Don’t downplay Wieters’ impact on 4-0 start

Matt Wieters has gotten a bit of heat for how he’s fared early on in his major league career.

You might be aware of this by now.

Following a 2010 season in which Wieters hit just .249 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs, some baseball publications were already calling him a bust, and analysts and scouts might have been left wondering whether they’d missed on a can’t-miss prospect.

Well, just four games into the 2011 season, it’s already clear how much of a factor the Orioles’ young catcher is playing in the team’s early success.

Sure, he’s hitting the ball well, but it’s the job Wieters is doing with the O’s pitching staff which has his teammates shooting him compliments and statisticians shaking their heads.

Wieters, the Orioles’ top draft pick in the 2007 amateur draft, has been behind the plate for each of the 36 innings the O’s have played this season. In that time, the O’s have allowed just four runs - that’s good for a 1.00 ERA, if math isn’t your thing - 19 hits, and have posted a 30-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

matt_wieters-catching-gear.jpgPerhaps most importantly, however, Wieters has led an inexperienced starting rotation to four straight quality starts, helping carry over the momentum that Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta (among others) had going late last season.

By this point, the guys on the mound have taken note of Wieters’ effectiveness in calling a game. After Guthrie’s eight scoreless innings in the Orioles’ season-opening win over the Rays, the Birds’ ace said he only shook off Wieters once all night.

What happened that one time he asked for a new sign to be put down?

“I gave up a basehit,” Guthrie told MASN’s Gary Thorne, smiling ear to ear. “So I’ll get a slap on the wrist for that.”

Two nights later, after watching Tillman throw six no-hit innings, rookie Zach Britton said he didn’t disagree with Wieters’ pitch selection once in his major league debut, also an impressive six-inning effort.

“The way Till threw (Saturday), there was no need for me to shake him off,” Britton said on O’s Xtra.

No need, indeed. Wieters has started to learn the art of calling a game at the major league level, and he’s clearly more comfortable behind the dish now than he was even at points down the stretch last year. Calling games is an aspect of catching which takes time to master, and while he’s still got work to do in that area, progress has been made.

And don’t look now, but Wieters has gotten off to a nice little start with the bat, as well. Through these four games, the O’s catcher is sporting a .385 batting average, has two RBIs and three runs scored.

Yes, it’s still a very small sample size to work with, and we’ve got plenty of season ahead of us. The Birds’ starters deserve plenty of the credit for the team’s perfect start to the season, and Brian Roberts and a few others have delivered clutch hits as well.

But let’s not forget about Wieters’ contributions behind the plate, especially when some were so quick to write him off just a couple months ago.

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