Baltimore Orioles: Sisco Has Not Been Given a Chance to Succeed at the Plate

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 10: Chance Sisco
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 10: Chance Sisco /

 Chance Sisco had appeared to seize the starting catching role for the Baltimore Orioles when Caleb Joseph was sent to the minors, but his usage by Buck Showalter is quite questionable given his skills behind the plate and his patient approach at it unlike the rest of the lineup.

Baltimore Orioles rookie catcher Chance Sisco started the season in a platoon role with Caleb Joseph, but on May 17, Joseph was optioned to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides for Andrew Susac.

This should have meant Sisco was now the starting catcher by default, but it seems manager Buck Showalter has tried to avoid matching up Sisco’s bat against left-handed pitching at all costs.

This was quite evident in Tuesday’s game against the Nationals when in the ninth inning, down 3-2 with two runners on, Showalter pinch-hit Craig Gentry for Sisco against the left-handed Sean Doolittle. Gentry has a whopping .190 AVG, .229 wOBA and wRC+ of 38 against left-handed pitching this season while Sisco in the very small sample size of eight plate appearances has a home run, single and 2 BBs for a wRC+ of 176.

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Now it’s true Sisco has done much better against right-handed pitching statistic wise for his career, and eight plate appearances aren’t much to go on, but he’s still been much better than Gentry this season overall. His patient approach is also desperately needed in a lineup full of aggressive hitters.  Sisco currently has a 26.8 percent O-Swing percentage according to Fangraphs, which is second only to Danny Valencia (26.5 percent) for Orioles regulars.

Chance Sisco was also benched for three straight games against the Red Sox after Joseph was optioned and the Red Sox started all left-handed pitchers. As a rookie hitter, he needs to see consistent plate appearances in order to adjust, but Showalter refused to play him against lefties, opting for Andrew Susac instead. Susac had two hits in those three games and he allowed five stolen bases with one runner caught stealing and the Orioles lost two out of the three.

Buck Showalter also sat Sisco again earlier in the month for a period of May 5th to May 9th but Sisco played three straight games from May 10th to the 12th and the Orioles won all three and Sisco went 4-12 (.333) with a home run and two doubles. Showalter benched him again after that and he had a pinch-hit appearance on the 13th and then didn’t play again until the 16th.

Sisco didn’t get another streak of playing time until the 22nd through the 24th, and when he did he was 2-9 with three RBI and four BBs. Sisco then was benched again until the 28th when he went 0-2 with 2 BBs and an RBI which came when he walked with the bases loaded.  With that walk, Sisco had also walked five times in his last four games.

Interestingly enough the Orioles have walked five times with the bases loaded in 2018 and Sisco has two of those walks.  The Orioles walked with the bases loaded for a grand total of three times combined in 2017 and 2016 before Sisco was in the lineup, and I would venture he’ll add to that total before the season is over.

It’s that patient approach that was also exhibited by a former Baltimore Orioles player who hit left-handed, Hyun Soo Kim when he played regularly in 2016. Kim led the Orioles with a .382 OBP and a 23.1 percent O-Swin percentage but Showalter benched him against lefties even though he showed success against them in the KBO simply because he batted left-handed. Granted Kim didn’t have a hit in 18 at-bats against them when he did see them, but he certainly didn’t get an extended opportunity that he deserved.

Kim’s defense in left field was also an issue, so his left-handed hitting gave Showalter an excuse to platoon him. Sisco however, has been the best defensive catcher the Baltimore Orioles have had on their roster, so his defense certainly isn’t a reason to bench him.

Behind the plate, Sisco has performed especially well with battery mates Andrew Cashner (1.93 ERA) and Dylan Bundy (3.43 ERA) compared to how they have performed with other catchers on the team.  It simply doesn’t make sense to break up those batteries when a left-hander is on the opponent’s mound given that success.

He has been worth 0.6 fWAR overall according to Fangraphs and that’s only second to Manny Machado (2.5 fWAR) so he’s the second most valuable player on the team.

If the Orioles were competitive and if the right-handed hitting catching option was better than Sisco offensively, then Sisco being platooned against left-handed pitching would make sense.  Susac however, has been dreadful against lefties (-25 wRC), so it’s hard to imagine Sisco could be worse.

Meanwhile, Buck Showalter has had no problem letting Chris Davis face left-handed pitching and also has allowed right-handed batters like Danny Valencia, Craig Gentry and Joey Rickard to face right-handed pitching when they all clearly have shown a platoon split.

Sisco, like Kim in 2017 has also been hitting lower in the lineup for most of the season so he’ll see fewer plate appearances during the game overall while worse performing hitters (like Davis) bat higher.  I’ve said from he start he should be batting leadoff against right-handed pitching, given his plate approach.

The Orioles continue to struggle to find a suitable leadoff hitter even though Sisco would likely thrive in that role as unconventional hitting a catcher at leadoff is.  This is a team and manager that put Chris Davis in the leadoff spot, after all.

So fans have to wonder, is it because Sisco is left-handed that he keeps getting benched and is batting lower in the lineup or is it more like the situation with Hyun Soo Kim and the manager doesn’t appreciate a patient approach at the plate?

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Showalter’s usage of Sisco this season would certainly point toward the latter.

In an increasingly lost season and Sisco’s patient approach a refreshing sight compared to his free-swinging counterparts, Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles need to give Sisco a chance to hit in the lineup regularly regardless of who is on the mound for the opponent.