When the Tigers traded Gregory Soto to the Phillies in January for a package of players that included Matt Vierling, it’s reasonable if you weren’t fired up to get a 26-year-old outfielder who had an on-base-percentage below .300 last season. While I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong and that Vierling is a star in the making, I do think there’s an above average platoon outfielder in there, and possibly quite a bit more.
Vierling has had a nice first camp with the Tigers. He recently missed a week to a minor knee injury but has looked good since his return. He’s a lock to start the season as the right handed hitting side of a platoon in left field. How much more playing time he gets will be dependent on his ability to hit right handed pitching, but his ability to play all three outfield positions will certainly help him too.
Consider that his left handed hitting counterparts are Kerry Carpenter and Akil Baddoo, there’s potential for a nice little platoon there, but it’s even more unproven in their respective cases. Because of that unknown, Vierling has the chance to solidify himself as more than just the weak side of a platoon.
Matt Vierling 2021-2022
On the surface, Vierling’s numbers were pretty uninspiring last season. An OBP of .297, SLG of .351, and wRC+ of 81 sadly fits in pretty well with the offense of the 2022 Tigers. However, his platoon splits show where his value was. His numbers against righties were abysmal, as he was worth only 63 wRC+ with a .275 OBP over 222 plate appearances. In 135 plate appearances against left handed pitchers, he was worth 110 wRC+ with a .333 OBP.
It’s worth noting that Vierling’s splits weren’t so drastic in the minor leagues. He got a short 34 game look in 2021, but really 2022 was his first full season as a major leaguer. There’s still a decent chance he can settle in against right-handers a little more as he enters what are typically a hitter’s prime years.
If you’re willing to take a peak behind the curtain, you’ll see a player who looks poised to breakout in a big way. I’ll quantify it in a second, but to put it simply, he hits the crap out of the ball and rarely gets rewarded for it. He’s in the 86th percentile in average exit velocity, the 82nd percentile in max exit velocity, and 88th percentile in hard hit rate. His expected wOBA is in the 63rd percentile and his expected batting average is in the 91st percentile.
Vierling hits a lot of screamers up the gaps, and should like Comerica Park in that respect. Still, to do significantly more damage Vierling needs to drive the air more to his pull side, and his swing and approach aren’t really so geared to do that. He’ll bash a hanger occasionally, but he’s most adept at spraying fastballs hard up the middle and to right-center field. He should have his share of doubles and triples, and the limited defensive shifting might benefit his batting average somewhat, but to really change his profile he needs to drive a few more balls out of the park. Easier said than done, despite his obvious ability to smash the baseball.
There’s a 42 point difference between his wOBA and his expected wOBA, which was the fifth worst differential in MLB among players with 200 plate appearances. Credit to The Athletic’s Keith Law for the research on that. Basically, this is a guy with an exceptional contact profile but very little to show for it. Baseball is a results based business, but Vierling’s bad luck with the Phillies could mean there’s a lot for the Tigers to gain if the contact stays consistent.
In the outfield, he’s graded a bit below average in the corners and can cut it in center thanks to his speed. His sprint speed ranks in the 97th percentile, and his arm strength in the 81st percentile. He ranks among the worst in the league in outfielder jumps, which keeps him from reaching his lofty potential in the field despite his elite tools. Still, his speed should play well in the vast greenspace of Comerica Park. He hasn’t typically been a big stolen base threat, but with his speed and the shorter base paths, it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Tigers are with him in that department.
There’s still a camp battle going on between Carpenter and Baddoo for what seems to be the final outfielder spot in Detroit, but Matt Vierling could have the inside track to an everyday role if he gets off to a hot start. His limited major league reps say he’s a weak side platoon outfielder, but his contact profile says he’s capable of significantly more production and a bigger role than he showed in 2022.
The trade Scott Harris made with the Dave Dombrowski was an interesting one. The Tigers could’ve waited to see if they could dial in Gregory Soto’s command more consistently, at which point he might draw you a really nice prospect package all on his own. Instead, Dave Dombrowski rightly accepted some risk in exchange for the kind of power arm a contending Phillies team will require. Harris passed on that risk in exchange for a lot more raw value. Nick Maton and Matt Vierling will likely end up being worth more than a few years of Gregory Soto to the Tigers, because they’re still presumably years from being a major contender. But for the Phillies, they need impact players for high leverage situations, not role players with some upside remaining. So it has an interesting logic to it on both ends.
Vierling should be a solid platoon player for the Tigers who adds defensive flexibility in an outfield that needed it. He should provide some extra base juice and contribute a little speed off the bench. He also comes with some obvious potential to break out to a degree. Hopefully he can unlock a little more production against right-handed pitching and make it hard for A.J. Hinch to take him out of the lineup.