Matt Wieters’ Orioles career has seemingly come to a close. The Orioles have signed Welington Castillo and have Chance Sisco waiting in the wings to take over for the stalwart that was Wieters’ as the Orioles catcher. The organization did not seem all that interested in ever resigning Wieters this off season and even if they stated otherwise they probably did not want him to accept the qualifying offer last off season. Fans seem to be mostly okay with the move which would have been ridiculous if you said that back in 2009.
Matt Wieters was rated the number one prospect in all of baseball in 2009 by Baseball Prospectus and number two by MLB.com. Wieters is not the only Orioles prospect on that old list. It also includes Brian Matusz, Brandon Erbe, and Jake Arrieta. Not every prospect pans out in a timely fashion, or ever.
Kevin Goldstein, then with BP and now an Astros executive, wrote back in 2009:
In search of anything negative to say about Wieters, Goldstein also wrote, “Scouts had a great deal of difficulty finding any weaknesses in Wieters’ game.” On that same 2009 list, Wieters was rated ahead of David Price (2) and Madison Bumgarner (3). Hilariously enough, Wieters was also placed eight spots ahead of Buster Posey (9).
It’s hard to overstate the expectations for Wieters before he made his debut. He fell to the fifth pick overall in the 2007 draft only due to signing bonus demands. Wieters crashed on to the scene and destroyed minor league baseball.
In 2008 he started off in Frederick and posted a 174 wRC+ and got moved to Bowie mid season. In 61 games at Bowie he posted a 190 wRC+ and walked more than he struck out after moving up a level. This was all when he was 22 years old. At 23 he was bumped up to AAA to begin 2009 and posted a 146 wRC+ in his first 39 games before getting called up to the big leagues. He would never see the minor leagues again.
This was around the time that Wieters got the infamous “Mauer with Power” and “Switch Hitting Jesus” labels. Mattwietersfacts.com came to life and is somehow still an active webpage. Wieters was expected to be an All Star year in and year out, an MVP contender, and a would be Hall of Famer. He was expected to play great defense and be one of the best hitters in the game.
Moreover, these expectations were not dressed up as hopes and dreams of a toolsy young phenom. Wieters had proven to people he was going to be a star and proven it at high levels of competition.
As you all know, it turned out that Wieters was never that kind of hitter. His glove has carried him through his major league career while the bat has sorely lagged behind. He has posted decent numbers for a catcher, but he has not been the player that was promised. His best season as a hitter was in 2011 when he posted a 110 wRC+. The year after that he posted a 107 wRC+.
Those are the two best full seasons as a hitter for Wieters. He struggled at the plate almost immediately and never found the promise that was thrust upon him.
Outside of 2011 and 2012 Wieters was basically an average position player. The Tommy John surgery in 2014 derailed what was his best start to season ever. He had a 134 wRC+ at the time of his injury. He struggled to comeback in 2015 playing only every other day for a while and the same thing happened for much of 2016. Wieters has not played over 125 games in a season since 2013.
Overall, Wieters was an excellent defensive catcher especially earlier on in his career. He was a better framer in his younger and more nimbler years. He always had a cannon and deadly accurate arm. At the plate he always underwhelmed. Wieters did not strike out a lot, but it was too much. He walked a bit, but not enough. He hit for some power, but never enough. A well rounded hitter, just not a very good one.
His fatal flaw being his struggles against right handed pitchers. He has never perfected his left handed swing and it has showed. He has a career 90 wRC+ against right handed pitchers and a 114 wRC+ against lefties.
The warning signs were there. To my untrained eye his bat speed has never seemed up to snuff. Also, he struck out 18.4 percent of the time during his short stint in AAA, much higher than his previous year at lower levels. He also ran a .352 BABIP at AAA. The signs were small, but if you were looking they were there.
However, the only reason that he disappointed were the massive expectations thrust upon him by the prospect industrial complex. He was a fine player for the Orioles and will likely be a fine player for whichever team signs him next.
Having an average to above average catcher is a great thing to have. The pitchers all seemingly loved him even as his framing skills diminished. Buck Showalter has spoken more highly of Wieters than he has almost any of his other players. Wieters has not lived up to being Paul Bunyan, but he is still a damn fun player to watch and a nice player to have on your team.
He had a flare for the dramatic. Like this clip from 2012. It’s the magical Cal Ripken Jr. statue night against the Yankees as the Orioles and Yankees are in a dead heat for the AL East crown.
In the first inning, Wieters, with one down and two on, swings late on the David Phelps pitch and sneaks one just over the left field fence the opposite way to give the Orioles a three run lead in the bottom of the first. The stadium erupts. I was sitting in the back of my grad school class watching a definitely not illegal stream of the game and I raised my two fists in the air and had to explain to the teacher why. Probably my favorite Orioles game from the past handful of years.
Or this one from 2014. It is the bottom of the 10th inning against the Pirates and Wieters rips a pitch that was at his eyes on to the flag court for a walk off dinger. Or this single in 2011 which Wieters ripped up the middle scoring Felix Pie (!!!) from second base.
Do not forget about the defense either. Here is a protyical “Don’t run on Wieters” throw from 2012 as he throws out Bryce Harper trying to steal second. He is somehow already throwing the ball before he even catches it. The release is quick and pure. The throw beautifully arches. The ball hits the ground and bounces right into J.J. Hardy’s glove and Harper is out by a mile.
Or a play like this one from another great play in another great game as Wieters shows off his tagging skills. Wieters holds on to the ball as Marlon Byrd barrels into him Wieters gives Byrd a wry smile as a Jones to Hardy to Wieters relay extends the game into the seventeenth inning. Oh yeah, by the way, Chris Davis was pitching.
Another great tag from this past September. With Zach Britton’s save streak on the line and me in the stands a Bourn to Machado relay and a simply superb Wieters catch and tag gets the runner at the plate and secures the important September win for the Orioles. I screamed myself hoarse during the course of that play.
On another personal note, the Wieters storm brought me back to Orioles baseball. The collapse 2005 season temporarily wrecked my fandom and I was in the woods for years paying attention only nominally to the loud sucking sound that was Orioles baseball. However, hearing about Matt Wieters from a friend and going to find out about him brought me back into Orioles baseball. For that, I will be forever grateful to Matt Wieters.
Reflecting back on Wieters’ time as an Orioles is only a disappointment because what other’s said his promise was. He provided value to his team in tangible and intangible ways. He was a representative Oriole and seemingly good person. The Tommy John surgery in 2014 will always leave me wondering what might have been. But, looking back on what was paints a pretty good picture.
A fifth overall pick that got to the majors, was an everyday player, a multiple time All Star, and a multiple Gold Glove winner. Not too shabby. I hope wherever he lands next, he plays great and brings those fans some moments of joy. Unless it’s the Nats.