Last offseason, it seemed unlikely that Matt Wieters would be an Oriole in 2016. Sure, he may be given the qualifying offer, but no player had ever accepted that before. And with the likes of Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen and Darren O’Day coming off the books, there seemed to be more pressing needs for the club. Welp, we all know what happened there. One year later, the Birds and the backstop face a similar situation.
Wieters did prove he can stay healthy, but his play on the field left much to be desired. Of course, those dreams of Matt being “Joe Mauer with power” are long gone, but he didn’t even prove to be worthy of his lofty $15.8 million salary.
His slash line of .243/.302/.409 is pretty ugly. And it wasn’t helped by his awful .265 batting average on balls in play. According to Fangraphs, 20.2 percent of those balls put in play by the catcher were hit weakly; the highest rate of his career. Over 124 games, Wieters had 17 doubles, 17 home runs, one triple and 66 RBI while hitting predominantly in the sixth and seventh spots in the order.
The catcher’s performance, along with many of his fellow Orioles, dipped in the second-half. Prior to the All-Star break, Wieters was slashing .258/.310/.418 compared to a .227/.294/.399 after it. Much of his struggles occurred in a putrid month of July that saw him get one double and two RBI over 19 games. That’s a .117/.194/.133 slash line.
In the field
Defensively, Matt seems to of had a bounce-back year of sorts. Despite winning two Gold Gloves a few seasons ago, Wieters gets a lot of criticism for his work with the leather, especially when it comes to pitch framing and scooping up balls in the dirt.
Yeah, catcher’s ERA is a dumb statistic, but Wieters’ CERA was 3.98, seventh-best in MLB among qualifiers. He also threw out 23 of the 66 runners (34.8 percent) who tried to steal a base on him, which was ninth-best. And his one passed ball was the fewest in baseball.
However, to be fair, there were also 42 wild pitches while he was catching. That is the most in his career by 12 pitches. That includes seasons in which he was catching over 135 games. This season he caught just 113. But, of course, that is far from being all the catcher’s fault.
Sum it up
Long story short, Fangraphs gave him a defensive rating of 8.2, his best mark since 2013 (pre-Tommy John). And Baseball Reference attributed him with a defensive WAR of 1.1, which was his best since 2012, when he won a Gold Glove with a 1.3 dWAR.
Both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference ended up giving Wieters an overall WAR of 1.7 for his 2016 season in which he played 124 games. No, not great, but it wasn’t like manager Buck Showalter had a whole lot of flexibility at the catcher position.
Trading away Steve Clevenger in the offseason in exchange for Mark Trumbo (nice one!) made it clear that Caleb Joseph would the one-and-only backup. It seemed fair. Joseph had proven to be a force behind the plate and more than adequate with the bat. What could go wrong? Well...just about everything.
His offensive abilities never showed up as he hit just .174/.216/.197 with three doubles and zero RBI. That’s right. Over 49 games and 141 plate appearances, he couldn’t drive in ANYBODY.
On top of that, at the end of May he took a foul ball to the nether regions while catching, injuring his testicles to the point where needed surgery. The bright side: during his minor league rehab assignments he had 11 RBI, so something positive came out of it, right?
When Joseph was on the disabled list, Francisco Pena came up from Norfolk to fill the void. In 14 games, he was fine, surpassing Caleb’s low bar of offensive inadequacy with a home run and three RBI in 40 at-bats. In the field, he threw out four of eight attempted base stealers, had one passed ball and three wild pitches.
It’s the same talk from last winter. Qualifying offer or no? Wieters is likely the second-best catcher on the market behind Wilson Ramos. However, whatever deal he gets will be significantly less annually than the $17.2 million he would be due with the qualifying offer. Decisions, decisions.
On the Orioles side of things, this feels like a patchwork year for the catcher position. Chance Sisco is nearly ready and should start the 2017 season with Norfolk and is an obvious candidate to come up when rosters expand in September.
Paying $17.2 million for one year of Wieters hurts, but it may be worth it when the alternatives are Joseph, Pena or one of the guys in a thin free agent class. And if Wieters declines and signs elsewhere, the teams gets a draft pick. Feels like a win, win.