Phillies 2016 Report Card: Catcher Cameron Rupp
Expected by many to be a stopgap in 2016 as catching prospects developed, Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp emerged as a force behind the plate in his own right.
2015 was a year of change and development for the Phillies in terms of catchers. Andrew Knapp destroyed Double-A pitching and the team brought in an exciting catching prospect in Jorge Alfaro in the Cole Hamels trade. At the major-league level, Carlos Ruiz started his fall from grace as Cameron Rupp slid into the starting role.
While Rupp was a solid defender behind the plate, his offense was lacking. He finished the year with a .233/.301/.374 line in 299 plate appearances while accumulating one defensive win above replacement. Manager Pete Mackanin told Rupp he needed to improve his swing, and he took it to heart. Last winter Rupp worked with Chris Edelstein, Rupp’s hitting instructor since childhood.
The move paid off as Rupp was much better at the plate in 2016. He was worth 1.8 offensive wins above replacement according to Baseball Reference. Rupp finished the year with 16 home runs, a .750 OPS, and .321 weighted on-base average (wOBA). He became an intriguing selection for fantasy baseball players, ranking 15th among all catchers in Fangraphs’ end-of-season rankings.
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Rupp’s best span came between the months of June and July. From when June started until July ended, Rupp posted a .281/.358/.526 line with a 136 wRC+ and eight of his 16 home runs.
Mackanin told Rupp he needed to alter his swing path, and he did exactly that working with Edelstein this winter. Andrew Perpetua of Fangraphs examined Rupp’s heatmaps from this season compard to last year, saying:
Thanks to his new swing path, Rupp produced much better contact. He raised his hard contact percentage six percent and cut down on his soft contact by nearly three percent. More fly balls went for home runs, jumping from 11.8% of fly balls going for home runs in 2015 to 16.8% this year.
According to MLB Statcast, Rupp’s batted balls came off the bat with an average velocity of 92.43 mph. For perspective, the league average is 89.57 mph. With the ball getting such jump off the bat, Rupp collected more hits from balls in play. Rupp’s batting average on balls in play jumped from .281 in 2015 to .315 in 2016.
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When the Phillies traded Ruiz in August, Rupp became the full-time catcher for the Phillies. The team could have used the trade as justification to promote one of their two catching prospects and get them consistent playing time in the majors. Instead, they acquired catcher A.J. Ellis in the trade to serve as Rupp’s backup as Rupp became the starter.
Even though Rupp became the starter after the Ruiz trade, there were still some major holes in his game this year. As hard as Rupp swung this year, he missed just as hard too. Rupp struck out in 27.2% of his plate appearances without taking many walks, walking just 5.7% of the time.
On defense, Rupp’s one saving grace has always been his strong arm. In 2015, he was worth 0.8 throwing runs according to Baseball Prospectus. This year, that total fell below replacement-level at -0.7 runs. Rupp caught 38% of potential base-stealers in 2015, 10% above the league average according to Baseball Reference. In 2016, Rupp caught only 27% of runners, right at the league average.
The biggest gripe with Rupp as a catcher is his pitch framing. In 2015, Rupp’s framing was worth -5.6 runs below replacement. While he improved this season with -3.3 runs, it was still by no means good.
Catcher, Philadelphia Phillies
With Cameron Rupp seeing offensive improvements from an otherwise meager 2015 campaign, he doesn’t deserve a bad grade. However, his defense is still barely average, and catcher is a position where you have to hit your way out of poor defense. If Rupp can’t continue this level of hitting, he will quickly fall out of favor. Analyzing this season on its own, I’ll give Rupp a “B-“.
Looking towards 2017, Cameron Rupp will be the Opening Day starter without a doubt. Andrew Knapp will likely open the season on the roster as the backup catcher. A good start from Knapp or a bad start from Rupp could force Pete Mackanin to swap their roles in similar fashion to Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph this year.