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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 3-2 win over Boston

Posted on 03 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their third straight game in a 3-2 victory over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alec Asher bounced back from his last start in a major way, registering his second quality start against the Red Sox and validating Buck Showalter’s decision to give him the ball again despite a disastrous showing in Houston.

2. After setting a major league record for home runs in June last year, the Orioles have hit six long balls in the first two days of the new month with two in the first inning Friday. Giving Asher an early lead was critical after his last outing.

3. Manny Machado becoming the first hitter to reach the second deck at Camden Yards since Mark Reynolds in 2011 was an amazing feat, but I was impressed with him admitting that the mammoth blast messed up his approach for his remaining at-bats Friday. He’s slowly getting himself straightened out.

4. Asher didn’t pitch out of the stretch until the sixth inning. It’s easy to see that the Boston lineup isn’t firing on all cylinders right now, but that’s quite an accomplishment for a pitcher who began the season in the minors.

5. His stuff doesn’t scare anyone, but Asher effectively commanded his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, throwing those two pitches 68 percent of the time and inducing plenty of weak contact throughout the night.

6. Hyun Soo Kim delivered the eventual game-winning RBI double in the fourth inning on an 0-2 pitch from Rick Porcello. The emergence of Trey Mancini has understandably diminished Kim’s role, but I’d still like to see his name in the lineup more frequently.

7. The Orioles missed a golden opportunity to add to their lead in the sixth inning when they had runners at the corners with one out. You’d really like to squeeze across one run there in a close game.

8. Despite Asher throwing more pitches in an outing than he had in a month, I didn’t have a problem with him starting the seventh. Showalter was wise to pull him when he did, however, and admitted after the game that he let him go a little longer than he intended.

9. Caleb Joseph throwing out Jackie Bradley Jr. attempting to steal to end the seventh inning was a big play, especially when you consider that the Boston center fielder had been caught stealing only two other times in his major league career.

10. There was much angst about Darren O’Day at the beginning of the season, but he’s now struck out 20 batters over his last 11 innings of work dating back to May 5. I’d say he’s put the rough start behind him.

11. Brad Brach has now converted all three of his save opportunities and has pitched five scoreless frames since his blown save at Detroit on May 16. Regardless of what happens with Zach Britton in the coming weeks, that’s an encouraging development.

12. Many were ready to give up on the Orioles just five days ago after they had lost 13 of 16 games, but they improved to a superb 21-11 against the American League East on Friday. Some home cooking and familiar opponents were just what they needed apparently.

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Orioles lose Castillo to disabled list with testicular injury

Posted on 31 May 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles have placed starting catcher Welington Castillo on the 10-day disabled list with a testicular injury after he took a foul ball to the groin in Tuesday’s loss to the New York Yankees.

Castillo remained in the game and returned to the clubhouse on Wednesday, but he went to the emergency room after Tuesday’s game and would not have been available for at least a couple days, requiring the Orioles to make a move to add a second catcher behind Caleb Joseph. Castillo’s injury occurred exactly one year after Joseph took a foul ball to the groin that required emergency testicular surgery.

Fortunately, Castillo isn’t dealing with an injury as severe.

“He’s got a hematoma there in his groin that we’re going to monitor and see how it progresses,” manager Buck Showalter said prior to the move being announced. “We wouldn’t use him tonight to catch. We’re trying to decide whether we’ll DL him or not, so we’ve got the possibilities in place. We’ll make a decision shortly.”

After being designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk earlier this month, Francisco Pena was promoted to take Castillo’s spot on the 25-man roster. Showalter acknowledged that the Orioles might have been able to hold off on making a roster move with Castillo had emergency catcher and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty not currently been on the DL with a right shoulder strain.

Pena took the open spot on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.

In addition to missing Castillo’s work behind the plate, the Orioles will now be without one of their best hitters so far this season as the offense enters Wednesday ranked 20th in the majors in runs scored per game. Castillo is hitting a club-best .317 with four home runs, 17 runs batted in, and an .805 on-base plus slugging percentage despite having missed the first two weeks of May with right shoulder tendinitis.

In other injury-related news, center fielder Adam Jones returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing four straight games with ankle and hip soreness.

The Orioles recalled right-handed pitcher Mike Wright and optioned right-hander Logan Verrett to Triple-A Norfolk to give themselves a fresh arm for the series finale against the Yankees.

Major League Baseball also announced that Orioles minor-league infielder — and former major leaguer — Robert Andino has been suspended 50 games for testing positive for amphetamines. He has been playing for Norfolk this season, hitting .234 with six home runs and 23 RBIs.

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Orioles offense not making life easier for undermanned bullpen

Posted on 13 May 2017 by Luke Jones

We knew life wouldn’t be easy for the Orioles bullpen with two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton back on the disabled list.

But the sight of recently-recalled long reliever Vidal Nuno pitching in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game in Kansas City on Friday — the night after a rainout, no less — was jarring, and the result was predictable as he allowed the go-ahead run to score. The immediate reaction was to criticize the Orioles’ insistence on carrying a five-man bench in lieu of the seven-man bullpen that’s become standard in today’s game. The sentiment is more than fair when manager Buck Showalter regularly has just three or four relievers available on a given night with designs of keeping the bullpen healthy for the long haul.

Is the problem a lack of quantity or quality in the bullpen, however?

Sure, the Orioles could option Joey Rickard to the minor leagues, designate veteran Craig Gentry for assignment, or even look to trade the buried Hyun Soo Kim to open a roster spot for an additional bullpen arm. But does that merely open the door for another long reliever in the bullpen that Showalter can’t trust in close games or can the club find someone — at least in the mold of a Tommy Hunter or a Chaz Roe circa 2015 — that can be mostly trusted in the sixth, seventh, or occasionally the eighth inning? Perhaps that answer can become an Alec Asher or even a Norfolk reliever such as Stefan Crichton or Jimmy Yacabonis in the near future.

There’s another solution, however, that would help the Orioles as Britton continues to recover in Sarasota and Brad Brach and Darren O’Day try to regain their previous dominant forms of recent seasons.

The offense needs to pick it up.

The Orioles entered Saturday just 21st in the majors in runs scored per game (4.4) and have scored the fewest per game of the top 10 major league clubs in winning percentage. Known for the long ball, Baltimore ranks only 13th of 30 clubs in home runs so far in 2017.

They haven’t played an extraordinary number of one-run games –Baltimore does own a superb 8-3 record in that department — but the Orioles lead the majors with 21 save opportunities and just four of their 22 victories have come by more than three runs. In contrast, 11 of the New York Yankees’ 21 wins have been by a margin of four or more. In other words, the Orioles have needed to lean heavily on their best bullpen arms despite Britton now being absent for the better part of a month. Even when they’ve been successful in those tight games, there’s a price to pay for at least the next game or two after that.

Showalter wouldn’t have to worry about the availability of Brach or O’Day as frequently if his offense could provide more breathing room from time to time. Drop-off from the bullpen was inevitable with Britton on the shelf, but the Orioles lineup hasn’t really been at less than full strength beyond the current absence of catcher Welington Castillo, who has been more than adequately replaced by backup Caleb Joseph for the time being.

Now more than a fifth of the way through the season, the major league home run leaders from the last two years — Chris Davis (2015) and Mark Trumbo (2016) — entered Saturday with slugging percentages lower than Joseph’s and have hit a combined eight home runs. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has provided a timely hit or two, but his .534 on-base plus slugging percentage was the seventh worst among qualified major league hitters.

Is it more realistic to expect a collection of relievers on the Norfolk shuttle to start pitching like legitimate late-inning arms or to ask the offense to produce at a higher level to ease the relief burden? The Orioles will need some combination of both to continue playing at a high level in Britton’s absence, but the roster was built in the offseason with the vision of having an above-average offense that would hit a ton of homers.

Despite their overall success so far in 2017, the Orioles continue to wait for their lineup to fully awaken.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-4 win over Washington

Posted on 09 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles winning their season-best fifth game in a row in a 6-4 victory over the Washington Nationals, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With the recent challenges for his pitching staff, Buck Showalter wanted to see Kevin Gausman go deep into the game and couldn’t have asked for much more against the best statistical offense in the major leagues. This was the Gausman we saw over the final two months of 2016.

2. Gausman had his best fastball command of the season, especially over his first four innings as 41 of his first 53 pitches were fastballs. He had some difficulty with it leaking to his arm side after that, but he finished strong with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

3. His seven innings, 116 pitches, and eight strikeouts were season highs, but the most encouraging statistic was only one walk issued. His 5.2 walks per nine innings over his first seven starts were unseemly for a pitcher who rarely had control issues over his first four seasons.

4. After hearing about how potent the Washington offense has been so far, the Orioles hit three home runs in the first to remind us of their firepower. Staking any pitcher to a 4-0 lead is a plus, but it meant more for one who’s struggled over the first five weeks.

5. Mark Trumbo would be the first to tell you that the result didn’t stem from a conventional approach or pitch location, but his first-inning tomahawk shot was nothing short of amazing to watch.

6. Caleb Joseph collected his first four-hit game since Aug. 31, 2014 and his fourth RBI of the season. Regular playing time has certainly helped his cause with Welington Castillo on the disabled list, but he’s beginning to show respectable offense more in line with what he did in 2015.

7. I can’t help but wonder if having Joseph behind the plate is a positive for Gausman right now. It’s not a knock on Castillo, but someone with more familiarity catching the struggling young pitcher might have been just what he needed to get back on track.

8. Gio Gonzalez entered Monday with the best ERA (1.64) among qualified NL starters, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him against the Orioles. The six earned runs and three homers surrendered by the Washington lefty were one shy of his season totals in each category.

9. Of course Trey Mancini was going to hit a long home run on his T-shirt giveaway night at Camden Yards. His production continues to be critical with Trumbo and Chris Davis not providing their usual power in the middle of the order so far.

10. Brad Brach turned in a shaky ninth inning, but he still converted his eighth save in nine chances. Before panicking too much, remember he’s filling in for a closer who was in the midst of a historic stretch. That’s an unfair standard for someone still adjusting to a new role.

11. Even if you’re not familiar with the TOOTBLAN acronym, you won’t see worse baserunning than what the Nationals exhibited in the ninth inning to bail out a pitcher on the ropes. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, right?

12. Matt Wieters received the great reception that he deserved in his return. A video tribute in the first and a standing ovation for his first at-bat were perfect. He never became the next Johnny Bench, but he helped leave the Orioles much better off than they were when he arrived.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 win over Boston

Posted on 02 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles opening a four-game road series with a 5-2 win over Boston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. He was a hated man at Fenway Park after the recent drama with the Red Sox, but Manny Machado reminded us why he’s one of the game’s best players with a monster home run and several defensive plays that were terrific even by his standards. Don’t make him angry.

2. Dylan Bundy quelled recent concerns about his velocity by averaging 91.6 miles per hour with his fastball and turning in his sixth straight quality start. You know you’re off to a terrific start to 2017 when you allow two runs over seven innings and your season ERA increases to 1.82.

3. Despite matching a career high with four walks, Bundy did a superb job pitching out of jams by inducing two double plays and taking a shutout into the eighth. The free passes appear to be contagious, however, as Orioles pitching entered Monday with the highest walk rate in the majors.

4. I was genuinely surprised to see Bundy back on the mound to start the eighth after 99 pitches and with no one warming in the bullpen. Is it really a good idea for him to be throwing a career-high 111 pitches five days after his velocity was markedly down?

5. It was disturbing to learn what Adam Jones had to face on Monday night, making his performance in center field that much more impressive as he made a terrific catch to end a problematic eighth inning and added another nifty grab in the ninth.

6. Trying to protect a slim lead, Bundy didn’t appear to be in a spot to plunk Mookie Betts on purpose, but the optics were shaky after coming inside two pitches earlier. Either way, I’m sick of this saga that started with a slide not even considered malicious by the victim.

7. It’s laughable for anyone in Boston to take offense to Machado’s trot around the bases on his sixth-inning blast considering the retired David Ortiz just now reached home plate on the final home run of his career clubbed last September.

8. After collecting his first RBIs since Sept. 11, 2015 on Saturday, Caleb Joseph picked up an RBI in his second straight start with a double in the fifth. He’s a machine!

9. As if the Red Sox defense wasn’t bad enough, Hanley Ramirez rushing into second as Andrew Benintendi was standing on that very base was a bold strategy in the eighth. The Orioles took full advantage of the Boston ineptitude late in the game.

10. Chris Davis striking out three times isn’t exactly unusual, but I continue to be amazed by how many called strike threes he continues to take. He struck out looking twice and has already done it 17 times this year after shattering a career high with 79 last year.

11. Brad Brach provided an uneventful ninth inning to secure his fifth save and final opportunity before Zach Britton is activated on Tuesday. That was a pleasant change after what went down on both Friday and Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

12. Hyun Soo Kim sat in favor of Ryan Flaherty’s small-sample success against Rick Porcello. With two lefties and knuckleballer Steven Wright starting the next three games, Kim will likely sit more. There sure seem to be a lot of reasons not to play a .302 hitter from a year ago.

(Update: The Red Sox announced after Monday’s game that Wright would be going to the 10-day disabled list with a knee injury.)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay

Posted on 26 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being shut out for the first time this season in a 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles lineup couldn’t even create opportunities with just two hits and three runners reaching scoring position — two in the second inning — over the course of a damp night. The Rays retired 18 of the final 19 Baltimore hitters.

2. Failing to score runs or collect hits is one thing, but the Orioles hit only four balls out of the infield in the entire game. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

3. You couldn’t have asked for much better from Wade Miley, who allowed two runs over seven innings to register his third straight quality start. He won’t sustain his 2.08 ERA, but Miley regaining the form of his early years in Arizona would go a long way in helping Baltimore contend.

4. For the second time in four starts, the walk was Miley’s Achilles heel as he walked six with both runs originating as free passes. For a pitcher with a career walk rate of 2.8 per nine innings, it’s strange to have outings of seven and six walks already this season.

5. After Ubaldo Jimenez gave the Orioles only 3 1/3 innings on Monday, Miley throwing 116 pitches over seven innings was a bulldog effort to spare the bullpen. He’s averaging 6.5 innings per start so far in 2017.

6. It doesn’t excuse the punchless bats, but Rays manager Kevin Cash scratching scheduled starter Erasmo Ramirez 20 minutes before first pitch because of “uncertain weather conditions” was unusual since there was very little rain until late in the game. I’m guessing that didn’t sit too well with the Orioles.

7. Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo are hovering at the Mendoza line, but the former can chalk up some of that to bad luck as he’s hit a number of balls hard with little to show for it. The same can’t be said for Trumbo, who hasn’t homered since Opening Day.

8. Chris Davis struck out looking for the 14th time this year, which is more than his 13 swinging strikeouts. With him going down looking a career-high 79 times last year, it’s becoming apparent that the first baseman needs to be more aggressive with two strikes.

9. Caleb Joseph had another opportunity to collect his first RBI since 2015 with runners on second and third and two outs in the second, but he struck out looking. He continues to do a good job defensively, but the RBI drought has to be torturing his mind at this point.

10. Darren O’Day turned in his fifth consecutive scoreless appearance and is really quelling the concerns stemming from his poor outings over the first week of the season.

11. The Rays turning Tuesday into a bullpen game worked beautifully, but seeing Cash change pitchers with two outs in the fourth and no serious scoring threat fetched more than a few eye rolls in the crowd and the press box on a less-than-ideal night at Camden Yards.

12. The next few days will be big for Zach Britton and Chris Tillman. Britton will complete a bullpen session on Wednesday and may have a rehab outing on Friday. Tillman is scheduled for a 75-pitch outing for Single-A Frederick on Thursday. If all goes well, both could return very soon.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-3 loss to Yankees

Posted on 09 April 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles suffering their first loss of the season in a 7-3 final against the New York Yankees, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Baltimore pitching staff tested its fate throughout the afternoon by walking a total of 11 batters before the floodgates finally opened in the ninth inning. Frankly, the Orioles were fortunate to even have a chance to win with that kind of pitching performance.

2. Darren O’Day getting off to a poor start is concerning after an injury-plagued 2016 season that included hamstring and shoulder ailments. He walked three and gave up four earned runs in the ninth inning and has now issued five free passes in his first two innings of 2017.

3. You won’t find many starts stranger than what Wade Miley offered as he matched a career high with seven walks while giving up one hit in five scoreless innings. For a guy with a career walk rate of 2.8 per nine innings, you don’t expect control problems like that.

4. Even with those optics, I’d guess most fans would have gladly taken five scoreless frames from the inconsistent left-hander. Of course, it didn’t help that Ubaldo Jimenez and Kevin Gausman had short outings the previous two nights.

5. You knew the Orioles wouldn’t have their full bullpen Sunday after closer Zach Britton and setup man Brad Brach had pitched four times in the previous six days. Buck Showalter confirmed after the game that those two as well as Oliver Drake were not available for the series finale.

6. Of course, the offense didn’t help matters by managing only three runs before the final 14 Baltimore hitters were retired in the defeat. With Miley on the hill and a short bullpen behind him, the Orioles had to figure they’d need plenty of runs to stay undefeated on Sunday.

7. Tyler Wilson snapped the bullpen’s streak of 17 1/3 scoreless innings to begin the season by giving up a two-run triple to Ronald Torreyes in the sixth. Showalter leaned heavily on his pen to secure the first four wins, but it will catch up to you, especially without much offense.

8. It was good to see Mychal Givens get a key out against lefty-swinging Chase Headley to end the seventh, but he blew his second save by giving up the game-tying home run to right-handed bat Aaron Judge in the eighth. My main concern with Givens is still getting out lefties.

9. The Orioles haven’t seen a ton of Matt Holliday as he’s mostly played in the National League, but the new Yankees designated hitter capped off an impressive weekend by drawing a career-high five walks. The 37-year-old remains a dangerous hitter.

10. Caleb Joseph had a chance to end his long RBI drought, but he grounded out with runners at second and third in the second. He showed in 2014 and 2015 that he can be a good backup catcher, so I’m rooting for him to get through this embarrassing spell.

11. There had to be plenty of groaning in both dugouts after the clubs combined for just two runs despite 13 hitters reaching base over the first three innings. This one was hardly a classic.

12. Some uneasiness about O’Day’s performance is fair after Sunday’s defeat, but the Orioles still finished off a 4-1 homestand to begin the season. The irrational dream of a 162-0 season is over, but you’ll gladly take that kind of a week against two AL East foes.

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2017 Orioles preview: Caleb Joseph

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman
March 3 – Adam Jones
March 4 – Darren O’Day
March 5 – Seth Smith
March 6 – Mike Wright

C Caleb Joseph

Opening Day age: 30

Contract status: Under club control through the 2020 season

2016 stats: .174/.216/.197, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 7 R, 0 SB, 141 PA

Why to be impressed: His extreme struggles at the plate aside, Joseph remained an above-average defensive catcher as he was worth two defensive runs saved and threw out 31 percent of runners attempting to steal. He also remained an asset as a pitch framer and was valued at 2.7 runs above average in that department, according to Stat Corner.

Why to be concerned: Joseph set a major league record for most plate appearances without an RBI in a season, an alarming development hastened by a testicular injury that required surgery and sidelined him for more than a month. His career 7.3 percent extra-base hit rate entering 2016 plummeted to 2.1 percent in 2016 and his contact rate dropped by more than two percent from his first two seasons.

2017 outlook: It’s easy to bury Joseph after a historically-inept season, but his .660 on-base plus slugging percentage over his first 630 major league plate appearances is a reasonable sample suggesting that he can be a solid backup. With a healthy spring and improved luck from his .221 batting average on balls in play in 2016, Joseph should return to being an acceptable reserve with above-average defensive skills.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .222/.280/.360, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 191 PA

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Castillo under microscope as new Orioles catcher

Posted on 17 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles weren’t wrong to move on from Matt Wieters when they signed new catcher Welington Castillo to a one-year, $6 million contract with a $7 million player option for 2018 in December.

If they truly believe Chance Sisco is their catcher of the future, it would have made little sense to commit big money and multiple years to Wieters after they were stuck paying him the $15.8 million qualifying offer amount last season. And even with the veteran backstop still dangling on the open market in mid-February, the thought of the Orioles possibly playing the waiting game for a starting catcher this late into the offseason just wouldn’t have made sense. Wieters clearly wasn’t signing a short-term deal in mid-December like Castillo did.

Despite agent Scott Boras’ best efforts to create a market for his client, the idea of Wieters has always been better than the real product, which began with the unfair amount of hype he received before ever stepping foot in the majors. It’s dangerous investing in a 30-year-old catcher who’s already had an incredible workload behind the plate and has seen his offense decline over the last five years. For all of the praise for Wieters’ handling of a pitching staff, his pitch-framing numbers are below average and the Buck Showalter-era Orioles pitched at their best in 2014 when he missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery, making you question the true value of those intangibles.

Since being worth 3.5 wins above replacement in the 2012 season, Wieters has been valued at a total of 3.9 WAR in 373 games since the start of 2013.

Of course, none of this will prevent Castillo from being under the microscope this season as he replaces a four-time All-Star selection who was popular in the clubhouse.

Castillo has the edge over Wieters offensively over the last two seasons with a .747 on-base plus slugging percentage compared to the latter’s .723. He’s also a year younger and hasn’t logged nearly as many innings behind the plate in his major league career. Castillo is unlikely to hit in the heart of the order, but his offense shouldn’t be an issue, either.

But there are fair concerns about a catcher now with his fourth major league club since the start of 2015.

You can understand Castillo’s desire to play for his country in the World Baseball Classic, but the Dominican native forgoing the opportunity to better familiarize himself with a new pitching staff can’t sit too well with the organization privately. Whether he’s on the same page with Orioles pitchers early in the season will be something to monitor.

Castillo improved in the pitch-framing department last season — finishing better than Wieters — but he was one of the five worst catchers in the majors over the previous three years, according to StatCorner.com. He worked on this part of his game with former major league catcher Jose Molina — one of the best framers in baseball throughout his career — in the offseason, but spending more time in Sarasota reinforcing these “presentation” principles with bench coach John Russell and projected backup and above-average framer Caleb Joseph would be preferable to playing in the competitive environment of the WBC next month.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound catcher threw out an impressive 38 percent of runners attempting to steal last year, but his 10 passed balls tied for the National League lead. In contrast, Wieters threw out 35 percent and had just one passed ball in 65 more innings behind the plate.

These concerns aren’t secrets, evident by Arizona’s decision not to tender Castillo a contract after a 2.4 WAR season. The Orioles know they signed a catcher with imperfections, but those flaws aren’t terribly different from the more acclaimed catcher who was seeking a much bigger payday.

The Orioles made the right decision to move on from Wieters, but it will be up to Castillo to show they chose the right replacement.

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Looking at Davis’ 2016 season, outfield defense, Orioles catching

Posted on 10 February 2017 by Luke Jones

When discussing the “three true outcomes” in hitting, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is one of the most extreme examples you’ll ever find.

Having struck out, walked, or homered in more than half of his plate appearances over the last two seasons, Davis can be frustrating to watch despite having good value, evident by the peaks and valleys of his performance over the last five years. His 2016 season wasn’t his finest but it was markedly better than his nightmare 2014 campaign that ended with a 25-game suspension for taking unapproved Adderall.

Looking beyond his unimpressive .221 batting average last season, Davis still clubbed 38 home runs and posted a strong .332 on-base percentage with a .792 on-base plus slugging percentage. It wasn’t the season he or the Orioles had in mind after agreeing to a seven-year, $161 million contract last winter, but Davis was still worth 3.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

It also wasn’t a secret that Davis was playing with a sore left hand for much of the season, and the 30-year-old clarified last month that he suffered a dislocated left thumb in late April. Missing just five games all season, the first baseman played through discomfort, citing his defensive contributions as a reason for not wanting to miss extensive time to rest the thumb.

“I was hoping there was no lasting effect, and it feels good,” said Davis at FanFest last month. “I really didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on my swing until I took some cuts this offseason. It’s nice to have two hands to hit with again.”

Of course, determining how much a bad thumb might have impacted Davis’ performance isn’t easy, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize a hitter’s top hand is probably important. So, was there anything dramatically different about the slugger’s peripherals compared to previous years?

His 32.9 percent strikeout rate was just below his career-worst mark of 33.0 percent in 2014, but he still struck out 31.0 percent of the time in his strong 2015 season. His 65.7 percent contact rate was also a career low compared to his 67.6 percent career mark, but Davis struggling a bit more to make contact isn’t exactly news.

He posted a career-high 13.2 percent walk rate, continuing his streak of improving in that department every year since arriving in Baltimore in 2011. Still, a 0.7 percent increase from 2015 hardly raises eyebrows.

Where we start to see notable change was a dramatic decline in Davis’ pull and line-drive rates. After hitting the ball to right field well over 50 percent of the time the previous two seasons, Davis pulled the ball just 41.7 percent of the time last year. And just 19.8 percent of the balls he put in play were line drives, down from his 22.9 percentage for his career.

Davis’ plate discipline also changed substantially as he swung at just 42.7 percent of pitches, easily a career low compared to his 49.4 percent career mark. Seventy-nine of his 219 strikeouts were on called strike threes, which shattered his previous single-season high of 56.

In other words, these numbers reflect a hitter struggling to turn on pitches and more reluctant than normal to swing the bat. Sure, it could be the start of a decline for a power hitter suddenly trying to overcompensate by attempting to draw more walks, but those numbers would also reflect a batter dealing with a hand issue and possibly trying to pick his spots to swing the bat with authority.

Maybe the truth falls somewhere in the middle — we are talking about a streaky performer anyway — but the batted-ball data and noticeable change in aggressiveness support the idea that something in 2016 was out of whack beyond Davis merely getting a year older.

Outfield defense

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, center fielder Adam Jones drew some criticism for his comments about Baltimore’s outfield defense, but he wasn’t wrong.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette stated last October that improving the club’s outfield defense was a top priority, but the addition of the 34-year-old Seth Smith — who is at least a better right fielder than Mark Trumbo — hardly quells concerns. The Orioles outfield finished last in the major leagues at minus-52 defensive runs saved in 2016.

With Jones now 31 and dealing with an array of nagging injuries over the last two seasons, the Orioles should really be making life easier for him in the outfield while pondering his long-term viability in center. Though never as good of a center fielder as Jones, Andrew McCutchen, 30, recently agreed to move to right field for Pittsburgh, a move made easier by the presence of Gold Glove teammate Starling Marte.

Instead, Jones is working harder than ever to cover up for too many plodders in the outfield.

A chance for Chance

With projected starter Welington Castillo playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and backup Francisco Pena being designated for assignment on Friday, catching prospect Chance Sisco could reap the benefits of more extensive action this spring.

Manager Buck Showalter probably isn’t thrilled about Castillo being away from the club instead of getting better acquainted with pitchers in his first spring with the Orioles, but Sisco is considered the catcher of the future and would surely benefit from more opportunities in the Grapefruit League. Duquette has openly discussed the possibility of Sisco being ready to contribute in the majors at some point during the 2017 season.

A good spring would seemingly expedite that process.

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