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Learning to appreciate Andrew Knapp

Let’s all really understand what the team has here

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Philadelphia Phillies Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

I haven’t been the biggest Andrew Knapp fan. This much is apparent. I wrote a piece back in January detailing the need for the team to upgrade their backup catcher position and to a point, that position still stands. Staring blankly at a slash line of .167/.352/.286 would lead one to think that the player with those numbers isn’t exactly major league caliber. It makes you question the judgement of an organization that continues to keep him around, giving him regular plate appearances to keep the starter, J.T. Realmuto, fresh.

Then you realize that there must be other things that someone like Knapp brings to the table. It can’t be all about numbers - there have to be outside forces like clubhouse presences, intangibles, things that are not quantifiable that the team sees that makes them continue to cut that paycheck. That has to count for something, right? By all accounts, Knapp is a pretty cool dude. His teammates seem to like him and the pitching staff seems to have a degree of respect for him. However, we like to be able to put numbers on things. There are two things Knapp does that are starting make me appreciate what he brings to the table a little more.

He can get on base

We all know the job of a backup catcher. Make sure the starter is prepared, handle the pitching staff, and try not to be a complete blackhole when in the batter’s box. While Knapp’s batting average tells us one story, his on base percentage tells another. Through Tuesday, there were 63 catchers with at least 40 plate appearances. Of those 63, Knapp’s .352 OBP ranks tied for 12th among all those catchers. It isn’t much, but when Knapp gets to the plate, we know he has a pretty good chance of reaching base, and really, can you ask for anything more from the backup catcher? Sure, it would be nice if he were to have some pop to go along with that on base percentage (his .286 SLG puts him 47th among those same catchers), at least he isn’t so horrendous he is an embarrassment with the bat. It helps that when he gets up to hit, he has a pretty good idea of what the strike zone is on that particular day, which he is obviously putting to good use. So while some might prefer a backup catcher who is more of a power threat when they do get those 4-10 plate appearances a week, at least Knapp is doing something productive with his appearances.

Zach Eflin must really like him

Eflin has been the feel good story of the pitching staff thus far. His success has blanketed over the struggles Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta have had and has stabilized what has been a shaky rotation. When Eflin does pitch, it’s pretty interesting to note who he apparently likes throwing to more.

Eflin by catcher in 2019

JT Realmuto 32.0 36 15 2.78 3.66 0.770
A. Knapp 33.2 28 9 5.20 2.41 0.639

This is by no means any kind of a knock on J.T. Realmuto, who as we all know is a superb game caller and all-around catcher, but there’s no denying there is a certain kind of rapport between Knapp and Eflin that is showing up in games. This isn’t a one season thing, either. In 2018, it was pretty much the same kind of stark contrast between the catchers the Phillies had when Eflin was on the mound.

Eflin by catcher in 2018

J. Alfaro 53.1 62 26 3.20 4.22 0.815
A. Knapp 40.2 29 17 6.67 3.32 0.583
W. Ramos 34.0 39 21 2.19 5.82 0.811

Judging by those two seasons, we can pretty easily determine that if Eflin is on the mound, Knapp should be behind the plate. If you’re as enamored by the defensive stats for catching as I am, you wouldn’t find much to be happy with when it comes to Knapp’s game. He’s still below average in everything - framing, throwing and blocking. Yet the fact that Eflin noticeably improves while Knapp is behind the plate means there are other factors here that are not able to be quantified that give Knapp value to this ballclub.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you should like Knapp. Why, in our group chats here at TGP, the phrase “fire into the sun” comes up frequently when we discuss Knapp. Even these two meager reasons aren’t exactly the things that excite many people. When we look for reasons why Knapp is still on the roster, outside of the inability to find better options, we can point to those two and nod accordingly. We also can sense based on last year’s trade for Wilson Ramos that the team will look to improve if it has to. That probably won’t happen with Realmuto around, but we know that they would easily pull the trigger if they had to. For now, though, let’s lean into this angle of trying to give some love to Andrew Knapp. He isn’t the flashiest thing, but doggone it - he does give the team some positive value. We can appreciate that!