Let’s just get it out there, Buck Showalter is man that’s set in his ways. Between liking his guys, his firm belief in the traditional closer role, or just being a 61-year-old in general, he has certain baseball principles he subscribes to and certain ones that he doesn’t feel are worth his while. One of the many Buck-isms that define the Orioles’ manager is that he does not believe in pairing pitchers with specific catchers.
Outside of when Buck seemingly paired up Chris Tillman with Nick Hundley back in 2014, the Orioles’ skipper has remained adamant that he does not see the merit in giving his starters exclusive catchers. Despite what statistics may say, or everyday fans may notice, his baseball mind has decided that it’s bad. In case anyone’s not convinced on his stance, here’s a friendly quote from earlier this year.
“It just won’t happen. I won’t let it happen. I’m not going to have a pitcher come in and tell me who they want to throw to and who they don’t. That hasn’t happened, but I’ve seen it in the past with teams and that’s a recipe for excuses. That’s not going to happen. Trust me.”
Maybe it’s about time to let it happen.
The above quote actually comes from a press conference earlier this year when it looked like Buck was starting to pair a specific group of batterymates. For the first four starts of 2017, Wade Miley only pitched to Caleb Joseph, and pitched quite well. It’s gone largely forgotten as the season has carried on, because for whatever reason, Buck just sort of stopped doing it. In fact, it appears he’s made a complete 180. And he shouldn’t have.
Despite starting the year being matched up with Joseph, Miley has now thrown exactly 63 innings to both Caleb and Welington Castillo. For comparison’s sake, it makes things extremely easy. And the lefty’s splits, like several of the Orioles starters, are pretty drastic between the two backstops.
Wade Miley Catcher Comparison
Like I said, the splits are pretty serious. Besides the obvious 70% increase in ERA between Caleb and Beef, the most noticeable difference is in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Anyone who’s seen Wade Miley pitch knows he’s a serious nibbler. It sometimes gets spun as “not giving in to hitters,” but let it be known, it simply means he’s trying to avoid the middle of the strike zone at all costs.
With Miley’s strategy predicated around the outside of the zone, everyone’s favorite advanced statistic often comes into play- pitch framing. As most Orioles fans would expect, it does a fantastic job explaining Miley’s splits between his two catchers.
Caleb Joseph- elite receiver
According to Baseball Prospectus, Caleb Joseph has ranked 5th among all MLB catchers in framing runs in 2017 with +11. Meanwhile, Welington Castillo’s framing has been worth -1.2 runs, which is good for 40th in baseball among catchers with over 1,000 framing opportunities. Yes, there are only 30 teams in the MLB. Why do you ask?
Maybe more important than framing runs, StatCorner has a stat they call zBall% which reflects the percentage of pitches, caught within the strike zone, that were called a ball by the umpire. And guess who leads the entire MLB among catchers using the same 1,000 framing opportunities sample size? Caleb Joseph, once again, at 11.0%. Welington Castillo sits way down the list in 43rd place with 16.4%.
The difference may sound minuscule overall, but Miley’s been in 135 full counts this season through 24 starts. His pitching style makes him especially susceptible to changes in outcome due to framing. Check out this Brooks Baseball chart from his Tuesday start with Welington Castillo behind the plate.
Looking at the plot, you can identify at least seven different strikes that were called a ball. Similarly, you can’t find a single borderline pitch that was called a strike.
The ump’s strike zone on any given day has a large effect on some of these fringe calls, but the charts combining both teams on Tuesday clearly show the Mariners getting calls around the edges of the zone that the Orioles were not. And no, I don’t think it’s some sort of anti-Baltimore conspiracy.
In contrast, here’s a plot from Miley’s start on June 1st against the Red Sox with Caleb Joseph behind the plate.
It looks like one fringe pitch was called a ball in the upper right hand corner of the zone, and that’s it. There aren’t green dots scattered around the inside of the strike zone reflecting strikes that weren’t called. Instead, you can immediately notice several balls outside of the zone that were called strikes after Joseph’s spectacular frame jobs. And going back to compare both teams that day, it shows the Orioles getting calls around the edges that the Red Sox were not. Imagine that.
Time to go back to what worked
For some reason, Buck not only no longer pairs Miley with Joseph, but seems to be solely pairing him with Castillo. I don’t think Buck ever makes baseball moves on accident, but for whatever reason, Caleb Joseph has only caught one of Wade Miley’s nine starts since the beginning of July. I have no explanations.
Buck had it right when he started the year sticking Wade Miley and Caleb Joseph together. Miley’s pitching strategy on the mound and Caleb’s framing acumen are a match made in baseball heaven, otherwise known as Iowa. Besides making perfect sense, the splits clearly back it up. Miley is a completely different pitcher on the mound with Joseph calling games and framing pitches behind the plate.
Camden Chat has discussed the benefits of increasing Caleb Joseph’s playing time before, it’s nothing new. At the very least, Caleb Joseph needs to be catching half of Miley’s starts just based off of split playing time with Castillo. But, if Buck really wants to get the most out of Wade Miley, he needs to start pairing him exclusively with Joseph down the stretch.