“Fire him into the sun!”
“Isn’t there anyone better?”
These were the most common phrases one might find when discussing Andrew Knapp in the past. The object of scorn of many fans for not being J.T. Realmuto is something that was very real. Many folks in the past two seasons have gotten so used to the sustained excellence of Realmuto that when he was given a day off and Knapp replaced him, people were angry. Unfairly or not, they naturally compare the two catchers since they do the same job. However, it is nearly impossible to believe that they are going to have the same output. One is an MVP caliber player and the other is a career backup. One is expected to receive the largest contract in history for a catcher, the other is probably best known as a gif.
Yet this year, Knapp has been incredible. His hitting has improved (though still having to apply the small sample size disclaimer), his fielding and handling of the pitching staff has improved to the point where he’s receiving regular starts with the team’s ace. And his teammates love him!
Teammates speak glowingly about Andrew Knapp, sometimes unprompted. There’s a lot of people happy to see him succeeding this year.— Tim Kelly (@TimKellySports) September 6, 2020
It’s been a long journey for Knapp. He’s one of the few developmental success stories one can point to since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft. In fact, prior to Sunday’s game, Knapp ranks fifth among players drafted by the Phillies in bWAR since that draft.
Phillies draftees by bWAR since 2013
|A. Nola (2014)||21.6|
|R. Hoskins (2014)||5.5|
|J. Crawford (2013)||3.1|
|A. Haseley (2017)||1.9|
|A. Knapp (2013)||0.4|
|J. Romero (2016)||0.2|
|B. Liebrandt (2014)||0.2|
|S. Kingery (2015)||0.1|
|S. Howard (2017)||0.1|
|A. Bohm (2018)||0.1|
|C. Irvin (2016)||-0.2|
|C. Brogdon (2016)||-0.2|
Whether that is an indictment on the Phillies’ drafting ability or on their development program, I’ll leave that for you to decide, but this season is shaping up to be the best season of Knapp’s career and it really isn’t close.
Now, as we said before, it’s important to remember that Knapp only has made 31 plate appearances this season since Realmuto has seemingly pledged to absorb each one behind the plate for himself. Yet in those plate appearances, Knapp has been very productive. His walk rate, which has always been quite good, remains in the double digit figures (10.7%), while his strikeout rate has plummeted almost ten percent (~31% to ~22%).
Looking at his Statcast data, there isn’t much change there as he’s not really hitting the ball harder (his 88 mph exit velocity is lower than last year), yet Baseball Info Solutions says that of the balls he has hit this year, 50% are of the “hard hit” variety. So whatever adjustment he and hitting coach Joe Dillon have done, it is working.
There is also Knapp’s defense to consider. Judging by the metrics Baseball Prospectus has available, Knapp has always been a below average defender. Last year, under catching coach Craig Driver, Knapp did take a leap forward, bringing all of his advanced metrics up a notch, ending the season with -0.4 FRAA, a far cry from the -5.4 in 2018 and -10.2 in 2017. When Drive left for Chicago this past offseason, Knapp continued his work under Bob Stumpo and the progress has continued. Even in this shortened season, you can see that he has continued to maintain the gains he made last year under Stumpo’s tutelage.
Knapp’s pitch framing
HIs defense has also produced one of the more memorable plays of the 2020 season, as his perfect block of home plate preserved a victory for the Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball against the Braves.
What a Phinish!!!!!— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) August 24, 2020
Phillies season long 5 game losing streak is over!!!
Phils hold onto their early lead - barely!!!! @6abc #Phillies pic.twitter.com/4MacqVmptP
Now, we are still talking about the backup catcher. Usually when we get excited about the backup catcher, it’s because either the regular catcher has gotten hurt or the team has performed well short of expectations that we are grasping at things to give us a positive outlook on the year. In this case, it’s neither - and that’s a good thing. Knapp has truly been one of the bright spots of the season so far. His hitting has allowed Joe Girardi to give J.T. Realmuto more rest than he probably even planned on doing at the outset and that’s never a bad thing. Instead, Knapp’s bat and glove have been productive enough that it’s almost becoming expected he produce when he is playing. It’s given the team a tandem behind the plate that has helped out them in playoff position. It’ll be crucial that he keep it up as the team enters this stretch of games with doubleheaders seemingly every other day. It’s been a luxury for the team to have this season, one we all hope can continue.