As a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan having grown up just a few miles from Memorial Stadium, I was raised on "The Oriole Way," which Wikipedia defines as "a belief that hard work, professionalism and a strong understanding of fundamentals were the keys to success at the major league level." O's fans loved the scrappy, overachiever types such as Rich Dauer, Rick Dempsey and Lenn Sakata who couldn't hit their weight but still helped the team win games.
Matt Wieters also abides by The Oriole Way; he is a true professional who shows up ready to play and always gives 100 percent. In doing so, he has developed into a solid defensive catcher and one tough cookie, as all but one of his 467 career starts over four major league seasons has been behind the plate. He knows how to handle all types of pitchers, he switch-hits, and he was instrumental in the team's surprising playoff run last season.
Despite his unquantifiable value to this team -- the word "intangible" is so overused -- Wieters is actually overvalued in the world of fantasy baseball. As of March 17, he is ESPN.com's No. 3 catcher in fantasy baseball, including the top dog in the American League, ahead of such catcher-eligible players as Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli, to name a few. He is also being drafted as the No. 3 catcher in ESPN.com's Live Draft Results, with an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 60.2. For 12-team leagues, that means you have to spend a fifth-round pick to secure him. Sleeper backstops such as Salvador Perez, whose value was spelled out nicely in a Keith Lipscomb Spring Fever piece earlier this spring, are going 10 rounds later.
Let's take a look at just how Wieters has stacked up with the aforementioned catcher-eligible American Leaguers above, players I think should all be drafted ahead of Wieters (except for Napoli, but only because of his bad hip):
Average season stats, 2010-2012
As you can see from the table above, Wieters' OPS doesn't even sniff these others players, falling at least 57 points below every other player. And despite having the second-most at-bats of this quintet, he's dead last in runs and steals. The only reason his RBIs are stronger than most is because of his sheer volume of opportunities in an improving Orioles lineup, not because he is a clutch hitter.
In fact, a more apt description of Wieters would actually be that he's unclutch. In his career, he has hit .210 with two outs and runners in scoring position in a sizable 229 at-bats. And when he's in a "late-inning pressure situation" with two outs, Wieters is a dreadful 4-for-29 (.138 average) with no extra-base hits. It's at least worth noting that in the biggest series of his life (last year's ALDS loss to the hated New York Yankees), Wieters batted .150, going 3-for-20 in the five-game set, with few instances of hard-hit balls.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Wieters' career has been most similar to a group that includes current backstops Chris Iannetta, Geovany Soto and other undesirable fantasy leaguers of the past seven years, such as Bill Haselman, Kenji Johjima, Todd Pratt, Chris Widger and Javier Valentin. Granted, the 26-year-old Wieters will undoubtedly have a much better career than any of these guys, already sporting two All-Star appearances at such a young age, but comparison to this crew isn't very flattering.
Pitching in the AL East is chock full of tough pitchers, such as David Price, CC Sabathia and Jon Lester, and the Toronto Blue Jays add R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to that mix this season. Considering how terrible Wieters has hit north of the border in his career -- he has a .186/.266/.340 slash line in 97 at-bats at Rogers Centre -- fantasy owners can justify benching Wieters for the three series he plays in Toronto this season (May 23-26, June 21-23, Sept. 13-15).
As I wrote in the 2013 catchers preview, this position is deeper this season than in recent years, especially in the power category; nine backstops slugged 20-plus homers last season, and 24 catchers reached double digits in taters. This all-encompassing power tends to diminish the position-scarcity-value argument of drafting Wieters earlier than his true value. I'm stunned when I see the quality of players that drafters are passing up for Wieters. This is a list that includes 20-homer/20-steal guys like Ian Desmond, speedster Michael Bourn, slugger Aramis Ramirez and solid starters Chris Sale, Roy Halladay, Mat Latos and Jordan Zimmermann. Wow!
Especially as an Orioles fan, I have been hearing how great this guy is since he was the fifth overall pick of the 2007 amateur draft, but Wieters' offensive numbers really haven't been that special. His counting stats may look good against his peers, especially the power, as he typically logs 10-15 more games than the average starting catcher, but his quantitative marks are nothing to brag about. Take a look at where Wieters ranked in batting average, OPS, Runs Created and slugging percentage among the 10 catchers who qualified for a batting title in 2012:
Batting average: .249 (10th of 10)
OPS: .764 (9th)
Runs Created per 27 outs: 4.80 (9th)
Slugging percentage: .435 (7th)
Wieters had the worst batting average of the bunch at .249, a group that includes players not close to him on anybody's fantasy rankings, such as A.J. Ellis, Ryan Doumit and A.J. Pierzynski. Wieters' OPS and runs created was better than only Jesus Montero, and though Wieters is coveted for his power, his slugging percentage was a subpar seventh among this group. And let's remember that this was Wieters' best major league season so far.
I'm not trying to depict Baltimore's franchise player as a bum or say that he'll never be a superstar fantasy option. I'm just saying, until he proves otherwise, he's not a top-five fantasy catcher or a worthy top-80 pick in standard fantasy leagues for 2013. In 12-team, one-active-catcher leagues, he should be taken more like the eighth round. While ESPN.com optimistically projects Wieters to produce fine numbers -- .266 batting average, 29 homers, 93 RBIs and 70 runs -- I'm much more cautious with his projections: .253 average, 22 homers, 82 RBIs and 62 runs. Those numbers are much closer to his past performance. Like all O's fans across the nation, I'd love to be wrong here, but I'd have to see it to believe it.