Matt Wieters is finally slated to rejoin the Orioles nearly a year after he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. With Wieters all set to return Thursday or Friday, Caleb Joseph will be pushed into the backup catcher role. Joseph has had a great start to the year in the batters' box and in the field. He has shown himself as a more than capable catcher. So with Wieters return, the Orioles could stand to lose something. Wieters has had a year off from major league baseball and in all likelihood will struggle early on in his return.
However, Wieters has been on a every other day schedule in his rehab assignment and the team has said that arrangement may continue for some time until Wieters' elbow is completely rehabilitated. This would allow both players to get a days rest in between starts behind the plate. Furthermore, Wieters could be the designated hitter on his off days, especially against left handed pitchers who he has .830 OPS against in his career. This arrangement gives Wieters rest days for his elbow and at bats against major league pitching to rehabilitate his bat. While that does take the bat out of Jimmy Paredes' hands some days, he could use a breather after struggling through the weekend and having a mere .538 OPS against left handed pitchers this year.
Left in all of this is Caleb Joseph, who has done a more than admirable job filling in for Wieters over the past calendar year. Joseph has an overall batting line of .254/.340/.405 in 2015 and has already been worth nearly 1 WAR and the third most valuable position player on the team. Yet, I would argue more consistent periodic rest may be the best thing for Joseph, especially at the plate.
Joseph hit .080/.132/.140 in September of last year. Quite simply, I believe that the rigors of catching for a full season wore Joseph down and made him ineffective at the plate and probably worse in the field as well. In the minors, from 2008 to 2013 Joseph played 45, 98, 93, 84, 81, and 64 games at catcher respectively. Then, between Norfolk and Baltimore he caught 99 games. A career high in his age 28 season. Catching is tough. It wears on knees, backs, arms, and legs. It makes it harder to hit and harder to play. Caleb Joseph admirably took up the role and has done so this year as well, but asking him to be an everyday player may be a stretch.
To look more into my hypothesis I broke down Joesph's hitting line for games he caught after a calendar day off in both 2014 and 2015. I did this myself as I could not find a readily available split for this, so it is simply batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. I still believe it provides a pretty good picture.
|2014 On Rest
|2014 Consecutive Days
|2015 On Rest
|2015 Consecutive Days
So, the above table needs a little explanation. The overall batting lines for 2014 and 2015 are just that, it is the overall batting line for Joseph for the entire year including days he caught consecutively and the days he caught after a day of rest. The "on rest" category is the hitting line for Joseph on days in which he had at least one calendar day off from catching. This is either a scheduled day off or a coach's decision to not play. The "consecutive days" category is his hitting line from games he caught on consecutive days.
In 2014, Joseph was ever so slightly better on days of rest, by 12 points of OPS to be exact. Nothing to write home about exactly, but some results in favor of my hypothesis. These numbers may also be skewed by Joseph's atrocious September. After catching all season long he received a bunch of days off with the expanded rosters, but did not record a hit after September 10th and only walked once in all of that time. That dragged down a lot of his numbers overall and on his days of rest. I did not want to throw out those results, but after going into a month he had never played before and approaching a career high in games caught Joseph clearly preformed poorly at the plate. Possibly due to fatigue. Again, only a ever so slight positive in favor of my hypothesis.
In 2015 however, in the smaller sample size, the data is much more pronounced. Joseph has hit to a .745 OPS so far in 2015 overall. On days of rest he has posted a .877 OPS in 14 games compared to the .654 OPS he has posted in the 26 games he has played on consecutive days. That is a difference of 223 points of OPS which is very significant. Clearly, the sample size is too small here for a definitive answer, but so far Joseph has hit much better in the smaller number of games that he has played after a calendar day of rest. As a soon to be 29 year old asked to do more catching than he ever has, I believe these numbers reveal something about Caleb Joseph and his need for periodic rest.
Therefore, I believe, if Caleb Joseph and Matt Wieters alternate days catching it could be good for the both of them. It would allow Wieters to fully rehabilitate his elbow while still being able to see major league pitching and it would let Joseph get the days of rest he needs to still be an effective hitter. For now, I believe this arrangement will benefit both players and hopefully a team in desperate need of a jolt.