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The Orioles need to keep playing Caleb Joseph

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Caleb Joseph may have had a tough 2016, but his bat has rebounded and his defense remains strong. It's time for the Orioles to play him more.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In February of 2014, we were down in Sarasota for a wedding, so naturally, the Cicere boys fought through the symptoms of a Yuengling-induced hangover to go see the Orioles practice the following morning.

In a series of events that included saying “sup” to Jon Heyman and seeing in-person how goddamn big Dylan Bundy is, one of the things we discussed was Caleb Joseph as he went through catching drills with Buck Showalter.

My dad was curious as to who Joseph was, and with little to nothing in my arsenal, I gave him a brief rundown of the few things I’d read about, including he had a pretty good bat for a catcher, but his defense wasn’t quite so polished. Most importantly, for one reason or another, Joseph had yet to trim the luscious locks pouring out of the rear of his catcher’s mask.

As stated by baseball law, long hair is a prerequisite for being a baller (it’s in the Geneva Convention, look it up), so I told my dad that he must be pretty good. Little did we know at the time, Joseph would end up becoming one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, with his bat being perfectly serviceable. Even without the flow.

We know Joseph’s 2016 was bad. Like, knocking in simply one run in 141 plate appearances should have at least happened once, purely by accident. A bloop single, sac fly, ground ball into the middle infield, something, anything, should have produced one run batted in.

Even without looking at the bagel in the RBI column, Joseph’s .174/.216/.197 was the primary symptom of a -0.9 fWAR, where not even his superior catching could compensate.

As much as I wanted to as a kid, I’ll never play professional baseball, and that’s OK. However, as such, my ability to comment on the impact that regaining confidence on the diamond can have is mute. In a recent interview with MLB.com, Joseph discussed that confidence has been one of the biggest reasons he’s been such a consistent, well-rounded player.

"Well, a lot of that has to do with confidence," Joseph said. "When you get a little confidence in any sport, probably in any position, you can go out and perform better. When you feel good and feel confident, your swing might not be the best, but when you get results it's easy to continue to kind of snowball in the right direction. But, I've been working hard with Cooley [hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh] and [assistant hitting coach] Howie [Clark]. I worked on a lot of stuff last year, too, and getting a little bit more at-bats to really put that into practice, that's helped a lot as well. That never hurts."

Whichever way you want to pinpoint the reasoning behind Joseph’s resurgence, a .299/.335/.449 and 107 wRC+ has to be a confidence boost.

Whereas Joseph has been one of the two or three best stories of the 2017 Orioles, the Orioles as a whole have failed to produce much magic as of late. Yes, the team hasn’t looked like a serious threat to the Wild Card pack since May, but a 5.5-game lag, though lofty, can’t yet be fully discarded.

If Dan Duquette and the franchise actually believe this group can manufacture wins with more haste, all the while suspending necessary trades, relying more on Caleb Joseph would be good start.

I like Welington Castillo. I think his contributions have been more steady than not. But after a two-month stretch of hitting at a 114 wRC+ pace, Castillo has hit the ole regression train. Since the start of June, Castillo has been 74 wRC+ hitter, with his bat doing strange things.

Last month, Castillo was much more of a free-swinger, as the surprisingly selective approach he’d established earlier in the season sorta predictably went away. Though, with less contact, he managed to continue hitting for power as indicated by a .211 ISO.

This month, Castillo has been increasingly patient while walking at a higher rate than he has all season, but his numbers align more with a singles hitter. Like I said, Castillo has been perfectly worth his $6 million salary, but this kind of offense doesn’t really justify his maintained playing time, especially given the improvement the Orioles could see with Joseph playing behind the plate everyday.

Joseph/Castillo 2017

BP Catching #'s Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs CSAA
BP Catching #'s Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs CSAA
Joseph (Lg Rank) 9.2 (4th) 2.3 (1st) -0.7 (76th) .021 (6th)
Castillo (Lg Rank) -0.8 (52nd) 0.5 (20th) 1.5 (5th) -0.002 (42nd)

Catching metrics, while still in their infancy, are pretty reliable. Baseball Prospectus has a reputation for having solid catching numbers, and according to their current stats, Joseph has solidified a lot of theories.

In comparison, we have two players who are rather good at different aspects of the necessary burden that is catching. Castillo had a reputation of being able to reliably keep the baseball in front of him, while also being a guy with a consistently quick pop time. So far, both have been true.

Where Castillo has Joseph beat in throwing out base runners, Joseph has actually been the best catcher in baseball at knocking down potential runs. More impressively, catching for the Orioles gives you get plenty of chances to save runs, too.

More importantly, Joseph is far and away the smoother with the glove. It isn’t that Castillo doesn’t frame, because you can see him really trying to limit the range in which the baseball rattles his glove. It’s just that he’s not very good at sticking pitches. Joseph has rightfully seen his catching contributions atop the rest of the league because he’s just so natural as a receiver.

That ability to position yourself for a pitch while also possessing the inherit skills to stop a baseball in its tracks is what helps get bonus strikes off the plate. Joseph’s CSAA, a number that measures extra strikes called outside the zone, sits as the sixth-highest mark in baseball, whereas Castillo is 42nd. Why does Castillo score that low? Quite simply, because he’s clunky.

I realize the above pitch is a slider, and it doesn’t seem fair to compare framing a fastball with a slider, but this is Castillo with every pitch. To Castillo’s credit, his numbers have improved as he’s emphasized incorporating precise presentation with more regularity, but he really doesn’t have a feel for it.

One of the things you see with Joseph too is a little more unpredictability as a pitch caller. It’s no coincidence that with Joseph at catcher in two of the three games against the Rays, Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez combined for 17 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched, with only two runs allowed in that span.

Joseph seems a little more adept at reading bats and calling the necessary pitch. Blend his ability to present pitches with an advanced understanding of how to get his pitchers to actually pitch, and CaJo has earned the label as a capable everyday player.

Did I mention he’s been hitting too?

The Orioles offense, though still capable of being more productive, has plenty of firepower to strike at any point of a ballgame. Joseph’s clearly produced enough evidence showing he’s the more consistent run-preventer behind the plate, all the while being a pesky out.

Signs are pointing towards the Orioles sticking to a mostly unchanged roster for the rest of the year, and because of Duquette’s unflinching loyalty to his assembly, the O’s are going to have to rudely ask that the current starting rotation be OK more than it’s not.

If the Orioles want to really, truly win more baseball games, they have to keep playing Caleb Joseph.