In examining Matt Wieters’ struggles behind the plate last season, Fangraphs.com’s Travis Sawchik noted that the Washington Nationals’ backstop’s framing issues did actually cause significant problems for the team.
With Wieters as the primary backstop, “the Nationals suffered a 30-run decrease in framing runs from 2016 to 2017,” he wrote.
“Last season, only the Rockies were worse than the Nationals by that measure among postseason teams.”
Offensively, he added, “Wieters’ bat [declined] to post a career-worst 62 wRC+ mark,” and, “... his framing was below average for a fifth consecutive season, falling to a career-worst -13.6 runs below average. That ranked him 108th out of 110 catchers, according to Baseball Prospects’s framing metrics.”
In the first year of a 2-year/$21M deal with the Nationals, Wieters had a .225/.288/.344 line, 20 doubles, and 10 home runs in 465 plate appearances, over which he was worth a career-low -0.2 fWAR.
He exercised a player option for $10.5M in 2018, making the decision to return to the nation’s capital rather than test the free agent market for a second straight winter.
With the struggling, veteran catcher back for another season in D.C. and two relatively unproven backstops in Pedro Severino and Raudy Read the top options at the moment to back Wieters up, there has been some speculation that a catcher who can split time behind the plate might make sense.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo was asked on Monday, when he met with reporters at the 2017 MLB Winter Meetings for the first time, if he was “cool” with the idea of Severino as the backup in D.C. or thought he had to find more catching depth?
“We’re cool with Severino,” Rizzo said. “We like Severino. We think Wieters is going to be a bounce-back candidate this year, he caught a lot of games for us last year, we’d like to curtail that a little bit. We love the upside of Severino, and fortunately in our organization we have a lot of depth catcher-wise. Raudy Read is right around the corner and Sevy has shown us he can handle the pitching staff defensively and he’s shown some flashes offensively of being a guy that can be an everyday catcher for us.”
Wieters’ 1000 2⁄3 innings behind the plate were the third-most among National League catchers. His 25% caught stealing percentage was his lowest in a full season since 2009 when he was a rookie. His five passed balls allowed were more than he allowed in three seasons between 2014-16.
Will the Nationals risk going into the season with Severino and Read as the top options should anything happen to Wieters?
New skipper Dave Martinez, who saw plenty of his catcher when Wieters was with the Orioles and Martinez was the bench coach for the Rays, offered his own opinion about the catcher’s struggles and what could be done to get him back where he was.
He said he’d talked to Wieters already this winter and heard good things.
“We definitely had a conversation with him and what I do know is that our pitching staff loves to throw to him,” Martinez said.
“He's a great communicator, he's a leader, I know he had some injuries that he dealt with last year a little bit, and I'm looking forward to him being healthy and leading our pitching staff. And we have talked a lot about him being a little older maybe getting some more days off just to keep him healthy throughout the whole year.”
Are the Nationals trying to avoid sounding desperate to add a catcher, or do they think they have all the depth they need behind the plate?