Cameron Rupp: A Large Man of Extremes
Heading into the 2017 season, we here at Crashburn Alley strive to update you on a specific storyline regarding many of the returning staples from last season’s roster. Today is catcher Cameron Rupp.
The Phillies have never been long without a franchise catcher. At least not for the last 30 years of their history. Carlos Ruiz has been in various stages of decline over the past few years and as the 2016 season opened he had already ceded his starting job. That starting job had been given to Cameron Rupp. Rupp was never highly regarded as a prospect despite the pedigree of being a 3rd round pick. But nonetheless, he finds himself the Phillies starting catcher with the chance to continue the unbroken line of franchise catchers.
Cameron Rupp has become somewhat of a Statcast darling due to his high exit velocity. By their leaderboards his 92.2 mph average exit velocity ranked 29th out 246 qualified batters (min 200 PA). It showed in his power numbers too. Last year, Rupp had 43 of his 98 hits go for extra bases including 16 home runs, which was 10th among MLB catchers (his Isolated Power was 7th). The problem has been Rupp’s ability to make contact more than his ability to hit the ball hard when he did make contact. In 2016 his strikeout rate was 22nd highest among all major league batters with at least 400 plate appearances. This was an increase from his 2015 rate, but not out of line with his previous rates. The reason for the high rate is Rupp’s swing where he “bars his arm” or extends it fully before his swing comes forward, this extension prevents him from adjusting to pitches mid swing. When combined with how hard Rupp swings, he can be left exposed to offspeed pitches.
His strikeouts were not Rupp’s only problem. Rupp does not walk at a high rate, with his walk rate the 30th lowest. Additionally, Rupp has been one of the worst batters in baseball against RHPs. His OPS of .660 is the 22nd worst rate vs RHPs in the majors over the past two seasons (min 500 PAs). Additionally, the advanced catching metrics don’t love Rupp’s glove behind the plate and he has routinely rated as a below average pitch framer per Baseball Prospectus’ metrics.
This all paints Rupp as a mess at catcher, but he does some thing very well. Over his career he is a .297/.350/.552 hitter vs left handed pitchers. Over the past two years he is on par with Kris Bryant and Miguel Cabrera vs lefties. The problem is that as a catcher he is not really ideal for a platoon. Though the Phillies could use switch hitting catcher Andrew Knapp to use the catchers based on opposing pitcher and not the Phillies’ starting pitcher. His throwing arm is also strong, and while his caught stealing rate is not high, there is a good argument to be made that the Phillies pitchers were also just bad at holding on runners.
2017 is Rupp’s only chance to prove that he is the heir to the Phillies catching throne, and not a temporary interloper. Andrew Knapp should start the year as the backup catcher, and Jorge Alfaro looks like the future and will be starting a short call away in Lehigh Valley. Alfaro is also out of minor league options in 2018, so he will be in the majors. There is an opportunity for Rupp to take the job and either hold off Alfaro or to prove he should be he his mentor as he grows into his major league future.
Rupp is a man of extremes and if he can make his weakness a bit less of black holes and bit more of “avert your eyes” he could be a valuable baseball player. Afterall he was worth a win and a half last year when he could hit in the majority of his at bats.
All multi year splits rank were determined using Baseball Reference’s Play Index.