Quietly, Andrew Knapp has been a nice revelation for the Phillies, putting up respectable numbers for a rookie catcher. Hitting .261/.369/.381, his 0.7 WAR is good for 27th among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances. By comparison, catching mate Cameron Rupp (with 35 more plate appearances) is 38th in baseball with 0.2 WAR.
Knapp has, for the most part, been seeing more time behind the dish lately, as the Phils have recognized he’s been an offensive upgrade at the position.
One would assume that primary catching duties for 2018 would go to Jorge Alfaro, who has no option years left after this season and is such a highly touted prospect that – unless a trade occurs – there’s no way the Phils wouldn’t hand him a real opportunity to catch full-time. So, considering Knapp’s at least average offensive play, is he worth keeping as the second catcher next season?
It may be obvious to say “yes,” considering Knapp resembles a decent offensive player who’s still developing as a 25-year-old. But there are things to consider: Would the Phils want a veteran to teach Alfaro? Would the Phils want a more defensive-minded backstop to put the pressure off the defense a little? Would the Phils want someone who can frame some pitches?
The last thing has been a bugaboo for years. StatCorner does an excellent job tracking which catchers are best and worst at getting strike calls, and consistently, Rupp is below average. This year he’s third-worst in baseball behind Jonathan Lucroy and Salvador Perez. While Lucroy is having a down year at the plate, those two are typically guys you have because of their offense. Rupp’s offense is not strong enough to offset his defensive flaws.
As for Knapp, he’s also well below average in framing, according to StatCorner. So, again, is it wise for the Phils to pair Alfaro with another young backstop who’s not experienced and still learning the major league level?
Funny enough, the league’s best current framer, Atlanta’s Tyler Flowers, may be a free agent after this year. And while pitch framing shouldn’t be the only reason to make any decisions, Flowers is consistently very good at it and known league-wide as a good defensive catcher. It’s possible Flowers (who has morphed into a disciplined hitter and having his best offensive season yet) stays with Atlanta since the team holds an option on him, but keep an eye out.
Flowers has helped Atlanta turn into a moderate surprise this season. Having a solid defensive catcher has definitely helped their pitching and positioning. One wonders if the Phils could’ve benefited from a more stout defensive backstop, too.
But here we are. Knapp has been fine but below average defensively. Rupp has been slightly worse in both places. If Alfaro is the guy next year (that’s not in stone, but again, we’d have to assume), the Phils may be better served pairing him with an established defensive-first backstop.