Matt Wieters is the Orioles' strong arm of the law
Matt Wieters is the Orioles' strong arm of the law. His specialty is loss prevention.
There was Wieters on Friday night gunning down Jay Bruce, the Cincinnati Reds' first base runner of the Interleague set at Camden Yards, with a pinpoint throw to second base. The catcher offered a simple head nod to acknowledge another successful caught stealing effort, his 19th of the season. The Reds attempted one more stolen base all weekend; Wieters nabbed Drew Stubbs at third base on Saturday.
Two batters after eliminating Bruce on Friday Wieters tossed the baseball aside as he strode away from home plate. He left Stubbs in his wake pondering a frame-ending called third strike. Never had an inning featuring two walks and no hits so excited this Orioles fan. That's when it hit me: Matt Wieters has subtle swagger.
Baseball frowns upon outright swagger. Despite the hype that accompanied his promotion to the bigs, including his appearance as the most anticipated Sports Illustrated cover model in Baltimore outside the month of February, Wieters doesn't have that. Self-assurance, sure, but his understated demeanor is the antidote to the, shall we say, bravado on display with other touted prospects. Put it this way: He didn't blow a kiss to Bruce.
Somewhere between the sonic boom that many anticipated with Wieters' arrival at Camden Yards and the whimper that others would argue it's actually been, the truth of the player is emerging. One of the smaller truths I've discovered as I find myself perusing caught stealing percentages (trust me, it's not something I regularly do) is that Wieters has made defensive catching interesting. That's an accomplishment.
Charles Johnson was supposed to peak my defensive interest when he arrived in Baltimore in 1999. His errorless streak behind the plate earned him Sports Illustrated recognition similar to what Wieters would receive years later. [See "Somebody's Perfect," Sept. 22, 1997.] But Johnson was traded to the White Sox in 2000. His best defense was played behind Florida's home plate. Charles Johnson, we hardly knew ye.
Johnson aside, any attention I've given to Orioles catchers during my time as a fan has focused on their power at the plate. Unless of course you count my noticing Chris Hoiles' failing arm in the late '90s. Hoiles' caught stealing percentages in his final three seasons were 23, 21, and 22, respectively, but all you needed to do was watch his warm-up throws to second base to know something was wrong.
Prior to Wieters' Orioles debut in 2009 the Washington Post provided its list of the top five catchers in Orioles history. Wrote Dave Sheinin of the quintet: "While the Orioles have no shortages of all-time greats at nearly every other position on the field, their history at catcher is so pathetic, it's laughable."
I watched four of the five guys from that list play during my time as a fan - Rick Dempsey, Ramon Hernandez, Mickey Tettleton, and Hoiles. Gus Triandos was before my time. Those backstops grabbed my attention with personality (e.g., Dempsey's rain delay theatrics), cool nicknames like Fruit Loops and the Tractor, and/or the long ball. These days, Wieters is doing it with defense.