21 July 2017

Caleb Joseph Has Recovered Nicely

At the plate, Caleb Joseph was about as bad as you could be last season. It was a painful year for him, and it's unknown exactly how much of an effect the injury had on his performance. So far this season, there are two noteworthy items for Joseph. First, he's healthy. And second, he's hitting extremely well for a backup catcher.

Joseph already has 21 more plate appearances than last year, so let's take a look at his 2016 vs. 2017:

2016: 141 PA, 6 wRC+, -0.9 fWAR
2017: 162 PA, 108 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR

Out of all catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, Joseph's 108 wRC+ is tied for 12th. Welington Castillo is 24th with a 91 wRC+. And, just for fun, Matt Wieters (71 wRC+) is tied for 40th out of 52.

Yes, as it's worth pointing out again, Joseph had a wRC+ of 6 last year. Six!!! And, notably, he didn't drive in a single run. It was an anomaly, it didn't make sense, and it was kind of funny (not to Joseph, of course).

So what's new for Joseph this year? Let's dig a little deeper. First, it's hard to ignore his BABIP increase of 164 points from last year to this year. Right now, Joseph has a BABIP of .385. You don't need me to tell you that isn't likely to stay so high. Still, if anyone was due some better fortune, it was probably Joseph. It also helps that he's hitting the ball harder (32.5 Hard% in 2017 vs. 21.7% in 2016).

And not only is Joseph hitting the ball harder, but he's pulling it more as well. Just take a look at his spray heatmaps in 2016 vs. 2017, courtesy of Baseball Savant:

Spray Heatmap for 2016

Spray Heatmap for 2017

That's less of an up-the-middle/opposite-field approach and a lot more pulled baseballs that are hit with increased authority.

Joseph has talked about having more confidence and putting in extra work, and things are going well for him right now. In all likelihood, with a BABIP regression, Joseph is closer to the range of 71-87 wRC+ he posted in 2014 and 2015. That may not be amazing, but when accounting for his pitch-framing skills, that makes a more-than-useful catcher, let alone one that's being used in a backup role. And, obviously, the dreadful 6 wRC+ season seems very much like a fluke.

Joseph is clearly the superior pitch-framer to Castillo, and he's currently performing better with the bat as well. Joseph's rebound has been one of the bright spots of a difficult O's season, and he's a major reason why the O's would be just fine if they're able to find a taker for Castillo and his 2018 player option (which may be no small feat).


davidmartin said...

I would like to get any feedback on this current stat for 2017: catchers ERA,, for caleb it is 4.30 and for castillo 5.85. sample size too small, or somewhat reflective of catching ability? thanks.

Jon Shepherd said...

Catcher ERA is problematic. Sample size is often terrible and there are issues about who catches who (i.e., representativeness). No one has really found a great way to measure it. Pitch framing takes us probably about halfway there. Pitch calling is difficult and is now heavily influenced by the coaching staff and front offices.

Pip said...

Excellent article, I enjoyed it very much. I'm a big Joseph fan.
When bleacher report did their position rankings, Joseph was 27th out of the top 30, and Castillo was 11th. At the time he was hitting well, but the article was an indication of how little too many people value catching defense.
Dan signed Castillo practically the day after he was non-tendered.
Instead of working quickly to get a pitcher-or pitchers- we did need, Dan signed a catcher we didn't really need, and there's a strong possibility that Castillo will decline his opt-out( regardless of what Dan calls it, that's what it is) and remain with the team for next year, forcing a much better catcher to remain the back up so that Dan does not look foolish.

Jon Shepherd said...

Caleb Joseph is widely considered as lacking the physicality to catch a full load. Catching often in the minor led to exhaustion and lost of performance behind the plate. As a backup, his legs and back are fresher and his defense improves dramatically. He is a great platoon partner, not because of hitting ability, but because he simply wears down.

Pip said...

Fair enough. I don't know what is the current breakdown, but Caleb probably deserves the bulk of the playing time.