clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Andrew Knapp the best leadoff option for the Phillies?

New, comments

The Phils’ rookie catcher has been an on-base machine this season.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to their July 4th match-up against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies released their starting lineup, something that all teams do a few hours before every game.

These are usually not noteworthy unless a player has been called up, a struggling veteran has been benched or moved down in the order, or someone gets hurt. But ahead of Tuesday’s game, manager Pete Mackanin’s lineup featured something that I didn’t think we would see this year.

Do you see it? Here’s a hint. It’s the first name you see.

That’s right, Ty Kelly, a guy the Phillies picked up off the street for nothing, a guy who is batting .190/.234/.345 after Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh, was put at the top of the lineup.

“It’s got to be because of his outstanding speed, right? Oh, he has no stolen bases you say?

“Well then, he must walk a lot! Oh, a 6.0% walk rate. Huh.

“I guess he doesn’t strike out that mu... hmm... a 25.4% K-rate in 67 plate appearances.”

So why the heck was Ty Kelly, ostensibly the worst hitter on the entire roster, given a spot in the lineup where he was assured of seeing more plate appearances than anyone else?

Well, at least there was a good reas... wait... what did he say?

Clearly, this team has missed Cesar Hernandez during his recovery from an oblique injury. But the lack of creativity here is pretty galling.

Kelly was at the top of the lineup because he looked like a prototypical leadoff hitter. In other words, he’s a slightly-built slap-hitter who appears to run fast (even though his speed is just average).

Mackanin is stuck in the old school way of thinking about that spot in the batting order, but other managers in baseball are not. Houston has one of their best sluggers, George Springer, batting leadoff. Colorado has power hitter Charlie Blackmon in the No. 1 spot. Joe Maddon has had Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber lead off for him this season.

And wouldn’t you know it, Kelly’s spot in the order came up at a crucial time in Tuesday’s ballgame when, in the bottom of the 7th inning and the Phils trailing 2-0, Andrew Knapp (we’ll get to him in a minute) walked and Cameron Perkins hit an infield single.

That brought up Kelly, who is such a dynamic offensive threat, someone you want to give as many PAs to as possible, that his skipper told him to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third with one out. That’s right, the No. 1 spot in the order was sacrificed in order to marginally improve the team’s chances of scoring a single run in a ballgame in which they trailed by two.

Of course, the move backfired. Freddy Galvis walked to load the bases and Aaron Altherr hit into a double play to kill the rally.

Kelly’s bunt was not the reason the team didn’t score there. Altherr’s grounder was the main culprit. But giving up an out there, when a player like Odubel Herrera would not have been asked to bunt, was less than ideal, no?

Mackanin did have other options at the leadoff spot, by the way.

Andrew Knapp has been an on-base machine for the Phillies when he has played this season. After going 0-for-1 with three walks on Tuesday, he now has an on-base percentage of .366, fifth-highest among all qualified MLB rookies this season.

The calls for Knapp to be at the top of the order have been growing louder and are reminiscent of the days when many wanted Carlos Ruiz, who traditionally had one of the best OBPs on the team, to hit leadoff. And in the absence of Hernandez, Knapp at the top of the lineup should be seriously considered. He’s certainly a better option than Kelly or Perkins, who was thrown into the leadoff spot upon being called up simply because he had been the No. 1-hole hitter in AAA.

And Knapp should certainly be getting the bulk of the playing time at catcher from here on out. Cameron Rupp’s .205/.300/.343 slash line is worthy of a permanent benching, and Knapp at least has the potential to be this team’s back-up catcher once Jorge Alfaro is ready for the Majors.

As for this season, Knapp’s ascension to the leadoff spot would buck baseball tradition. No one is going to expect him to go from 1st-to-3rd on a base hit to right field, although he did show good wheels last week scoring from 2nd on a wild pitch against Arizona. No one is going to expect him to steal a bunch of bags.

But baseball managers today realize it’s more important to load up your lineup with the best on-base guys at the top of the order rather than guys who look like they might be fast. And at the moment, while admittedly far from a perfect option, Knapp is worth a look there.

Baseball is changing, and those that fail to keep up will find their mistakes magnified.