On the 162nd day, Matt Wieters rested.
A few hours before Sunday’s game, Wieters walked past the lineup card and saw Steve Clevenger’s name in it, smiled and cracked: “Benched.”
Hardly. Wieters thrives on work. After playing in Saturday night’s game, Wieters had played in 148 games, catching 140, starting 134 and completing 127, all career highs.
Buck Showalter mentioned that Terry Kennedy had caught 142 games for the 1987 Orioles, but he completed 122.
Kennedy, who made the All-Star team that year, didn’t have the year that Wieters had. While Kennedy did throw out 31 percent of the runners trying to steal on him, 111 were successful.
Thirty-five percent of runners trying to steal were successful against Wieters, which wasn’t a career best, but the great news was that just 68 tried to steal on him—down from 83 the year before.
It’s obvious that the Orioles’ attention to their pitchers holding runners on base is paying off, and if both Scott Feldman and Bud Norris return next season, they’ll be drilled on the importance of quickening their delivery to the plate.
Wieters made a career low three errors, none after mid-June.
If you talk with Showalter about catching, he’ll harp on the importance of defense. Offense is secondary.
When Wieters came up, he was supposed to be “Mauer with power,” an excellent defensive catcher who was also an offensive threat.
He is a superb defensive catcher, perhaps the best in the American League. St. Louis’ Yadier Molina played in almost as many games and threw out 43 percent of the 46 runners who tried to steal.
The rub against Wieters is that offensively, he isn’t quite as good as many thought he’d be. For the second straight season, his batting average fell—from .262 in 2011 to .249 last year, and .235 this year.
His on-base percentage has also dropped, from .329 last year to .287.
Wieters’ power numbers have been consistent, averaging 28 doubles over the past three years, hitting 22, 23 and 22 home runs, driving in 83 runs last year and 79 this year. He drew far fewer walks, 43 this year as opposed to 60 this year, but he did lead the league in sacrifice flies with 12.
The obvious conclusion is that Wieters plays too much, and perhaps needs a more competent backup.
Taylor Teagarden, who was jettisoned on Aug. 31, after batting just .167 in 26 games. He missed five weeks with a dislocated left thumb.
Chris Snyder who filled in for Teagarden when he was hurt and also came up for September, was just 2-for-20 in nine games.
Steve Clevenger, who’s from Baltimore, and came along with Feldman in the July trade with the Cubs, was 4-for-15 in four games.
The Orioles will be looking for catching help this winter. While Clevenger will have an advantage because he’s a left-handed batter, he only played in four games.
According to MLBtraderumors.com, there are 17 free agent catchers. Some of them are regulars: Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki has an $8.5 million option which probably won’t be exercised.
If the Orioles are looking in the free agent direction, Humberto Quintero and Yorvit Torrealba are in their mid-thirties, not terribly expensive and might be satisfied with catching 30 games a season.
It’s hard to find backup catchers who are willing to be the understudy of a star catcher.
The Orioles also have Caleb Joseph in their minor league system. Joseph is now 27 and in his fourth year with Bowie had a standout year at the plate, batting .299 with 22 home runs and 97 RBIs.
Joseph caught 64 games this season. He also played first and the outfield.
It will be an interesting call to see whether the Orioles protect on their 40-man roster for the first time, and if he isn’t, whether another team will draft him.
He doesn’t have a great reputation defensively, but his offensive numbers may convince the Orioles to take a long look at him next spring.
Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette said that he’ll be discussing a long-term extension for Wieters with his agent, Scott Boras. Duquette and Boras have already talked during the season, and no evident progress was made, and it’s a subject Wieters isn’t eager to talk about.
With two years left before free agency, this is the ideal time for the Orioles and Wieters to make a deal.
In June’s draft, the Orioles drafted four catchers in their first 11 picks. It’s safe to say none of them will be as good as Matt Wieters.