Although it won’t be official until he signs elsewhere, the reality is Matt Wieters’ career as an Oriole is over. He’ll almost certainly play for someone else in 2017, after being behind the plate for the Orioles since 2009.
It seems like this news has been met with shrugs by a lot of Orioles fans, who respected Wieters as a man and a leader, but felt he was a bit of a disappointment on the field.
I guess that’s understandable considering the hype that accompanied Wieters when he was drafted fifth overall by the Orioles in 2007 and cruised through the minors. He was supposed to be the next Johnny Bench, or “Joe Mauer with power” or, as his buddy Adam Jones once said jokingly, “Jesus in shin guards.”
Wieters didn’t soar to those lofty expectations – no one could. What he did was become a four-time All-Star – most appearances in O’s history for a catcher — a respected voice in the clubhouse and a clutch performer when a big play was needed. (According to the advanced metric, “win probability added/clutch,” Wieters’ production in high-leverage situations is sixth all-time for any Oriole with at least 200 games played. Not surprisingly, Eddie Murray’s is the highest.)
The argument easily can be made that Wieters is the greatest all-around catcher in modern-day Orioles history. At the very least, he’s in the conversation. Study a little deeper, and he probably leads the candidates in that conversation – but it is a fun and relatively close argument.
With all due respect to Andy Etchebarren, who spent 12 seasons with the Orioles and made two All-Star teams, there really are just four men who can lay claim to the “best O’s catcher” title: Wieters, Rick Dempsey, Chris Hoiles and Gus Triandos.
If the question was most beloved or most important, Dempsey would win hands down. The current broadcaster for MASN played the most games behind the plate for the Orioles: 1,230 – 411 more than anyone else.
Triandos played in 953 games for the Orioles, but caught 784. Hoiles is second on the franchise list of games caught with 819 and Wieters third with 812. Etchebarren is fifth with 752.
Because of his longevity, Dempsey leads all other Orioles’ catchers in plate appearances, hits doubles and, believe it or not, steals (16 in his Orioles’ career). He also played in two World Series with the team and was the MVP the last time the Orioles won the world championship in 1983. He’s the only one of the four to play in a World Series with the Orioles. And Dempsey, who was with the club from 1976-86 and again in 1992, was exceptionally popular because of his infectious enthusiasm and love of life.
But was he the greatest Orioles’ all-around catcher?
Well, offensively, Dempsey was challenged. He readily admits that. His slash line in 12 seasons with the Orioles is the worst among the four candidates: a .238 average, .319 on-base percentage and .355 slugging. His 75 homers are fourth of the four – there was a reason he batted eighth or ninth in an overwhelming number of big-league games (all offensive numbers in this piece are for their Orioles’ careers and not solely while in the lineup as catcher).
Dempsey took pride in calling a game and he threw out 40 percent of would-be baserunners as an Oriole – an impressive number. He compiled a 14.1 defensive WAR (wins above replacement) and an overall WAR of 21.3 in 12 seasons as an Oriole.
Dempsey never made an All-Star team, and neither did Hoiles, who is the best offensive catcher in club history. Hoiles, who played 10 seasons from 1989 to 1998, is the franchise’s all-time leading catcher in homers (151), walks (435) and on-base-plus slugging (.833). He has the best WAR of any Oriole catcher with a 23.4. That includes a 6.8 WAR in a splendid 1993 campaign in which he hit 29 homers and batted .310 with a .416 on-base percentage and .585 slugging, all career highs. His career on-base percentage was .366, and we all know how great he was with the bases loaded (eight homers, .386 average, 75 RBIs, one double play in 77 plate appearances).
Pitchers loved throwing to Hoiles, but defensive metrics weren’t particularly kind to him. He never had a defensive WAR over 1.3 and his career caught-stealing percentage of 28 was lower than league average (32 percent) during his career.
The only Orioles catcher besides Wieters to make at least three All-Star games was Triandos, the franchise’s first breakout star. Gus Tremendous, as he was nicknamed, played in Baltimore from 1955 to 1962. He was an All Star in 1957, 1958 and 1959 and finished 11th in AL MVP voting in 1958, when he became the first Oriole to hit the 30-homer mark.
No Oriole catcher drove in more runs (517) than Triandos, who slashed .249/.326/.424 in his eight seasons with the franchise. No one was slower, either. He hit into 106 double plays and stole just one base in his career.
Triandos had a tremendous arm, throwing out 47 percent of would-be basestealers in his career, including a league best 67 percent in 1957. The statistical knock on Triandos’ defense is pretty obvious. He allowed 138 passed balls, leading the league three times in the dubious category. But that wasn’t all his fault. The plodding Triandos caught knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm 113 times, a disastrous assignment that gave Triandos nightmares. He had a career WAR of 13.0 and a 2.0 defensive WAR with the Orioles
In comparison, Wieters has had just 19 passed balls and a 7.0 defensive WAR in his career so far. His 33 percent caught-stealing rate is better than the 27 percent league average during his tenure in Baltimore.
Offensively, Wieters has been good, not great. He has a slash line of .256/.318/.421. He is third all-time among Orioles catchers in homers and RBIs, and likely would have been top in both categories if he would have played two or three more seasons with the team. His career WAR is 16.3, which is slightly below Hoiles’ per season average, but higher than Dempsey’s and Triandos’.
Basically, you can massage the numbers however you want. If you lean toward offense, Hoiles may get the nod. If you go with accomplishments, longevity and importance, it’s Dempsey. If you want power, run production and arm strength, it might be Triandos.
But if you are putting everything together, the offense, the defense, the clutch ability, the leadership, etc., Wieters is probably the guy.
He played fewer total games than the other four as an Oriole – 12 fewer than Hoiles, 71 fewer than Triandos and 363 fewer than Dempsey – but stacks up well against them all.
So, he may have not have been the second coming in shin guards, but Wieters should go down as either the best or one of the best to put the shin guards on in Baltimore.