While this may not be the correct opinion, I’ve come to the conclusion that the offseason — you know, the part of the Major League Baseball season without baseball — is perhaps my favorite part of Major League Baseball.
Ugh, I know. It sounds stupid. Maybe it’s the winter’s allowance of spring optimism for such stupidity, but I don’t think it’s crazy. This chunk of baseball’s calendar year allows you to hit the reset button, have a moment of clarity, and proceed on to observing every team’s process of improvement. More so than any sport, baseball’s various avenues of acquisition allow for as much incremental movement as it does the blockbuster variety.
Players are constantly changing teams, as you wonder what their current and future skillset means to their every stop. Would Hanser Alberto’s contact skills have been allowed an opportunity anywhere but a rebuilding team like the Orioles? Maybe, but the Orioles were the beneficiary, all at the cost of a waiver claim.
Those kinds of smaller, under-the-radar things are just as interesting to me as the future Jeff Passan tweet telling us who signed Gerrit Cole. It all matters, one way or another. This winter for the Orioles will likely again be the Alberto sort of moves, and that’s fine. As long as the Orioles can offer playing time, the magnitude of waiver acquisitions and minor league deals will still be worthy of monitoring.
One market the Orioles are expected to address is the backup...to the backup...to the backup catcher. A small move routinely made by every team. As the Prodigal Son bides his time in the minors, the Orioles are expected to arrive at camp with the same catchers they left with in September: Pedro Severino, Austin Wynns, and Chance Sisco.
Severino (acquired by waiver claim) was one of the more positive developments of 2019, doing yeoman’s work behind the plate while providing some thump with the bat. Wynns is what he is; a light hitting catcher with serviceable defensive skills. Then there’s Chance Sisco, who can’t seem to find a niche.
It looked as if Sisco was on his way to finding a means of contribution, as he posted a 165 wRC+ in the month of June, the 18th-highest figure among hitters with at least 50 plate appearances. He was hitting for power, and despite the strikeouts, he was getting on base. It was the kind of start he needed after bellyflopping to a .558 OPS in 63 games the season before.
Then he jumped back into the pool.
The rest of Sisco’s season saw his numbers fall dramatically, doing enough offensively for only a 70 wRC+, while hitting only .189 in that span. Sisco’s calling card is his ability to judge the strike zone, and he still walked at a rate of 11 percent between July and September. The absurdly-high strikeout numbers have also become a constant, seeing as how his strikeout rate was never lower than 23 percent in any month in 2019
Sisco never was demoted because there was no reason for it. He was given the, uh, chance to see his way through further struggles, because the Orioles can afford it. He didn’t, and you can’t help but wonder if he’s capable of ever providing proof for the reputation he gained in the minor leagues.
Through 132 games, Sisco’s OPS is .676, lagging alongside his 85 wRC+. A career walk rate of nine percent would look better if it wasn’t paired with a strikeout frequency of 33 percent. A player alleged to have good bat-to-ball skills hasn’t been able to use his line drive swing to much success.
It’s not as if he’s pitched unpredictably. On the left are pitchers fastball usage against Sisco, and the right is breaking ball frequency. Both righties and lefties have become pretty comfortable working him away, but Sisco isn’t one to chase. He swung at pitches outside the zone less than league average a season ago, and was right around the median in terms of swings and misses. Sisco’s problem is hitting the hittable stuff.
When Sisco saw pitches out over the plate to hit, his modus operandi was to pull the baseball. The 24-year-old had one of the lowest oppo rates in baseball for the number of plate appearances he was given (19.8 percent), and with a lot of at-bats ending with contact to the right side of the infield.
Sisco was always known as a player willing and able to spray the baseball to all fields, and considering his soft contact rate was that of Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo in 2019, there’s still some juice in his swing. But his swing is also very technical. Sisco doesn’t have the ability or plate athleticism like a Bellinger or Gallo to literally get around something out and away. His bat path is that of a line drive hitter whose success necessitates more fundamental awareness. He needs to hit the ball where it’s pitched.
To make matters more unsettling, Sisco’s reputation as a defensive work-in-progress is something he hasn’t been able to shake. Considering the Orioles pitching staff didn’t do any catchers any analytical favors, it’s easy to see why all the team’s backstops were among the bottom contributors in pitch framing. But Sisco still doesn’t look comfortable whatsoever with the position, as his six errors in 52 games were mostly of the atrocious kind, and a single may as well be a double when he’s behind the plate.
The rise of Adley Rutschman will come in due time, and Sisco will again be given the opportunity to prove himself capable of being with the Orioles when that joyous day is here. Though, I’m curious as to whether Sisco’s pull tendencies will subside and if he’ll be able to consistently contribute on offense.
He’s a line-to-line hitter currently trying to lift the ball to his pull side. It’s not working and likely won’t ever work. If we’re looking at what Sisco is currently, he’s a lighter-than-light-hitting catcher that doesn’t defend arguably the most important position on the field. If that’s the case, then what’s the point?