The Phillies didn't exactly enter the 2016 season with sky-high expectations for Cameron Rupp, but they got a surprising amount of offense out of their catcher in his age 27 season. With Jorge Alfaro waiting in the wings, Andrew Knapp hanging around at Lehigh Valley, and A.J. Ellis just sort of looking for employment, Matt Klentak's toughest decisions this winter may revolve around the catcher position.
The only thing that was known for sure heading into the season at the catcher spot was that Carlos Ruiz would see his playing time cut. We all wanted to know if there was any untapped potential in the bat of Rupp. He got 377 PAs from 2013-2015, most of them coming in the 2015 campaign, and had hit .227/.292/.353 through 2015.
Needless to say, it was hard to see a .252/.303/.447 season coming from Rupp. He finished the year with 16 HR and 54 RBI, added 26 two-base hits, and even legged out a triple in there too. (The memory of that triple is rattling around somewhere in my brain, though to be honest it's hard to pinpoint it at the moment.)
Rupp worked last off-season to remake his swing, and the results were there. Statcast still isn't a perfect mechanism, but it's no surprise that Rupp had an above-average exit velocity of 92.43 MPH on batted balls. On balls up in the zone, Rupp was generally able to use his lower body strength to turn on the ball and hit it. And hit it very hard. Our friends at Fake Teams put together a nice recap of Rupp's season from the fantasy baseball lens, but it's still perfectly relevant for reality baseball too.
Rupp has shown value at the plate, but of course that's only part of the job description when you also have to crouch down behind the plate for 9 innings a game, too. Rupp's defense hasn't been suspect, per se, but with a glance at the statistics and some reading between the lines throughout the season, the Phillies weren't always overly thrilled with Rupp behind the plate.
Rupp threw out 17 of 62 would-be base stealers, around league-average for the 2016 season. Last year, he threw out 20 of 53 base stealers, well above-average. Of course caught stealing isn't a be-all, end-all statistic because runners will pick their spots against certain guys at certain times in the game, and meaningless stolen base stats pop up in the late innings of games all the time. That being said, from the eye test, Rupp has shown a steady arm at most times, and is generally pretty accurate with his throws down to second base.
By the Defensive Runs Saved metric, Rupp was second from the bottom among the 15 qualified catchers in baseball with a -5 number. His pitch framing numbers were not stellar, but far from abysmal. Yes, these are more statistics that we're still trying to parse and figure out in this advanced stats era, so things are still a bit murky. However, the Twins did just acquire Jason Castro last week because the advanced numbers that all of us regular fans have access to state his pitch framing numbers are stellar. Hey, maybe we are doing this right after all.
So with all that said, we should probably get to the point about Rupp being a potential trade candidate this winter. While it is a possibility, it doesn't seem highly likely, although we've been surprised before. He has value, but it just doesn't seem like the timing will be right in terms of making a trade. How's that for vague platitudes?
Yes, the Phillies have Alfaro and Knapp in the minors. That very well could be the combination that they go with in 2018. There's a heck of a chance Alfaro is playing a major role midway through 2017. For now, however, it doesn't seem likely that he will begin the season with the big club.
Knapp put up a .719 OPS in Lehigh Valley and played all but one inning of his season behind the plate, so the Phillies do seem committed to him at the catcher spot. He'll likely start in Lehigh Valley for some more seasoning.
When everything is all said and done, it probably leaves the Phillies with a Major League catching combination of Rupp and Ellis. Ellis, who performed well in his time here, did all his Good Guy in the Clubhouse things that he was expected to do. If it's not Ellis, the Phillies can find a veteran to pair with Rupp. It doesn't seem likely they'd go with Knapp off the bat, and while Alfaro did see spot time in the Majors at the end of last year, more time in AAA wouldn't be a bad thing.
The Phillies also have to consider their pitchers. They don't want to leave guys feeling abandoned and having to start over. And in fact, in terms of opposing hitter OPS, Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson, and Vince Velasquez all had better numbers working with Rupp than even Ruiz, who has certainly been known as one of the best receivers in the game over the last decade or so.
There's no doubt what the Phillies are rooting for. They want Alfaro to be the future. They'd like Knapp to develop behind him. For now, Cameron Rupp just sort of exists, but in a good way. Offensively, he could sneak his way into the conversation as one of the top 10 catchers in baseball if this keeps up. Defensively, he seems to hold his own. If he puts together a 2017 that resembles his 2016 and makes it through all 162 in a Phillies uniform, we may be talking more seriously about that trade value next off-season.