Amazingly, despite the best of intentions, I have already entered the part of the year where Orioles games are not being watched in their entirety.
A season ago, I hit the wall around early September, when the Orioles finished the year 7-21. Like the Orioles, I limped down the stretch before shutting it down. Now, all it takes is Alex Cobb serving up one three-run bomb before the gut convinces a once optimistic subconscious that it knows the ending to the story. We’re not even through May, and we’ve known for weeks this Orioles team was bad. Accept it. Embrace it.
Now 15-34, there is nothing about this team that can be salvaged. Individually, however, things are still happening.
Chance Sisco is, and has been, a player worth heightening the senses. A frequent appearer on all the Top 100 prospects lists for the last two years or so, Sisco hit plenty well enough in the minor leagues to earn a full-time gig with the Orioles in 2018.
His injection into the Orioles’ catching platoon was supposed to be one of the more interesting revelations within the club’s last gasp of contending air. After nearly 100 plate appearances and more than 30 games to his name this season, Sisco has eased the concerns regarding his defense, somewhat. But his best tool is lacking, and quite spectacularly at that.
At a time when we need it most, I’ll lead off with the good news.
All throughout Sisco’s minor league gallivant, his defense at catcher was thoroughly reported as his most obvious detriment. After only catching his senior year of high school, it doesn’t take a hardened baseball mind to imagine how difficult a transition that is. To go from catching high schoolers to professionals from year one to year two as a catcher is a tremendous leap.
Learning on the fly at the highest levels of baseball, Sisco, to his credit, made strides in solidifying his overall defensive game year-by-year. With the advent of actual data, Sisco is showing that his reputation as a below-average catcher is somewhat true, but he’s nowhere near the burden some feared him to be.
Chance Sisco Catching Metrics (via Baseball Prospectus)
Putting Sisco’s metrics side-by-side with all the other catchers in baseball doesn’t do him a lot of favors. In terms of framing, he’s below average. Regarding his blocking of the baseball, Sisco is again under the median. His ability to steal strikes is, on the surface, non-existent. According to his fielding runs above average, his overall game behind the plate has lacked.
BUT! Sisco’s expected called strikes above average says that he is doing more to add strikes than his actual output suggests. Even after four stolen bases against him last night, Sisco has caught nine would-be base stealers out of 24 tries.
At a rate of 37.5%, he’s still been pretty good for a rookie catcher who’s still in the middle of a sizable transition. And having to deal with the likes of Chris Tillman (who has no idea where any pitch is going) and Kevin Gausman (effective, but slow), he’s holding his own in that department.
It’s hard not to give Sisco the benefit of the doubt, too. Seeing him do OK to pretty good in all that encompasses armoring oneself with the tools of ignorance has actually helped me put much of my concerns regarding his defense at bay. His lack of production at the plate however, has been tough to watch.
Having gone 1-4 last night with a walk and two strikeouts, Sisco’s 2018 line now stands at .226/.316/.369 with two home runs and six doubles. Considering he’s a rookie catcher playing even more than he probably should, you’d like to take it easy on him. But Sisco’s own worst enemy has been himself.
Chance Sisco Plate Discipline (via Pitch Info)
Who leads the Orioles in strikeout rate? Well, common sense would suggest Chris Davis and his 36.5 percent strikeout rate would take the cake. He’s seen more strikes thrown past him than a Brunswick Zone, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else claiming the dubious honor. But no. Not him.
Among regular Orioles, Sisco and his 38.5 percent strikeout frequency top the team’s leaderboard. A 10-game 2017 sample doesn’t really help much, and you have to believe he was some facing some inflated ERAs in the middle of the September. Even so, you get a small baseline of a young hitter who put together a 1.232 OPS in his first 22 big league plate appearances.
In his current state, Sisco is swinging, like, a lot. Well, at least for him.
Sisco is swinging at a rate of 48 percent, which is around the same percentage as Trey Mancini and Manny Machado. That figure is up 10 percent from where it was in his short stint a season ago, as this more aggressive approach has betrayed him in more ways than one. He’s chasing more and making less contact in the strike zone, despite seeing more strikes.
Sisco’s always been known as a patient hitter, but his walk production and a 20.1 percent whiff rate is third highest among hitters with at least 90 plate appearances. Funny enough, five of the top ten hitters among whiff rate are catchers, and it’s probably not a coincidence. But Jorge Alfaro, Mike Zunino, Robinson Chirinos and John Hicks are not the same profile of hitter that Sisco is.
His bat-to-ball skills, live drive efficiency and an instinctive understanding of the strike zone were said to be his calling cards. So, why is his production at the plate not matching his abilities? Well his numbers just haven’t caught up to his contact.
Sisco has an average exit velocity of 89.5 mph, up five miles per hour from his 22 plate appearances a season ago. Though, he only has two batted balls this season that would qualify as a “barrel” per Statcast, with a batted ball needing an exit velocity of at least 98 mph to qualify. So, Sisco has an above-average exit velocity despite hardly ever hitting the ball really hard. What gives?
It’s weird, man. Sisco also has a BABIP of .378, much to do with only 8.5 percent of his contact being qualified as “soft.” He’s still hitting the ball hard, and he’s being rewarded for it. He’s just not doing it enough.
We’ve all seen him swing through a lot of fastballs, and he’s not exactly hanging with the soft stuff either. Whether this is just him going through grind of facing the best pitchers in the world, or he’s just trying to do too much, he’s still producing at a 90 wRC+ pace despite a lack of power and a ton of swings and misses.
Though the Orioles stink, there is still purpose to your viewership. Kevin Gausman may finally be what we thought he could be, while young pitchers like David Hess and Tanner Scott remain a source of intrigue. If anything else, enjoy Manny Machado while you can. Chance Sisco is one of those guys too,