How the Orioles, with Joseph and Sisco, might benefit from not having a primary catcher in 2018

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

What was meant to be an innocuous, late-season notebook item in a season that was spiraling out of control proved to be so much more.

Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph has proven over the last few seasons that he's a player who benefits from playing more than once or twice a week, as evidenced by two strong seasons playing for and alongside Matt Wieters in 2014 and 2015.

When he slumped through 2016, he was playing sparingly. And in 2017, he got his career back on track in part because there was regular playing time around Welington Castillo's various injuries — until late in the season, when Castillo started playing everyday again and Joseph's production fell off.

So when I asked what was so different between one or two days off versus three, he spoke for nearly five minutes about how much it meant to be playing regularly and getting in a groove offensively and defensively was. The numbers proved that out over his four major league seasons.

All of which, two months later, is a long way of saying that if the Orioles move forward with Joseph and prospect Chance Sisco as their two catchers in 2018 now that Welington Castillo is gone, not having a true starting catcher will probably be a good thing.

Castillo's desire to test the free-agent market and play every day as opposed to in a platoon that may fit his heavy platoon splits means Joseph will likely get a chance for significant playing time as the Orioles build Sisco, 22, as a major league backstop.

Removing the veteran Castillo from the equation will allow manager Buck Showalter to use both players as effectively as possible — both for the Orioles' present and Sisco's development — in 2018.

Even though Sisco, a left-handed hitter, and Joseph, a right-handed bat, seem to fit tidily into a catching platoon and could easily just face opposite-side pitching all year, there will be more at play than that.

Joseph has held his own against right-handed pitching, too, but with a 105 wRC+ against lefties in 2017 against a 75 wRC+ against righties that proved more extreme than his near-even career numbers, he'll at least be better against lefties than Sisco. He has a career .248 average against lefties in the minors, which drops down to .218 in the last two years. He's hit right-handers well, though — and wouldn't be a career .311 minor-league hitter if he didn't.

The Orioles face a fair amount of left-handed pitching in the American League East, but giving Sisco the big half of the platoon in his rookie year as he continues to learn the intricacies of being a major leaguer would be aggressive, even as the club's public and private indications are that they're happy to go forward with him on the major league roster in 2018.

Here, Joseph's four major league season's worth of experience will help, as there will certainly be right-handed pitchers he's had success against previously that Showalter will be all too happy to use as an excuse to put him in the lineup.

Together, they may not hit for the power Castillo did. But getting Joseph's above-average pitch-framing behind the plate more often and getting Sisco under the regular tutelage of bench coach John Russell, while playing a fair but not overwhelming amount in the majors could benefit the Orioles. The team’s .791 OPS from the catcher position led the American League in 2017, and the Orioles might be able to get similar production from their backstops for a fraction of the price.

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