Does Wieters = Bench, really?

Via the Baltimore Sun's Toy Department, Nate Silver has a great many interesting things to say about baseball and politics, but let's go straight to this season's most intriguing sabermetric question ...

    TD: Were there some projections that you found particularly interesting this year?
    NS: It was pretty tame for the most part though we had Matt Wieters ... that's probably the projection where we're sticking our necks out this year [PECOTA sees Wieters playing at an MVP level from the start]. We have the Nationals being not good but somewhat competitive, within a couple of games of .500. Those were maybe the two and I guess they're both relevant to your beat. But nothing as dramatic as last year, when we had the Rays winning 90 games or something.

    TD: I did want to ask you about Wieters, because PECOTA seems to have an almost unprecedented crush on him. I was wondering what you made of that?

    NS: Yeah, in the six years I've been doing this, I've never seen a projection for a rookie that was that strong. Part of it is that PECOTA has two steps. One is what I do but one is what Clay Davenport does, the minor league translations. The Double-A team Wieters was playing for, when you look at park effects and league difficulty, it was a really tough year for hitters in Double-A. And so that gets ratcheted up quite a bit. The Eastern League was very competitive. He did about as well as any player can do down at that level. He's a big guy. That translates pretty well. And we look at the size of a guy's signing bonus because that has some predictive value. The fact that he has a very big pedigree in college and that more often than not, guys who are drafted that high tend to pan out. That combination of things led to a really aggressive forecast where, if he played for a whole year at that level, he could be an MVP contender.

When someone comes up with something we've never seen before, we've got a tendency to say, "Hey, that can't be right! I've never seen it before!"
Unfortunately, that reaction might say less about that someone's methods than about our lack of imagination. And when I say "our," of course I mean "my" ... I didn't, and still don't, buy Matt Wieters as an MVP candidate. I just don't have any frame of reference that allows me to do that. I don't know ... Johnny Bench, maybe. He was a little before my time, but I do know that when Bench was 22, he hit 45 home runs and was the National League's Most Valuable Player.

Wieters turns 23 next month. Should we assume that no catcher will ever arrive in the majors again who's as talented as Johnny Bench? That would be a faulty assumption, I'm sure. Are Nate Silver and Clay Davenport the guys who will know when the next Johnny Bench is about to show up? I don't know. But considering the things that they consider, I sure wouldn't bet the farm against them.