When things start to go right, even temporarily, it’s easy to point to the successes. The top of the Phillies lineup is having a ball right now, with Cesar Hernandez, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, and Maikel Franco putting a charge into the ball. Howie Kendrick was performing before he got hurt, Brock Stassi hit a triple the other day, Michael Saunders has been making solid contact and hit a ball into the second deck the other night. But as some numbers go up, our eyes drift toward those that have stayed low. In the Phillies lineup, one guy who has yet to see any amount of success at the plate in 2017 is catcher Cameron Rupp.
When has Rupp had offensive success? He had 14 hits, including two doubles and three homers, over the course of a ten-game hit streak in August 2015, but when that month began he was hitting .226. Rupp had a very consistent May 2016, full of hits and runs and barreling that big ‘ol torso around third an entire eight times. And how about these numbers, brought to us by a person who you might be able to safely guess is an ardent Cameron Rupp supporter.
We’ve seen Rupp have a few outbursts at the plate. But right now, things are bad. .170 BA bad. Seven strikeouts in his last 15 AB bad. 0-for-4 with 3 K’s against the Marlins the other night bad. 0-for-7 with 4 SO with RISP this year bad. And that stings, because Rupp is a proven charmer in the clubhouse whose teammates love him. The Phillies can see that, obviously, which is why he’s the darling of their video campaign in which the Phanatic is unsuccessfully domesticated. Teams have been reluctant to use charismatic players for PR promotions in the past when they are unsure of the length of their tenure with a team, so the Phillies tapping Rupp could mean someone told them it wasn't in the cards for him to be moved just yet.
So, since he’s sticking around, let’s take a look at some graphs and screencaps and such that really zoom in on what Rupp is doing wrong.
Oh god, that sounds like a lot of work. Let’s just assume he was seeing the ball better last May. Although he did strike out 19 times. But he came into the month hitting .271 and he left it hitting .273, an output that would be perfectly welcome today.
And perhaps we should be content to watch the Phillies win six games in a row, sweep a homestand, survive a run against the Nationals and the, heh heh, last-place Mets, and not even notice that the starting catcher was quietly slumping. But word out of Lehigh Valley is that Jorge Alfaro hasn’t met a pitch he couldn’t mash, and his bombastic numbers are making people salivate thinking about production out of the catcher’s spot on the major league level. Even the current back-up is interesting. Andrew Knapp? What’s he about? What’s going on with that mustache? Loving the mystery. Loving the ride.
The question is, is this Cameron Rupp struggling, or is this Cameron Rupp? For the first month of the 2017 season, the answer has been, “Who cares, Jorge Alfaro will be here soon.” Now that we know Alfaro is going to be kept in the minors because he is in his final option year - a promotion during which would make the Phillies vulnerable to losing him if he was to be sent to the minors in 2018 - the question becomes more pertinent. This is at least good news in that Rupp is not a Papelbon-type, whittling away the hours of the day making passive aggressive comments, publicly choking the team’s best players, grabbing his crotch at the fans, and being an unapologetic Dallas Cowboys fan. Well, not all of those things. But he is having a hard time, and with a ceiling that has yet to reach anywhere far beyond .250/.300/.450, even Rupp at his best is not particularly blistering - though it is safe to say that he is a better player than he has been in 2017 thus far.
A revamped swing helped Rupp find some success in 2016, making use of the his lower body to put the fear of god into a few balls. As a base-thief sheriff, he was slightly above average in his first year as a regular, then sunk to about average last season, but in general, keeps his throws low enough to give Cesar Hernandez or Freddy Galvis a chance to make the tag. To be fair, accuracy on throws to second is somewhere Alfaro has been said to need a few improvements as well. If Rupp were performing on a slightly higher level or able to catch a hot streak, he might be making himself more valuable to the Phillies or more enticing to a team in need of a catcher. Right now, he exists in a murky area between Phillies catching eras, between prospects, and, unfortunately, usually between the dugout and home plate.
Basically, we (and he) may have to withstand the 28-year-old’s cold stretch. There are worse unmovable presences to have on a team, and it’s nice that at the very least, he has a good rapport with the pitchers. But if this team gets much more competitive - no one should be drawing any sort of conclusions yet, but if it were to happen, I’m saying, and then continue to happen, and then the world not be obliterated by in or outside forces - an 0-for-RISP is only going to appear more glaring.
Here’s hoping the big lug pulls out of this tailspin and taps into the sort of power that a man the size of a mountain cottage always seems capable of harnessing. But I’d also settle for .250. And likely, for now, so would he.