After recording a hit for the fourth straight game and sealing a victory with a game-ending tag at home plate, something has become very clear early this season – Philadelphia Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp is playing as well as he ever has in a major-league uniform.
Knapp reached base safely twice on Sunday night against the Atlanta Braves on a single and hit by pitch, but made his biggest impact on the final play of the game.
After center fielder Roman Quinn snagged a base hit in the left-center gap and fired to shortstop Didi Gregorius, Knapp fielded a strong throw on two hops from Gregorius and made an excellent tag to get the winning run at the pate. A fired-up Knapp ripped off his mask and helmet to celebrate the play and win, which both stood after a replay review:
Knapp’s performance on Sunday Night Baseball was consistent with his play for much of the 2020 season so far. Of course, Knapp is not the typical starter, as All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto gets the bulk of the playing time. But in the limited time that Knapp has seen, the backup catcher has truly made the most of his opportunities.
The biggest improvements that Knapp has made this season have been on offense. In 22 plate appearances up to this point, the switch-hitting catcher has a batting average of .450 with an OPS of 1.100. He already has three doubles on the season, compared to nine last season. While Realmuto is probably the best offensive catcher in baseball, the Phillies have not lost much production with Knapp in the lineup.
This is a big contrast to what Knapp has offered at the plate the past two seasons. He posted just a .204 batting average with a .623 OPS in 2018 and 2019 combined. He did not receive regular playing time behind Realmuto, Jorge Alfaro and Wilson Ramos, and especially struggled as a pinch hitter.
But after a Summer Camp of regular plate appearances and now getting more starts with extra doubleheaders, it seems that Knapp has found a groove. It also seems that he may have found one of the keys that helped him achieve some success as a rookie in 2017 — limiting his strikeouts.
Good things happen when Knapp puts the ball in play, and that’s what he did in 2017 and is doing this season as well. He has always had a fairly high batting average on balls in play – .342 for his career. The problems seem to come when Knapp is striking out more, which he did the last two seasons. However, he has cut his strikeout percentage to 18.2% this season, the lowest of his career. His second lowest came in that 2017 season, when it sat at 27.5%.
Knapp’s BABIP this season currently stands at .563, which is almost certainly an unsustainable number. But even if that number drops much closer to his career average, Knapp should still be able to post significantly better offensive numbers than in the past two seasons if he can keep up the bat-to-ball skills he’s shown.
Put the offensive improvements together with solid defense behind the plate and experience working with many pitchers on the staff, and that makes for a beyond capable backup catcher for the Phillies. With Realmuto doing what he does for the majority of the time, a secondary catcher is not as crucial. Anything the team gets out of the backup catcher position is a bonus, and what Knapp has offered the Phillies this year could definitely be considered a huge one.
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