution before. Will it work? Well that's the eternal question now isn't it?
Added - Nats sign Blanton? Looks like it. Smart move. Nats need bullpen depth. Blanton has been very effective in relief for two years now. Price should not be prohibitive. There's no downside here. I said yesterday that Blanton was the only FA I was confused at not being signed and that any team with bullpen issues, including Nats, should be harangued by fans for not signing this guy. More tomorrow
*He's never hit a lot of doubles. Peaked with 29 in 2013. Just doesn't have good speed.
** You don't hit like last year just being unlucky. Apparently high fastballs might have been an issue for Norris.