A few days’ rest seems to have gone a long way for Matt Wieters. The Orioles catcher entered the All-Star break having hit .232/.291/.408 in 88 games played in the “first half” of the season. Since the All-Star break, Wieters is 8-for-17 with two walks, two strikeouts a run scored and two RBIs. Last season, we saw a similar trend from Wieters, who hit .247/.327/.431 in the first half and .251/.331/.440 after the break.
Part of Wieters’ struggles this season have been his declining numbers against left-handed pitching. As a right-handed batter against southpaws, Wieters has hit .265/.315/.471 this season. Last year, he posted a .323/.404/.504 slash line against lefties.
So what’s been the difference for Wieters at the plate in 2013? It seems that the league is pitching to him differently than in the past. As a hitter, Wieters has remained consistent throughout his career. Heading into Monday night’s game, he had swung at 32.1 percent of the pitches he has seen outside of the strike zone, compared to 31.2 percent over his career, according to FanGraphs.com’s PITCHf/x data. His strike-zone swing percentage is 65.5 percent this season, 63.6 percent in his career and his total contact rate is 80.9 percent in 2013, 80.6 percent over his career.
After his first 91 games in 2013, 53.9 percent of the pitches Wieters had seen this season have been fastballs, a career low according to FanGraphs.com’s pitch type data. Over his career, Wieters has seen 57.6 percent fastballs and last season, he saw 59.9 percent.
Not surprisingly, pitchers are throwing Wieters more sliders this season than he has seen previously. Eleven percent of the pitches he’s seen have been sliders, up from 8.6 percent last season and 8.8 percent over his career. This season, Wieters has a minus-2.0 slider runs above average compared to his 1.6 in 2012. ESPN.com’s Hot Zone data reveals that Wieters has an increasingly difficult time with sliders in the lower third of the strike zone. He’s hitting .143 in the three lower sections (inside, middle, outside) and is a combined 0-for-5 on sliders in the lower third against left handed pitchers this season.
Over his previous 10 games, Wieters hit .316/.381/.500 with a .370 batting average on balls in play. Coincidentally, he is also 2-for-3 against lefties throwing sliders and 3-for-7 against their fastballs.
While Wieters has seen less curveballs this season - 7.6 percent compared to 9.5 percent last season and 9.8 percent over his career - he’s struggled to record hits on them against lefties. Wieters is just 1-for-5 on curveballs thrown by left-handed pitchers in the zone, 1-for-8 total.
This season, Wieters is on pace for 100 strikeouts, down from 112 a year ago. However, his .241 projected batting average is also down from last season’s .249 mark. Much of this has to do with Wieters’ .257 BABIP being down .017 points from 2012’s total. We have, however, seen a steady increase in his BABIP - .556 over his previous seven games, .370 over his previous 14 and .315 over his previous 28.
Baseball is a game of constant adjustments. Last season, Wieters was successful against fastballs. This season, pitchers have decided to test his ability to hit sliders. In order to remain effective at the plate, Wieters will have to adjust to seeing more off-speed pitches. Though it’s an incredibly small sample size, he seems to have had some success against them already in the second half.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.