Caleb Joseph Could Be 2016’s Francisco Cervelli

Matt Wieters is a free agent, and as Mike Podhorzer explained, the Orioles appear unlikely to extend him a qualifying offer. The team could still bring Wieters back on a new contract, but I expect them to move on in part because of the less-expensive in-house option, Caleb Joseph.

Joseph does not fit the mold of a prospect who would inherit the job of a departing veteran. In fact, he is less than a month younger than Wieters. However, because of a lengthy minor league career, Joseph has just two years of major league service time and remains under team control with the Orioles in 2016 for very little salary. Meanwhile, while Joseph does not share the offensive potential that once made Wieters such a prized prospect, he does offer the team enough defensive value to merit a full-time job.

Based on Defensive Runs Saved, Joseph is a positive contributor in all aspects of catcher defense, but he stands out in two skills, in particular. First, Joseph has a tremendous arm and has been effective in limiting the opposing runners on the basepaths. Over the last two seasons, he has thrown out 33.6 percent of baserunners attempting to steal against him. That is fifth best among the 72 catchers with at least 1,000 innings behind the plate over the last two seasons.

Best Catcher Caught Stealing Rate, 2014-15, Min. 1,000 Innings
Player Catcher Caught Stealings Stolen Bases CCS Rate
Yadier Molina 39 60 39.4%
Wilson Ramos 33 60 35.5%
Russell Martin 53 99 34.9%
Rene Rivera 52 98 34.7%
Caleb Joseph 36 71 33.6%

Second, Joseph is an above average pitch framer. He has earned 0.49 extra strikes per 100 called pitches since 2014, 21st of those 72 qualified catchers according to Strike Zone Runs Saved. In total, Joseph’s 26 Runs Saved trail only Jonathan Lucroy (27) at the position over the last two seasons, and that is despite being limited to less than 1,500 innings.

Because of his framing ability, his age, and his clear backup status to Wieters in recent seasons, Joseph reminds me a lot of Francisco Cervelli, who the Pirates smartly signed to an inexpensive contract because of his excellent defensive numbers on a per inning basis. Of course, Cervelli became a breakout fantasy player this season because, in addition to his new full-time status, he really hit. I am pretty confident Joseph will see that full season of at-bats next season, and I also see a lot of offensive similarities between Joseph now and Cervelli this time last year.

Cervelli Last Year vs. Joseph Now, Careers
Francisco Cervelli Caleb Joseph
AVG .278 .223
OBP .348 .284
SLG .381 .376
BABIP .330 .259
K% 8.2% 7.0%
BB% 17.2% 22.4%
GB/FB 1.33 0.78
IFFB% 5.4% 8.0%
Contact% 82.6% 79.3%
Soft% 15.0% 18.3%
Hard% 28.3% 30.4%

Joseph’s plate discipline, contact ability, and power are all very similar to Cervelli’s. More than anything, their radically different actual production is a product of a close to 100 point difference in BABIP. That probably isn’t entirely a fluke. For one, Cervelli continued to enjoy a high BABIP (.359) in his full season of at-bats in 2015, and he puts the ball on the ground much more frequently than Joseph and so should expect to have a higher BABIP. Still, Cervelli isn’t any faster than Joseph—at least as evidenced by their combined two stolen bases over the last two seasons—and Joseph is not dramatically worse than Cervelli in terms of soft contact percentage or infield fly rate. I feel like it’s reasonable to assume Joseph should see his BABIP improve with more plate appearances.

With a neutral BABIP season, Joseph could hit something in the order of .250/.320/.400 with 12-15 home runs. That isn’t exceptional, but it is more or less what Derek Norris did this season, and Zach Sanders valued Norris as the No. 6 catcher. I wouldn’t draft Joseph as a top-10 option at the position—there is too much talent at the position, even if a lot of it failed to have top 10 seasons for various reasons. Still, Joseph may be completely off the radar for many drafters next season, and he shouldn’t be. He is the perfect upside play in deeper and two-catcher leagues and may well be someone you can draft in the final rounds.

Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dan Greermember
8 years ago

I think you switched the BB% and K%.