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Fixing Wieters

July 9, 2010 BY ALEX EISENBERG 5 Comments

Matt Wieters is a mere mortal after all.

The phenom catcher has had a miserable season with the bat and has been particularly bad since around the middle of May.

What he’s going through is not just a mechanical problem. But I still wanted to compare his mechanics today to what they were back in 2008. What made him so good in 2008, what bad habits has he gotten himself into in 2010, and how does he get out of them?

I never really could get the perfect angle I was looking for, but what I found was good enough. I just had to piece things together. I’ll also point out that Wieters is a somewhat difficult player to get a read on mechanically because he’ll vary a couple of things from pitch-to-pitch, like his leg kick and bat load. Also keep in mind that I am just looking at Wieters’ left handed swing. I could not find the clips I needed of Wieters on the right hand side.

Below you have four clips of Wieters. Going clockwise and starting with the top left clip, you see Wieters at Frederick in 2008, at Double-A Bowie a little later in the year, in Seattle on April 21st of this year, and in New York in early May on the bottom left. The only clip not synchronized to contact is the bottom right clip, which is at a higher frame rate than the other three clips.

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media and to dmhmt

The first thing I noticed was Wieters’ hands were lower in 2008 than they are in 2010.

Move on to the load. As his front foot comes off the ground, you see the hands start to load, whipped forward and down. Looking at the two 2008 clips, you’ll notice the different positions of the bat after he whips it forward. This is what I mean when I say he varies the load. The clip of Wieters in Frederick shows him using a shorter stroke, with the bat pointing straight up rather than wrapped behind him. The Bowie clip has Wieters exhibiting a deeper loading of the bat, probably to generate more power.

What Wieters is doing in 2010 is really wrapping the bat behind his head. He’s creating a longer swing for himself. Notice he also bars his arm more in 2010. What I mean is that there is less bend in his right arm in 2010; it’s straighter. This creates a longer swing path and can make it difficult for him to get around on pitches inside.

The high hands, the barring of the right arm, and the wrapping of his bat all combine to make his swing longer. Wrapping the bat can also keep the bat head from staying in the hitting zone for as long a time as it should.

Another difference between the two is the stride. The stride is something that is based on feel. There is no right way on how to stride into foot plant. But there are differences in how Wieters’ went into foot plant in 2008 and how he does it in 2010.

In 2008, Wieters looks like he’s taking a big step forward. The leg comes up and you see the body start drifting forward. In the Frederick clip, notice how his back foot is turned slightly inward. This helps him load the hips and makes it easier for him to move his body forward. As a result, you can see him incorporating his entire body into his swing.

You also see at the point his foot lands, he’s in an athletic position and able to adjust to almost any pitch thrown at him. He was so good at spoiling pitches at the minor league level, but it’s something he hasn’t been able to do in the big leagues.

If you contrast the stride in 2008 to what he does in 2010, the main thing for me is that he doesn’t appear to build up as much momentum as he does in 2008. His body is less involved in his swing. Based on the position he’s in at the point of foot plant and based on the placement of his hands, he’s also in a position that makes it more difficult to spoil good pitches in hopes of getting a better one.

The only area where Wieters’ old swing might have issues is in regards to what is called leaking, where the upper body continues to drift forward even after foot plant, leading to an off balanced swing where the hands and upper body get too far out in front.

One of Wieters’ big issues this year has been his timing. Sometimes it’s not getting his front foot down in time, or letting his hands get too far out in front and not letting the ball travel deep into his hitting zone. My feeling is that no amount of time in the batting cage is going to fix this when your hacks are coming against soft toss pitches. If he isn’t already, he needs to practice with game-speed pitching so he can he really tackle any timing issues he’s having.

What Wieters is going through now, however, may not be helped immediately by mechanical changes as I mentioned earlier. He goes up to the plate without a plan to execute it seems. He’s not seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. He’s not recognizing the spin of the ball. You know how the game slows down for hitters who are in a groove? For Wieters, it looks like the game has become too fast. Somehow he has to find a way to string together a few good games and hope the game slows down for him because often times the remedy for something like this is to get some time off and that’s not happening any time soon.

Now, he does appear to be getting more comfortable. He has an .848 OPS in July, which comes on the heels of a successive decline in OPS each month, from .685 to .662 to .606 in June. But I have yet to see the bat speed and ability that I saw in 2008. I’m not saying Wieters can’t be a great player doing what he’s doing now, but why not go back to what made him baseball’s No. 1 prospect going into the 2009 season?

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  • Ryan Kennedy said:

    What about another top prospect Alex Gordon…The early returns on him in AAA were that he was handling the outfield well and enjoying the challenge to remake himself. He’s slumped a bit lately but the power/patience he’s displaying there is still impressive. Do you still have any faith he can be an above average player or is he looking at solid regular at best. For a left handed hitter he has great splits and I just assume the tools are still there and the desire seems to be there. Thanks.

  • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

    It’s tough to say with Gordon since I don’t have any footage of him crushing minor league pitching back when he was the No. 1 prospect. In face, he hasn’t had a problem hitting minor league pitching in any of his stints.

    I do have faith that he can still have a productive Major League career, but it might not be with Kansas City. I don’t know if it’s a mental thing or not. I’d like to see him called back up to the Major League squad to work through his problems since he seems to have already conquered AAA pitching.

  • blog notes city » Blog Archive » All-Star Game Day Bird Droppings said:

    [...] Fixing Wieters – Baseball-Intellect.comComparing Matt Wieters‘ mechanics now with those of 2008. Complete with animated gif goodness. -duck [...]

  • Ken Francis said:

    Alex – Thanks for the thought-provoking article. I wonder if Matt would benefit from greatly curtailing that exaggerated leg lift, which is as pronounced as any I’ve ever seen.

    I’m thinking that variance in high leg lift is something that could easily cause his mechanics (not to mention his timing) to get out of whack, much as with a pitcher’s wind-up and delivery.

    In college and minor league ball Matt could get away with more, but (to state the obvious) facing the likes of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia and other aces of the bigs he has a much smaller margin of error and any deviation in his swing becomes magnified.

    As big as he is, Wieters hardly needs to generate much in the way of power, so it would seem he’d would lose very little in that department by a less extreme approach, something like Joe Mauer’s swing (see video below).


  • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

    It appears he’s adjusted the leg kick recently, going to a smaller one…results have been mixed so far.

    I’m not entirely sure the leg kick is the main problem because there are a lot of hitters with a high leg kick that have great success at the big league level. I think it’s just a combination of things that have gone wrong. I’ll be interested in seeing what adjustments he makes over the offseason (if any) since that’s obviously the best time to make changes.