10 November 2017

Caleb Joseph Is The Favorite To Start Now, And That's More Than Fine

It's clear by now that the biggest concern for the Orioles roster is the lack of starting pitching options. If the O's don't do anything significant to fix the rotation, then maybe none of the rest of the roster issues really matter that much. Still, the O's could use a defensive outfielder and an upgrade at utility infielder, with maybe one or both hopefully being decent left-handed bats. They could also try to part ways with Mark Trumbo to create some lineup flexibility, but that won't be easy.

But even though Welington Castillo predictably declined his $7 million player option for 2018, catcher is not a position the O's really have to fret about. That's because they have Caleb Joseph.

Joseph doesn't have Castillo's prowess with the bat, but he's far from a disaster. Besides a disastrous, RBI-less 2016 campaign that included a painful injury that certain O's beat reporters were rarely hesitant to mention, Joseph has mostly been around the MLB average mark for catchers.

Caleb Joseph wRC+ (and MLB average wRC+ for catchers)
2014: 71 (93)
2015: 88 (85)
2016: 8 (87)
2017: 82 (89)
Data via FanGraphs

You might not be thrilled with that. But combined with what Joseph brings to the table defensively, a league average bat is more than acceptable.

By DRS data, Joseph has been a highly touted defender behind the plate in his four seasons (+32 from 2014-2017). He's been above average overall in terms of throwing out opposing baserunners, though he was below average last season (though, to be fair, he did have to catch nearly 30 more innings of Ubaldo Jimenez, who's notoriously slow to the plate and easier to steal off of). He's also been a strong pitch-caller and good at blocking pitches in the dirt.

FanGraphs does not use UZR to measure catcher defense and instead lists DRS data. And while DRS data does apparently factor in "handling of the pitching staff via things like pitch framing and pitch calling," it's not as well regarded as framing data at Baseball Prospectus. Here's how Joseph ranks in FRAA (framing runs above average):

Caleb Joseph framing runs above average
2014: 15.2 (7th)
2015: 10.8 (11th)
2016: 7.8 (13th)
2017: 13.1 (8th)
Data via Baseball Prospectus

He's not the best, but he's pretty good and is clearly above average when it comes to adding extra strikes for his battery mate.

Considering everything, it's not surprising that BP lists Joseph as being worth more in his four seasons (5.8 WARP) than Baseball-Reference (4.1 bWAR) and FanGraphs (1.7 fWAR). Even if pitch framing is becoming a skill that's more difficult to carry over from year to year, Joseph has stayed pretty consistent in his career. And if he's able to maintain that level of production the next few years, all the better.

In Joseph, the Orioles have a good pitch-framer with good enough throwing, blocking, and hitting skills who is under team control for three more seasons. He made $700,000 last season after losing to the O's in arbitration, and as a Super Two player, he still has three more arbitration years remaining.

The O's are likely to have a patchwork pitching staff next year and beyond, and it won't hurt to have someone behind the plate for 100 or so games to aid their hurlers a bit. And even if pitch framing is not something that's easy to teach, it couldn't hurt Chance Sisco's defensive development as the backup to hopefully learn something from Joseph. Maybe that's wishful thinking, and of course there's no way of knowing what exactly Sisco will offer in 2017 (surely more offensively than defensively), but a Joseph-Sisco tandem could be a good and interesting combination.


Pip said...

Caleb Joseph is one of my very favorite players, not just because of his rags to riches story, but because he's a very good catcher.
I do not know whether it is buck or Dan undervalues Joseph's contributions so much, but I really hope that Joseph is the main catcher next year

Pip said...

There's been a big debate over whether "catchers ERA" is a real thing.
Is it?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I don't think anything that just relies on ERA is all that convincing, but sure, it's part of the puzzle.

btwrestler119 said...

I’d like to see a catcher’s FIP

vilnius b. said...

You can't have an FIP for a catcher. FIP is an acronym for Fielder Independent Pitching.
In other words, it measures what a pitcher can do to control outcomes, such as K/9IP, BB/9IP, how many times he hits a batter (HBP) and how many home runs are allowed.
Since many teams have great disparities in how good their players in the field are defensively, it was necessary to have such a metric.

btw: I completely agree that Joseph should be our starter and that's one position that the Orioles need not be concerned about. If Joseph can teach some of his defensive skills to Sisco that would be a great bonus.

Jon Shepherd said...

What FIP means for a pitcher is not what it means for a catcher. Same thing is true for ERA.

There is nothing logically wrong with devising a catcher FIP, but it probably is as problematic as catcher ERA.

vilnius b. said...

Ok. I'm curious: how would you begin devising an FIP for a catcher? After all, a catcher is one of the most important defensive positions on the diamond.

The acronym would have to change, wouldn't it? And ERA for a catcher? What does he have to do with earned runs, other than passed balls or throwing errors?

Don't the metrics (pitch framing, DRS, Inside Edge stats, and Advanced Fielding stats provided by FanGraphs) pretty much cover the defensive value of a catcher?

Jon Shepherd said...

I do not think cFIP would add anything that other advanced metrics cover, but the rationale for cFIP is identical to cERA. There is no need to create anything incredibly new or come at it from a different way or even call it something different. FIP is from the perspective of a pitcher, stripping the defense behind him. It would simply change to being from the perspective of the guy catching.