Much has been made of the Kansas City Royals propensity to steal bases. They led all of Major League Baseball with 153 swipes during the regular season. Then, they thrilled everyone, apart from the Oakland Athletics, with their six-steal night in the Wild Card Game. And to top it all off, they went five-for-five on stolen base attempts in their sweep of the Los Angeles Angels in their part of the American League Division Series.
Over seven games against the Orioles in 2014, the Royals were five-for-five in swiping bags. One of them was off of Matt Wieters and two were taken against Steve Clevenger. Those two men will likely not be a part of this ALCS apart from cheering on the bench. However, they were two-for-two against Caleb Joseph on May 17 when he caught Bud Norris in a 1-0 Orioles loss.
Joseph and the veteran Nick Hundley will be the two handling the catching duties in this series. It is likely that each of them will start at least one game and may have an even split of the workload, but should it be that way?
These two have both been off and on with the lumber. OK, mostly off. Many times, manager Buck Showalter has said that he would go with "the hot hand", whoever is playing better at that time.
Joseph had his streak at the peak of the summer. He hit .271 in July with a home run and two doubles. He got even hotter as the temperature increased, hitting .317 in August with three doubles, five home runs and 12 RBI and an OBP of .348. All of his long balls in August came in consecutive games.
But September was rough for the rookie. He hit just .080 in the month and finished the season on an 0-for-30 skid. On top of that, he was 0-for-3 in his start against Detroit in game two of the ALDS. For the season, the 28-year-old slashed .207/.264/.354 with nine home runs and 28 RBI after being called up in early May.
Hundley was a bit more consistent and also had a nice August, hitting .314 with one double and one home run. He never slumped as badly as Joseph did. In the 50 games he played in since being traded to Baltimore at the end of May, Hundley slashed .233/.273/.352 with five home runs, four doubles and 19 RBI.
In the ALDS against the Tigers, Hundley made two starts and played in all three games. He went 0-for-8 with an RBI, which came in the offensive outburst of game one.
Neither one has drastic splits, hitting similarly against righties and southpaws.
Edge: Give it to Hundley. Neither is all that great. Joseph is probably the more dangerous one, but he has gone ice cold.
Defense (Hundley's numbers include time with San Diego)
During the season, Joseph was easily the superior defender. He threw out 23 of 57 would-be base-stealers. That's good for a 40.4 percent throw-out rate. Hundley has caught just 5 of 36 baserunners. That is only 13.9 percent. Yucky! Just so you know, league average is right around 27 percent.
From this, Fangraphs has determined that Joseph has saved the Orioles five runs from his ability to throw out runners, which is really good. Hundley has cost the Birds three runs that way, which is really not good. Overall, through their total abilities in the field, their defensive runs saved, Joseph has added eight runs and Hundley has lost four.
This is starting to pile up pretty heavily in Joseph's favor.
In 508 innings catching, Hundley has had a .996 fielding percentage with four passed balls. Joseph caught 672.2 innings and had seven balls squeeze by him and carries a .993 fielding percentage. Hey! Hundley is maybe a little bit better there. You go, Nick!
Baseball Reference has rewarded Joseph with a 1.5 defensive WAR, while Hundley is perfectly replaceable in the field; he has a dWAR of 0.0.
Edge: Come on, it's Joseph. He is better in almost all facets of fielding.
Handling the Pitching Staff
Before you say it, I realize that catcher's ERA has some serious flaws to it. That said, it is another statistic that can be presented for discussion.
Of all the players that caught a single inning this year, Joseph ranks 11th in the MLB with a 3.03 CERA. Ahead of him are five men who played in less than 10 games this season.
Hundley is down at 38th with a CERA of 3.54. Both are ahead of their predecessor, Wieters, who posted a CERA of 3.93 in his injury-shortened campaign.
The other aspect that really helps pitchers can be pitch framing. This part of baseball is one of those things that still isn't fully understood. Does it really depend on the catcher or the umpire? Maybe the pitcher does something himself. He should get the credit. For our purposes, we are gonna hand it to the backstops.
A website called StatCorner tries to quantify just how important pitch framing is by using the number of balls caught out of the "strike zone" that are called "strikes" as well as vice versa for strikes caught that are called "balls" where zero is the average. It is all very complicated but that seems to be the gist of it.
Anyway, it tells us that Joseph is one of the better framers in the league, giving the Orioles 10.7 runs above average in 2014. Hundley costs the team 2.4 runs. Once again, Joseph is better with the leather and appears to be helping his pitchers in a big way.
Edge: Joseph, but this is a category that still has a long way to go in terms are concrete data.
All season the two have gone back and forth, usually starting no more than three games in a row before the other one took his turn. It has worked for the club and has been a part of what has gotten them to this point. They even did it in the ALDS.
But this series strongly lends itself to Joseph's talents. He has been a premier catch-and-throw guy this season. The Royals steal more bases than any team on the planet and do so up and down the order. It isn't just one guy that you have to really bare down on and get out. It's all of them.
The Orioles offense has been producing just fine in the playoffs without any real contribution from the catchers. So, go with the one who can play some defense. Start Caleb!
How do you think the Orioles should handle the catching situation in the ALCS? Be sure to vote and explain in the comments down below. Or, give me a shout on Twitter @_TyYoung or follow the entire blog @CamdenChat.