What can Matt Wieters do for an encore in 2013?

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Wieters Sports Illustrated Cover

The 2012 Orioles ended a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons in Baltimore and came within one game of the ALCS. They recorded more than 90 wins for only the third time since 1983. And they did it on the heels of a 2011 season when they needed a September surge to avoid only the third 100-loss season in Baltimore Orioles history. So what can the 2013 Orioles do for an encore? As the season approaches, Roar from 34 will consider whether the successes of 2012 can be repeated in 2013 in the "For an Encore" series. 

Feb. 9, 2013

Many members of the 2013 Orioles will find themselves in new territory this season as the team faces expectations that hadn't existed in Baltimore for more than a decade. Returning players sampled that reality last year as fans who thought they would be satisfied with a winning season at the outset harbored playoff aspirations by August. No player knows more about the weight of expectations than catcher Matt Wieters, who carried with him to Baltimore the baggage of being a perceived franchise savior. 

Wieters won his second consecutive gold glove in 2012 and made his second consecutive All Star appearance. He set career highs with 23 homers, the sixth-most by an O's catcher, 83 RBIs and 144 games played. His caught stealing percentage of 38.6 ranked third in the American League, and he caught the second-most A.L. runners attempting to steal with 32.

For these and other efforts, MLB Network recently ranked Wieters the eighth-best catcher in baseball, noting that he was second only to Yadier Molinda for fewest attempted stolen bases on a rate basis in 2012 and that he has the third-best WAR among catchers since 2011. Wieters improved by one spot from 2012 in this year's MLB Top Ten Right Now countdown and was ranked one slot lower than he would be if you ranked catchers by WAR. 

In addition to local fan frustration that popped up on Twitter after the rankings were revealed, former MLB catcher Dave Valle stated his disagreement on the broadcast.

"I don't agree ... I had him much higher and the reason is this guy took a very young pitching staff deep into the month of September in a pennant race," Valle said.  "This guy has really developed into the best catcher in the American League."

Wieters is the rare O's catcher to have consecutive seasons of 20 or more home runs. The list of Baltimore backstops who can't make that claim includes Javy Lopez, Ramon Hernandez, Charles Johnson, Mickey Tettleton and - no surprise here - Rick Dempsey. Gus Triandos and Chris Hoiles both did it for two years in a row but never three.

So one thing Matt Wieters can do for an encore in 2013 is to become the first Orioles catcher to have three consecutive seasons of 20 or more home runs. If he's feeling particularly ambitious, he can chase Triandos' record 30 home runs by an O's catcher. 

Wieters' strength to this point in his career has been his defense. Fans Tweet the words "Don't Run Ever" each time he guns down an opponent attempting to steal. There's even a T-shirt with the phrase. Nevertheless, there's room for improvement behind the plate. For an encore, Wieters can bring down his error total from 2012. His 10 miscues led all A.L. catchers and were the second-most in baseball behind only Colorado's Wilin Rosario. 

While continued or even improved pop at the plate would be great, as would fewer errors behind the dish, I'll be plenty happy with Wieters' encore performance if he can continue to lead the pitching staff so effectively. I was pleased to see him get credit for these efforts on MLB Network despite the difficulty in reliably quantifying this sort of thing. 

"This is a young catcher, only 27 years old, who has continually gotten better at leading a pitching staff and calling a game," Valle said on Top Ten Right Now.

Hear, hear.

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