Unpolished athleticism was a theme throughout Joey Wiemer’s rookie season.
Thrust into the starting center field role after injuries to Tyrone Taylor, Garrett Mitchell, and Sal Frelick, Wiemer showed flashes of the tools that make him an explosive player. According to Statcast, he tallied an elite 11 fielding runs thanks to his excellent range and strong throwing arm. He offered glimpses of his raw power, posting a 112.8 max exit velocity and 9.1% barrel rate. Wiemer held his own against fastballs, hitting nine of his 13 home runs while producing a .355 wOBA and +5 run value. He also slugged .517 against left-handed pitching.
Those glimpses scattered throughout his offensive performance were just that. Wiemer struggled at the plate for most of the year, slashing .204/.283/.362. His 75 wRC+ indicated he was 25% worse than a league-average hitter.
Wiemer’s kryptonite was anything soft that broke away from him. He batted .160 with a .205 wOBA and a 39.7% whiff rate against breaking balls.
Pitchers latched onto this almost immediately. Wiemer saw nearly as many breaking balls (43%) as he did fastballs (45.6%), and opponents hammered him with pitches down and away.
It was an effective game plan. Wiemer whiffed on 64% of his swings against down-and-away pitches and was helpless against pitches around that area.
It’s not unusual for young hitters to struggle with soft pitches away, particularly those with Wiemer’s profile of a pull-heavy power bat. However, Wiemer’s weakness is more extreme because of his unorthodox mechanics.
Anyone watching Wiemer will immediately notice that he doesn’t do anything normally on a baseball field. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Wiemer’s large physique and long limbs make everything look a bit awkward. It’s always worked for him, so the Brewers avoided sweeping adjustments.
Those traits extend to Wiemer’s load and swing. He starts by waggling his bat above his head before briefly resting it on his shoulder. As the pitcher starts his motion, he drops his hands just above the letters of his jersey. In doing so, Wiemer drops the head of his bat to the point of having to bring it up again as the pitch is coming in. He then loads up and taps his toe before launching into a violent swing.
That’s an extreme amount of motion in a concise window of time. Wiemer’s fidgety nature and inclination to pull the ball and do damage often left him out in front of non-fastballs.
The issue only grew more extreme as the year progressed. Wiemer managed just a .505 OPS in August and started September recording two hits in 22 plate appearances. He was optioned to Triple-A on September 17 and spent the rest of the regular season there.
Here’s a clip of Wiemer chasing a breaking ball a few days before his demotion. His bat moves even more before and during his load, and he drops the head just above his belt. He lunges at the ball and is well out in front, resulting in an easy strikeout for Pirates pitcher Andre Jackson.
The eye-opening shot is this frame of Wiemer’s bat at its lowest point, which comes well after Jackson has removed the ball from his glove.
Wiemer was often so far out in front that pitchers needn’t flawlessly execute breaking balls down and away. Even breakers over the middle of the plate could get him out. Opponents could often coax a lazy fly ball or pop-up on such pitches.
The motion in Wiemer’s load does not put him in a position to get the barrel to the ball, which limits him from tapping into his raw power. In addition to his high strikeout rate, his quality of contact was inconsistent at best.
Wiemer finished his rookie year with a below-average 39.1% hard hit rate. His 28.9% sweet spot percentage placed him in the sixth percentile of hitters. Those figures should be much higher for a strong athlete who regularly barreled balls as Wiemer did in the minor leagues.
To succeed against MLB-caliber stuff, Wiemer must quiet his load. He already took a step in the right direction by calming his bat drop after his demotion.
Just to illustrate the difference, the first picture is the furthest his bat went on his last batted ball before his demotion (he’d gone even further than this at times)— Spencer Michaelis (@smichaelis234) September 21, 2023
The second is the homer from tonight at its furthest point. It just makes such a huge difference with timing. pic.twitter.com/0bqXSWikNf
Wiemer figures to carry this change into spring training. It could be where the adjustments stop for now, but there’s a case to be made that Wiemer should ultimately eliminate most of his hand movement from his load to improve his timing and put himself in a better hitting position. Instead of dropping his hands, he could start with them already lowered.
In addition to calming his load, Wiemer needs to relax more in the box overall. His struggles seemingly led him to press as the year went on, which compounded his challenges at the plate.
Wiemer will always have a violent swing, and strikeouts will be part of his game. He should swing hard; because of his physical makeup, trying to do damage is his best avenue to producing. He doesn’t have the short levers and bat control of Frelick. Attempting to shorten up will not work for him.
What Wiemer needs is controlled explosiveness. That starts with his hands before he swings and his comfort level in the box. If Wiemer relaxes before each pitch, lets the ball come to him, and strikes when it does, he can be one of the best center fielders in baseball.