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Zack Wheeler on Andrew Knapp: ‘He would be starting on most teams’


Andrew Knapp is one of the longest-tenured Phillies. (Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

At least in the court of public opinion, Andrew Knapp was a non-tender candidate after a 2019 season in which he hit just .213 in 136 at-bats.

Instead, the Philadelphia Phillies reached an agreement for Knapp to make $710,000 in 2020 (it ended up being $262,943 during the 60-game season). While the decision to bring Knapp back as J.T. Realmuto’s backup catcher in 2020 was met with some chagrin from the fanbase, it’s turned out to be one of the wisest moves that the Phillies have made in recent years.

In the pandemic-shortened season, Knapp had the finest season of his career, slashing .278/.404/.444 in 33 games. When he played, Knapp performed at the level of a top-half-of-the-league catcher, at a bare minimum.

Since the start of the 2020 season, Knapp has also earned high marks for his game-calling ability behind the plate. Zack Wheeler has worked with Knapp for three consecutive starts, and has a 2.45 ERA to show for it. Led by the complete-game shutout he tossed against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 6 with Knapp catching him, Wheeler has become a legitimate National League All-Star candidate. FanGraphs says that Wheeler has been the fifth-best starter in 2021, and he gives Knapp quite a bit of credit for what’s been a career-year thus far.

“Yeah, it’s nice working with Knappy – he’s a solid catcher. I think he would be starting on most teams,” Wheeler said after his start Wednesday evening. “He’s got a plan back there, and I love that about catchers. I can kind of just go with it. [I’ll] maybe shake him off a few times, but most of the time we’ve been on the same page. He catches a lot of my bullpens, so he knows what my stuff does, he has an idea and his game prep is one of the best. Him and J.T. really dig into the game prep, so it’s always nice knowing that. And he swung it last year, and he’s doing well this year, so it’s nice to see.”

Realmuto has dealt with both a knee contusion and non-COVID illness this week, which opened the door for Knapp to start a few consecutive games.

After impressing Wheeler Wednesday, Knapp’s framing shined in a start for Zach Eflin Thursday. Granted, Eflin gave up five runs in six innings, but he also struck out nine batters. There were at least three instances in yesterday’s matinee where Eflin received called third strikes that clearly weren’t strikes. Umpire Scorecards says that home plate umpire Jeff Nelson was worth +1.3 runs for the Phillies yesterday. Part of that might just be a bad day for the home plate umpire – a seemingly common theme in 2021 – but you have to give some credit to Knapp’s framing, which Eflin did after his start.

“It’s huge, especially being a sinker baller myself, trying to live an inch or two off the plate and getting those calls because he’s catching them right,” Eflin said Thursday afternoon. “We take so much pride – all the catching coaches that work with Andrew and J.T. and even [Rafael] Marchan – they are constantly grinding and trying to get better. They all want to get better, nobody stops working. So it’s really cool to see, and at the end of the day, they are a pitcher’s best friends, and that’s what they want to be. You can’t really teach that.”

After an excellent offensive season in 2020, Knapp is hitting just .186 in 2021. That said, judging backup catcher on batting average is probably flawed – Knapp has just 43 at-bats, because he’s behind probably the best catcher in the sport. On top of that, he had four RBIs over the first two games of the Nationals series, and Joe Girardi was quick to point out how timely Knapp’s eight hits have been in 2021.

“I think he’s done a really good job behind home plate for us all year long – I thought he did a great job for us last year too,” Girardi said Wednesday. “I think he’s very prepared like J.T., and they actually work a lot together, in tandem.

“The other thing is, he’s had some big hits for us, when you think about it. He has a walk-off…he has the two-run single Tuesday night…he had a home run in the first game that he caught, that we won 2-1. So his average may not be as high as he wants, but he’s driven in nine runs in limited time, and those have been important runs.”

Knapp, 29, is now affectionally referred to as “BBCIB” (best backup catcher in baseball) by some Phillies fans. He may eventually get the chance to play on a more regular basis with another organization, but he can’t become a free agent until after the 2022 season, and the Phillies would seemingly be smart to ride things out with one of the longest-tenured players on the team.

The Nuggets

  • The Phillies will face the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night, on what would have been Roy Halladay’s 44th birthday.
  • Even though he’s missed a few games, FanGraphs still says that J.T. Realmuto has been the sixth-most valuable offensive player in baseball this season. The two-time All-Star has a 1.8 fWAR, which is tied with J.D. Martinez and Yuli Gurriel for the fifth-best mark in baseball.
  • Meanwhile, in terms of pitching, FanGraphs says that the Phillies have three of the top 12 starters in baseball this year. Zack Wheeler (fifth), Zach Eflin (10th) and Aaron Nola (12th) could all be All-Star candidates. The last time that the Phillies sent three pitchers to the midsummer classic was in 2011, when Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all All-Stars.
  • It might be a little early to be talking about the World Series, but there are quite a few online sports betting sites that have already released odds for it. Sports Betting Dime has even gathered a list of the more popular sites, so dig around to see which one actually has odds available because there might be one or two that haven’t released anything just yet.

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