Before I get into this post I want to say that I’m not trying to deny the talents of Jason Heyward or Tommy Hanson, they are truly special players. This post was built off of a tweet by @Ben_Duronio:
“Is there a better young pitcher/hitter combination in baseball than Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward?”
I, of course, responded to that by saying Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz are the better pair. We decided to each write our own posts about this and share our thoughts on why our team’s pair is better. Here goes my defense of Wieters and Matusz. You can check out Ben’s side to this argument here.
The Case for Wieters over Heyward
Positional Value: Some may argue that Heyward was the better prospect before arriving in the majors, but one reason Wieters had the advantage is because he is a catcher. I usually don’t like using statistics and terms such as “replacement level” etc., but an above-average defensive catcher is much, much more valuable than an above-average defensive right fielder. I consider Wieters’ defense to be plus. What if someone were to ask you this: Would you build your team around a superstar right fielder or a superstar catcher? Most answers would simply be the catcher. If you take a look around the MLB there are a lot of starting catchers that are only starting because of their defense, i.e Gerald Laird or Ivan Rodriguez. While you generally want some offensive production out of your catcher, a stud offensive catcher with good defense can provide more value (WAR) than any other player in the league. That’s Matt Wieters for you.
Scouting Reports: Wieters hasn’t lived up to the hype during his time with the Orioles, but his minor league numbers were pretty crazy. He hit 27 home runs in his rookie season and won himself a minor league player of the year award. Wieters is one year removed from being ranked as the #1 prospect in baseball by most people, but same goes for Heyward. So what does Wieters have over Heyward? He’s a switch hitter, a catcher and plays better defense. Is Heyward a better power hitter than Wieters? Possibly, but not by much. Is Heyward a better contact hitter than Wieters? I don’t think so. I know Wieters is having a pretty bad year so far, but I know you know the tools are there. Is anyone really worried about him? It’s still early, but are 93 at-bats from Jason Heyward really making you believe Heyward is the better player? I hope not.
The Case for Matusz over Hanson
The AL Factor: We always here this issue when comparing a prospect from the AL against one from the NL. We tend to think that the AL offenses are much better than NL offenses but some will argue that facing the Phillies lineup makes up for that (with Hanson) and the guys who prefer Matusz will say that the Red Sox offense isn’t that good anymore. For those of you who don’t think Hanson playing in the NL has a big affect on his performance, you’re wrong. The main reason I believe pitching in the NL is so much easier is because of the pitcher, even if he only bats two times against you. If you know you have the pitcher coming up, you can attack the 7 & 8 hitters in a way, that AL pitchers aren’t able to do. Well how do the NL pitchers compare to AL #9 hitters? For the sake of people saying that the NL pitchers will only get 2-3 at-bats per game and the AL #9 hitters will get 4-5, I’ll just use data for NL #9 hitters alone, whether it’s the pitcher, a pinch runner, or whatever. I’m using a full season of 2009 data for this part.
You can clearly see in the chart above that pitching to the #9 hitter in the lineup gives NL pitcher a big advantage.
Overall: I feel that the difference between Matusz and Hanson is slightly larger than the difference between Wieters and Heyward. Like I said before, I usually try to stay away from advanced statistics. But the one advanced stat that I really like is FIP^. FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is been proven to be a greater determining factor to a pitcher’s success over ERA.
Brian Matusz career FIP (15 GS): 3.67
Tommy Hanson career FIP (28 GS): 3.36
Matusz has a slightly lower walk rate than Hanson (2.96 BB/9 vs. 3.11 BB/9), while Hanson has a slightly higher strikeout rate than Matusz (8.54 K/9 vs. 7.52 K/9). Hanson clearly has the edge over Matusz now but Matusz has 13 less starts than Henson and let’s not forget that Hanson spent a total of 39 games at A+/AA/AAA, including 11 at AAA while Matusz made 19 starts between A+/AA and totally skipped the AAA level.
Matusz’ secondary stuff is pretty scary and his changeup has been fooling major league hitters so far during his short career. Matusz’ plus command, secondary stuff and that fact that he’s left handed is why he’s a more advanced player than Henson, and will be the better player in the future.
If I had to choose one pair of players, I’m taking Wieters and Matusz. If I had to split 100 points between Heyward and Wieters based on who will be the better player, I’m giving 52 to Wieters and 48 to Heyward. If I have to split 100 more between Matusz and Hanson, I’m giving 58 to Matusz and 42 to Hanson.
Final Score: Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz 110, Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward 90.
Which pair do you think is better and why?