Matt Wieters saw his first playing time of the Spring yesterday, catching five innings and smacking a double. For Cardinal fans, it's exciting to have an actual non-terrible back-up catcher. Perhaps fans of most teams could care less about who their back up catcher is, but it feels like we've really suffered. Yes, we've been spoiled from having the GOAT which far outweighs the bad, but we've also endured a lot of miserable backups. (I'm looking at you, Tony Cruz.)
And it's not like Yadi hasn't been an iron man. He's had his occasional injuries, sure, but he's accumulated 76% of the plate appearances (5289) of St. Louis catchers since '09. During that time he's racked up 45 BWARP. We all know the Cardinals back-up catchers have been worthless, but just how bad have they really been?
I did a little digging and over the course of 1640 plate appearances, Cardinal backup catchers have been a total -3 fWAR since 2009. Blergh. Their only catcher that was a net plus for over 150 plate appearances was Jason LaRue at +0.3 WAR and that fun ended when Johnny Cueto kicked him in the head.
So let's look at Wieters. He was ballyhooed as being the next Joe Mauer but with power when he was coming up as a prospect. While he never hit close to that level, he looked to be a 100-plus million dollar man during the winter of 2013-2014. Needless to say he never got that kind of money. He then played just 26 games in 2014 due to a torn UCL and he hasn't been the same since.
After returning from Tommy John surgery, Wieters has hit just .241/.306/.385 with spotty defense. While Wieters used to be the man when it came to pitch-framing, over the last two seasons he's been one of the worst backstops in the league. According to Baseball Prospectus' pitch-framing stat, Wieters' -3.7 was 98th out of 117 last season, and his previous year he posted a -11.2, finishing 108th out of 111 catchers.
BP's catch-all defensive stat FRAA says Wieters has been worth -14.4 runs over the past two seasons. Woof. So while Wieters looks to be better than your average Cardinals backup catcher, that's only because the bar has been set so horrifically low.
Interestingly, Wieters' is not projected to not be better than Andrew Knizner would be right now. Check out their Steamer projections:
Wieters .240/.311/.385 wRC+ 89
Knizner .262/.312/.379 wRC+ 89
So when it's all said and done, Wieters is nice to have around for the fact that:
- Molina's turning 37.
- Knizner needs to be playing everyday in AAA.
- He's not Francisco Pena.
- He should actually worth above replacement level.
No, it's not an earth-shattering signing. For that matter, nothing is even guaranteed at this point. Clearly it's his job to lose. But considering the Cardinals' backup catchers were worth a net -1.1 WAR last season, and as tight as the NL Central should be, it's the little improvements like this that could make a big difference.