James Baker: Wieters on the perpetual cusp

Is there a more aggravating player than Matt Wieters on the Orioles right now?

He is so good, and it appears that he is on the verge of breaking his season, and career, open at any second, but he never seems to take that final step. As of this morning Wieters’ slash-line looks like this: .262 /.323 /.449 /.772

That .772 OPS is good enough for third in the American League among catchers. Detroit’s Alex Avila is having a ridiculous season, but Wieters has hit more homers and has struck out 30 percent fewer times than Avila. Combine this offensive surge and his near infallible defense Wieters is producing at almost four Wins Above Replacement (According to Fangraphs - fWAR), making him hands down one of the best catchers in not only the AL but all of baseball.

But, still, do you think that opposing pitchers are quaking in their boots at the sight of Wieters yet? For every few weeks where he seems unstoppable, there are times where he looks equally lost at the plate.

Wieters has destroyed left-handed pitching this year. Against southpaws, he is batting .348 with an OPS of well over 1.000. Meanwhile, against righties, he is batting .231 with a sub-.700 OPS. Surprisingly, however, he has hit 10 home runs from each side of the plate and is walking more against righties - but is also hitting a lot more weak grounders to second base.

Looking at the sum of Wieters’ parts gives you a fine young player; he is certainly the piece you build around, but there still seem to be these nagging holes in his game that are keeping him from reaching the stratosphere as many expected. For as great he has been since August, for much of May-July, he never had a monthly OPS over .700. Since August, he has hit 10 homers, five already in September, and salvaged a season where many fans were straining themselves to find the player that many outsiders called the second coming of Johnny Bench.

I, too, thought Wieters would be the Baltimore equvialent to Evan Longoria: a player that just hit the ground running and never looked back, an instant star and Most Valuable Player candidate the second he picked up the bat. I still remember going to Wieters’ first game and seeing his first hit, a triple off of Justin Verlander of all people, the next night. The excitement was unlike anything I had experienced at Camden Yards and those memories live in stark contrast to the desolation we now see in the stands.

Wieters is one of the best catchers in the AL, and you would be hard-pressed to find five catchers in all of baseball that play a better all-around game than Wieters does right now. The problem is, Wieters was expected to be one of the top five players in the majors, not just catchers. Some think that is what we still need Wieters to be, and if he does not become that, then the Orioles are lost for the foreseeable future. I don’t necessarily believe that.

Yes, I do think that Wieters needs to find a more consistent game; these maddening month-long droughts are the reason why Baseball America, chief perpetrator of the Wieters hype-machine, prematurely labeled him one of the biggest busts in the history of baseball. All logical people knew that was way too harsh, but it doesn’t make watching him any less frustrating. As the headline states, you watch him and you look at the number and you see these things that just hold him back. Every time he steps to the plate you get the feeling that something special is about to start, but it just hasn’t gotten here yet.

Right now Wieters is playing some of the best baseball of his short career. Are we finally seeing him become the player we all hope/want/need him to be? Or, like the Orioles as a team so many times before, will the calendar turn to 2012 only to see the same inconsistencies coupled with the same burning questions.

Wieters is truly the future of the franchise because the same question is asked of both: When will Matt Wieters and the Orioles finally turn the corner for good?

James Baker blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O’s appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

blog comments powered by Disqus