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2019 Phillies in review: Andrew Knapp

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A fairly divisive player in the system, is it time for the Phillies to improve at his position?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers

.213/.318/.324, 160 PA, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 31.9 K%, 11.3 BB%, 0.2 fWAR

The good

We here at The Good Phight are always looking for some redeemable value in a player’s season. There has to be something a player did right that justified his spot on the team. So with Andrew Knapp, let’s dig a little bit.

Hmmmmmmm, his offensive numbers weren’t good. 68 OPS+? Couldn’t even give me another point, Andrew? Well, how about that defense then?

A. Knapp BP defense 2018-19

Year Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs FRAA CS%
Year Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs FRAA CS%
2018 -3.5 -0.4 -0.3 -5.4 18%
2019 -0.2 -0.6 0.1 -0.4 29%

Ah, there’s the good stuff.

There is across the board improvement from Knapp in nearly every category tracked by Baseball Prospectus. Even the blocking runs is negligible when it comes to getting better or worse. It is kind of stark to see how much he improved from one season to the next. Even though most of those numbers are in the red, there is still enough improvement that he isn’t embarrassing himself behind the plate. You’d have to consider him league average when it comes to defense. That’s a good thing!

It could also be his saving grace. With the team looking to get better in 2020 and make a playoff push, there is something to be said for the fact that he has gotten himself better behind the dish and that he is already familiar with the pitchers that are already here on the team.

The bad

But boy oh boy, the bat.

When Knapp was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft, I don’t think many people had illusions as to what exactly the team was getting. He wasn’t projected to be much more than a time sharer with someone else, perhaps giving some offensive production that could be league average.

Boy how we would love to have that league average at this point. His first year, 2017, was actually a pretty good year. A 96 OPS+ for a backup catcher is nothing to sneeze at. However, the past two years, well...

2018 - 64 OPS+
2019 - 68 OPS+

That’s bad. There really isn’t any other way to put it. It’s not good enough production, even from a player that isn’t expected to give much in the first place. While it is nice to see his defense perk up to the point of being average, it’s not enough to justify the meager numbers he puts up on the scoreboard. You always want to try and find the positive, but here, it just doesn’t look like the positives outweigh the negatives.

The future

This is where the fun begins.

If you were to poll the average Phillies fan on the street with a simple “yes or no” question about whether Knapp should be brought back for 2020, you can probably guess what the overwhelming majority would say. And yet Matt Klentak would argue otherwise. In comments captured by Meghan Montemurro at the Athletic, Klentak gave a sunny review about Knapp and his 2019 season:

“I think it’s really difficult for any player but especially a relatively young player like Knapp to adjust to a bench role when they’ve been a regular player for most of their lives. I was encouraged by the way that he performed in the final week to 10 days of the season when he had a chance to play a little more regularly. I thought his at-bats were good...If there’s something that makes sense for us behind the plate, we may explore it, but I think the pairing of Realmuto and Knapp is generally pretty good and can continue to be,” Klentak said, “particularly with the 26th man, which is likely going to add another bat off the bench for us, which would potentially limit the number of pinch-hitting opportunities for the backup catcher.”

Uh....

I’ve always like Knapp for some reason. He’s not the greatest bat in the world but he does bring a patient approach to the plate as well as a knack for giving a productive pinch hit appearance. He’s not expected to cost a whole lot of money in arbitration (MLBTR has him at $800K), so they can keep him around for another season if they want to. But you have to wonder whether J.T. Realmuto was playing so much because he was so good (likely) or because they didn’t want Knapp to get significant plate appearances (also likely). If the second part is mostly true, then adding a backup catcher who is better offensively would be a boon to the team. The dropoff between Realmuto and the backup doesn’t have to be as steep.

There are some options out there to acquire, either by trade or free agency. It’s just a matter of the Phillies making the phone call and improving. Whether the Phillies do so is something else entirely. They might opt to say “Hey, Knapp’s defense was actually good!” and “He had a really nice rapport with the pitching staff!”*

Yet we just keep coming back to the fact that his bat is so weak, so unproductive, it really doesn’t make sense to ignore the position and not try to improve it, even if that improvement is only worth one win. In a race that could be pretty tight next year, that one win could make a difference. It behooves the front office to try and get it.

*Fun fact: Phillies’ pitching actually had a better ERA with Knapp behind the plate (4.24) than with Realmuto (4.61).