Baseball can be really weird, but the game has rarely facilitated action more unusual than the sort that occurred in the fifth inning of Game 5 on Thursday night between the Nationals and Cubs.
I have never seen a sequence like this… probably because I'm guessing literally no one has ever seen a sequence like this, ever. pic.twitter.com/rlkEteveUk
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 13, 2017
The inning in question produced a series of four events that had never happened consecutively in the game’s recorded history, covering some 2.3 million half-innings.
None of the 2.73m half innings in our db have even had all 4 of these events. 22 w/ 3. Only 5 games had all 4.https://t.co/ntifpJIb6n
— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) October 13, 2017
Craig Edwards dove into a potentially overlooked batter-interference call that would have stopped the Nationals’ hemorrhaging in the inning, held the deficit at one, and perhaps have allowed the team to keep playing this October.
For the purposes of the current post, however, this author will focus on Matt Wieters specifically. Wieters continues to be cursed as a catcher — in part, it would seem, because of his size.
One of the first items this author published for FanGraphs concerned the challenges faced by the tall catcher — specifically, with regard to framing. It seems intuitive that it’s more challenging for the taller specimens among the catching population to crouch and get the low strike. Pitches at the bottom of the zone, meanwhile, are the sort most likely to be framed successfully.
Eight of the top-10 framing catchers in 2016 were between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-1. This season, seven of the top-10 framers were 6-foot-1 or shorter, with Tyler Flowers (6-foot-4), Caleb Joseph (6-foot-3), and Gary Sanchez (6-2) representing the tallest players on the list. None is as tall as Wieters, who is 6-foot-5.
There’s likely some selection bias: perhaps taller players who would otherwise excel at the position aren’t directed to it, are persuaded to abandon it. Nevertheless, it seems like it’s more difficult, in general, for taller players to receive as effectively as their shorter peers.
Wieters continues to decline as a receiver, rating as one of the poorest framers in the league this year according to Baseball Prospectus’s metrics. He ranked 100th in framing runs saved (-7.1 runs below average) and 95th in FRAA (-6.4), which takes into account total value, blocking, and framing. Framing continued to represent an issue for Wieters in the postseason: his out-of-zone strike rate (4.9%) was below the league average (6.1%) in the postseason through LDS play, his in-zone ball rate (5.8%) above the league average (5.3%).
Wieters is again losing strikes and gaining less favorable counts for his pitchers. Nor was that even the most conspicuous of problems for Wieters on Thursday.
While the umpires probably missed a batter-interference call when Javy Baez’s backswing hit Wieters, that particular event occurred only after the Nationals catcher he had failed to secure a Max Scherzer pitch that passed through his and traveled to the backstop. Was Wieters crossed up? Was it just a matter of Scherzer missing his mark? It’s not clear. Whatever the case, Wieters wasn’t able to react in time. Given his height, he had more distance to travel to secure the pitch. The runners advanced and Wieters exacerbated the problem by throwing the ball into right field, allowing a run to score and the baserunners to advance to second and third. The Cubs’ lead grew to 6-4.
The inning should have been over, perhaps. But the play wasn’t reviewable.
Against the following batter, on a 1-1 pitch, Wieters then — again, perhaps due to his large frame and long arms — reached too far forward and Tommy La Stella’s bat connected with his glove. That catcher-interference call loaded the bases. Scherzer then hit Jon Jay with a pitch to force in a run. The deficit grew to three runs.
So, in a span of two batters, Wieters was charged with a passed ball, error, and catcher’s interference. The Cubs had trailed by a run to begin the inning; their lead was 7-4 at the close of the inning. The Nationals, of course, lost 9-8.
Defeat can have many authors, but Wieters was one of them Thursday.
Dave wrote that his signing by the Nationals was curious back in February. The club has a history with Boras clients, of course. And Wieters isn’t without his virtues: he’s lauded for his ability to work with pitchers, his intangible value as a teammate. But by those skills we can measure, he has only declined further in 2017.
Wieters’ bat has never developed as hoped, and while he’s posted a 93 wRC+ mark for his career, he produced only a career-low 66 wRC+ this season. His defense has been in decline since 2012 and his framing and overall defensive are below average since 2013. He was worth negative WAR according to FanGraphs (-0.2) and Baseball Prospectus (-0.4) this season.
The Nationals’ 2017 season is over and, going forward, they still need a catcher.