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The Unexpected Rise Of Orioles Catcher Pedro Severino

July 1, 2019
If you want to stay positive about the Orioles at the major-league level, there are really only a handful of things that you could focus on. In the last few days, that would include the random and hilarious 13-0 drubbings of the Cleveland Indians in consecutive games. But player-wise in the first half, you could include the play of John Means, Trey Mancini and a few others. It's hard to top the sudden ascension of Means and his somewhat surprising All-Star nod, but catcher Pedro Severino comes close.

After yet another torrid spring, Chance Sisco was assumed to be a shoo-in for one of the opening day catcher spots. But near the end of spring training, the Orioles claimed Severino off waivers from the Washington Nationals. Two days later, Sisco was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, and Austin Wynns was placed on the injured list with an oblique strain. Severino made the opening day roster along with Jesus Sucre and was destined to get an early-season look.

Known for his strong throwing arm, Severino has mostly surprised with his work at the dish, not behind it. He didn't play quite as much in his first full month with the Orioles, but he's consistently hit much better than expected in each month: 

March/April: 138 wRC+ (47 PA)
May: 106 wRC+ (65 PA)
June: 126 wRC+ (67 PA)

Severino, after all, only posted a wRC+ above 100 once in any of his extended stays in the minor leagues -- a 109 wRC+ in a 136-PA stay in Triple-A in 2018 -- and he posted a wRC+ of just 32 in 213 plate appearances with the Nationals last year. He also never hit more than nine home runs during any full season. 

But right now, Severino has a wRC+ of 121 (second best behind Mancini among Orioles hitters with at least 100 PA), and he's already amassed nine dingers. He's also currently in the top 10 in wRC+ among all major-league catchers with at least 150 plate appearances. He even hit three home runs in the same game against the Texas Rangers in early June:


It's not like Severino came completely out of nowhere. Signed as an amateur free agent by Washington in 2010, he rated as a top-15 prospect with the Nationals from 2013 to 2017, according to MLB.com. But he's never looked this good for this long, and there's reason to think it's not just a small sample size anomaly. 

The first thing that jumps out is that Severino's expected wOBA (.364) is nearly identical to his actual wOBA (.360). That suggests that, based on his batted ball profile, he's not getting lucky and is about where he should be. Another is that he's surprisingly disciplined. His walk rate (8.9 percent) is in line with the major-league average, and he's swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone (26.7 percent) than the average major leaguer (30.3 percent). He also swings less overall (43 percent vs. 46.7 percent). 

But maybe the most important is that he wears out left-handed pitching. So far this season, Severino has a 161 wRC+ against lefties (77 plate appearances) compared to 92 vs. right-handed pitchers (102 plate appearances). Six of his nine home runs have come against left-handers, and the power numbers aren't close (.300 isolated power against left-handers vs. .148 against right-handers). 

Zooming out and examining Severino's brief career, the same pattern emerges: 

vs. RHP: 58 wRC+ (311 PA)
vs. LHP: 113 wRC+ (150 PA)

Similarly, he performed better against southpaws during his days in the minors.

Of course, Severino's work with the glove was supposed to be more valuable than his offensive production. And there, he's been ... fine. His pop time rates in the top half of all catchers, and his arm strength places in the top 10. He's nabbed 37 percent of runners attempting to steal, which is 10 percent above the league average. But FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Baseball Prospectus all list him as a below average pitch-framer. Baseball Prospectus also ranks him near the bottom when it comes to blocking pitches in the dirt.

Despite the hot start at the plate, Severino still projects to be a backup catcher. Surely, the O's must be pretty happy with his production so far after simply putting in a waiver claim and giving him a nice, long look in 2019. At the moment, Severino is platooning with Sisco, and there's plenty of work to go around for both. The same will probably be true in 2020.

Still, it's impossible to look at Severino and Sisco and not wonder what happens to one of them, or both, when catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick, makes his eventual major-league debut in a couple of years. Severino, who's 25 years old, and Sisco, who's 24, are relatively young and interesting. But they have their flaws, though Sisco has been on a tear since he returned to the majors. Sisco has a 182 wRC+ in 50 plate appearances. 

Both players are under team control for a long time, and there is no hurry to do anything with them. Both may end up being competent players, and it would be interesting in the short term for those two to just settle in and form a decent, if temporary, catching platoon. If one or the other ends up being more than that, great! It would be nice for the O's to have options and figure out who pairs best with Rutschman or could possibly become a trade chip. 

With Severino, the Orioles picked up a backup catcher for basically nothing and have seen him perform much better than expected. With this current version of the Orioles, it's the little things that count.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox