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Orioles catching duo is thriving in the early going

Baltimore’s two main catchers are putting up impressive numbers at the plate this season, currently tracking as one of the league’s better catching units.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles
One half of the O’s catching tandem, Pedro Severino, congratulates teammate Hanser Alberto.
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

One has been in the Orioles system since 2013, drafted in the second round out of Corona, California. The other came virtually out of nowhere in March of 2019 when he was claimed off of waivers from the Washington Nationals right before the season began.

For the most part, one has been known for his bat, while the other has been known for his defense.

I’m talking about the tandem of Chance Sisco and Pedro Severino, who are currently ranked third in all of baseball in Wins Above Average at the catcher position (0.6). Both catchers are carrying a 0.4 bWAR through 16 games of the 2020 season.

Sisco and Severino also hold lofty positions among Oriole hitters through the first several weeks of the season, ranking first and second on the team in on-base percentage. Although Sisco has roughly half the at-bats that Severino does (21 vs. 43), the former is running away with the team lead in OBP at a .536 clip and the latter is eight points ahead of Renato Nunez at .388.

Discounting Bryan Holaday’s one start this season, Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco have consumed the entirety of the catchers’ work for the O’s. And because they are hitting so well at the moment, manager Brandon Hyde has found a way to work both players into the lineup — which has included more at-bats for Sisco — by getting creative with their appearances.

Sisco played in four of the first eight games this season and then saw an uptick in opportunities, appearing in six of the last eight. In those 10 total appearances, six have come as the starting catcher, two as a pinch hitter, one as the starting DH and one as a defensive replacement.

Yet Severino has garnered nearly twice as many starts and at-bats as Sisco because historically, Severino has been known more for his glove work, as chronicled in this rookie profile from 2017 courtesy of Minor League Ball. Across parts of eight minor league seasons, Severino only slashed .246/.294/.348 at the plate.

In 34 plate appearances with the Nationals as a 22-year-old, Severino hit .321/.441/.607 with a 173 OPS+. But that small sample size was an outlier, considering that during his sporadic time in the bigs from 2015 - 2018 — including that brief hot streak in 2016 — Severino hit .187/.273/.287 in 282 PA.

This season is especially hard to judge in terms of numbers — for obvious reasons — but Severino is carrying a .946 OPS and a 164 OPS+ in 50 plate appearances. He has been especially good of late with an OPS of 1.214 in the last seven days. He’s had a notably strong presence at the plate.

At the same time Chance Sisco has been known for his bat throughout the minor leagues, ever since he broke into professional baseball at the age of 18. Over the course of 1,931 minor league at-bats, Sisco has a batting average over .300, an OBP just 16 points under .400, and an OPS of .816.

He arrived on the scene with the Orioles in late 2017, gathering six hits in his first 18 at-bats, including two doubles, two home runs and three walks. But the Orioles have been reluctant to give Chance full-time at-bats over the past couple years.

After his cup of coffee in September 2017, Sisco started the 2018 season with the O’s but scuffled to a .181/.288/.269 batting line in 160 at-bats. He was also optioned to the minors and recalled a total of four times that year. In 2019 he started the season with Norfolk and only managed a .210/.333/.395 batting line in 167 MLB at-bats from June 3rd onward.

Like Severino, Sisco has excelled already in this unorthodox season. Last night in Baltimore’s 5-4 victory over the Phillies, Sisco went 2-for-4 with a two-run RBI single and a solo home run, his second of the year. That took his batting line up to .381/.536/.762.

Including last night’s game, Sisco is 6-for-15 with two doubles, two home runs and two walks in the last eight days.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, baseball pundits and armchair GMs alike prognosticated Adley Rutschman’s MLB debut would most likely come sometime in 2021. But that was operating on the notion that a minor league season would take place in 2020 and Rutschman would be able to gain invaluable experience in the upper levels of the system before his promotion. Whether the current situation speeds up, slows down or doesn’t affect his ascension at all is yet to be seen.

But if Severino and Sisco keep it up, the O’s are more likely to have one of those ‘good problems’ on their hands whenever Rutschman gets the call.