A tale of two seasons for Orioles catchers

The catcher position is historically one that does not produce much offense. Of course, there are always exceptions, but generally speaking, teams are happy if they get modest offense from their catchers.

For a good portion of the shortened 2020 season, the Orioles had to be delighted with the offense coming from their catchers. They used three players at the position with Pedro Severino making 32 starts, Chance Sisco 22 and Bryan Holaday six.

In late August, the O’s catching trio was producing big offense when you combined their stats. Through Aug. 24, the catchers produced a line of .274/.378/.526 with an OPS of .905. In batting average, Baltimore catchers rated second in the American League and fifth in the majors. In OBP they were second in the AL and third in the majors. They were first in the league in slugging and third in the majors, and in OPS they rated second and fourth.

That was impressive offensive output at a position that doesn’t always produce such.

But the Orioles catchers then hit a wall, a huge one. The falloff was dramatic.

Here is a look at their final combined numbers:

* Batting average was .222 (seventh in AL, 18th in majors)
* OBP was .321 (seventh in AL and 12th in majors)
* Slugging was .362 (ninth in the AL and 17th in majors)
* OPS was .683 (eight in the AL and 14th in majors)

So the numbers still put the Orioles mostly in the middle of the pack in both the AL and the majors, but they were looking so much better just weeks earlier. What exactly went wrong?

Severino-Celebrates-HR-Sidebar.jpgSeverino was chasing pitches and expanding the zone often and Sisco did some of the same. The late-season slump of O’s catchers even caught up to No. 3 man Holaday, who went 0-for-14 in September.

In one respect, we may have simply seen some expected regression from Severino and Sisco at the plate after their hot starts. Both finished the year with numbers very similar to what they posted for the full year in 2019.

This season, Severino hit .250/.322/.388/.710 in 178 plate appearances. In 2019, in 341 plate appearances, he batted .249/.321/.420/.740. Severino posted an OPS+ of 95 each year.

But his late slump was a big one. In the season’s first 24 games, he batted .333/.413/.568/.981 with five homers and 20 RBIs. In his last 24 games, he hit .165/.224/.203/.426 with no homers and one RBI. He hit .157 in September, was 1-for-28 in his last eight games and 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position his last 21 games.

Here are Sisco’s numbers the last two years:
* 2019 - .210/.333/.395/.729
* 2020 - .214/.364/.378/.741

He produced an OPS+ of 94 in 2019 and 105 in 2020, which is just above the league average of 100. His career OPS is .691 and that produces an 89 OPS+.

If those are not enough numbers to process, here are more. How the catchers rated in team won-loss record with them back there, the catcher ERA when they were behind the plate and the caught stealing percentage for each.

* Holiday: 3-3 record, 3.20 ERA and 50 percent caught stealing (1-for-2).
* Severino: 15-17 record, 3.89 ERA and 25 percent caught stealing (3-for-12).
* Sisco: 7-15 record, 5.87 ERA and 19 percent caught stealing (3-for-16).

If was just a brutal end to the year for Sisco and Severino. They were pushing to get hits to salvage their seasons and it kept spiraling downward for both. Their defense was not good at times with some glaring miscues.

But there are also aspects the club has liked about this pair. At several points this season, manager Brandon Hyde praised the O’s catchers for executing the pitching game plan. For taking a massive amount of data via analytics and then using their pitchers’ strengths while also exploiting opponents’ weaknesses. In addition to that, he praised their ability to make in-game adjustments to help pitchers.

In an Aug. 20 Zoom interview with reporters, O’s catching instructor Tim Cossins said his catchers were excelling in this area.

“The process has evolved quite a bit since last year,” said Cossins. “We built some internal things that are really helping. There is a new process in place, they are taking to it and it’s really economized everything for these players. So they’re doing a great job of absorbing information and commanding the game as well as manage their pitching staff. Things are coming into focus for both those guys. They’re in a great spot and it’s fun to watch. Fun to be on the bench and listen to the dialogue as we go through these games and watch them grow in those areas.”

Right now, it doesn’t look like the O’s have any catchers at the higher levels of the minors forcing their way onto the team. It’s too soon for Adley Rutschman. So these two or three catchers could all return, although Holaday is a free agent.

Severino is eligible for arbitration for the first time, while Sisco is still not eligible for arbitration. Last year, the O’s agreed with infielder Hanser Alberto, who was eligible for arbitration for the first time, on a contract of $1.65 million for 2020. Severino could be in line for a similar bump.

Will the O’s put more weight on the beginning or end of the year for their catchers? Do they bring the same players back in 2021?

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