For months now, we’ve monitored the situation, knowing it wasn’t good, but not sure exactly how bad it was. And figuring it would end at some point.
With less than a month to go in the 2016 regular season, though, it’s time to look a little deeper into Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph’s RBI-less season.
Because it is now bordering on the historic.
If Joseph goes the rest of the year without driving in a run, he’ll become the first player to have at least 100 at-bats in a big league season without one RBI since the category became official in 1920, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
So nearly 100 years of baseball and no one has been to the plate as much as Joseph in one season without knocking in a run. It’s almost unfathomable that someone could have that much trouble – and/or be that incredibly unlucky – over the course of a season.
Remember, as Joseph progressed through the Orioles’ system, he was known more for his bat than his glove. In 2013, his last full season in the minors, Joseph batted .299 with 22 homers and 97 RBIs at Double-A Bowie. Heading into this year, he was a .223 hitter with 20 homers and 77 RBIs in 182 games (parts of two seasons) for the Orioles – not great, but certainly passable for a reserve catcher with strong defensive skills.
This year, the Orioles’ affable back-up backstop has played in 42 games, been to the plate 124 times and registered 117 official at-bats. He has 22 hits, including two doubles, and is batting .188 on the season.
He has come to the plate 25 times with runners in scoring position (second base or third base) and has two singles and a walk without plating a run. Consider this: In those 24 official at-bats, Joseph has struck out only five times. So, in 17 times with runners in scoring position this year, he put the ball in play and it went to someone for an out. Incredible.
With 24 games remaining in the regular season, Joseph, as the backup to Matt Wieters, will probably get six to eight more starts. That translates to about 25 more plate appearances.
It’s likely he receives the start Wednesday afternoon in Tampa, a day game after a night game, because Wieters is going to get two consecutive days off before the Orioles begin a run of 17 straight contests. (Catcher Francisco Pena is also on the active roster.)
Joseph, obviously, is aware of the RBI-less situation. He was sent to Triple-A Norfolk in August to get more at-bats, and when he drove in a run there, he stood at first base and pantomimed grabbing an imaginary monkey from his back and tossing it to the ground.
So Joseph’s sharp sense of humor is intact.
In 40 at-bats for the Tides, Joseph had 10 hits and drove in four runs. When he played for Double-A Bowie and High-A Frederick this year as part of an injury rehab assignment – he underwent testicular surgery in late May when he was hit with a foul tip – Joseph drove in seven runs in a combined 46 plate appearances.
So he has 11 RBIs in 2016, just none in the majors.
If he does get one – and only one – he’ll also make baseball history. According to Elias, the most at-bats with just one RBI in a season was 114, set by Minnesota Twins’ infielder Johnny Goryl in 1964. Joseph is already three at-bats ahead of Goryl’s season total.
It was Goryl’s 90th at-bat and 38th game of the 1964 season when he dropped a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning on July 28 against the Orioles – of all teams — and Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Orioles’ first baseman Norm Siebern picked it up and recorded the unassisted out, but Rich Rollins scored from third to give Goryl a RBI.
Goryl played in 20 more games that season, but didn’t plate another run.
Joseph still has nearly a month to sidestep infamy – and maybe even Goryl’s one RBI record – and he could get another crack at it today.
It always seems like when we write about a guy on a hot streak, he inevitably goes cold. So maybe this will be a reverse jinx for Joseph.