Crash Bag Vol. 37: Catchers, Otani, and 2018

@Anton_Smolka: Do you think Alfaro will ever become a decent defensive catcher and fix his issues at the plate (approach, swing, etc.)

I don’t fancy myself a scout, so I can’t really add anything about Alfaro’s defense that I haven’t heard from somebody else. I’ve seen scouts put him somewhere between slightly below-average and slightly above-average in the field, with potential improvements down the line. His arm is a literal cannon, but he’s a big dude, and crouching for three hours every day with consistent form and fundamentals is hard when you’re a big dude. I don’t think anyone will confuse him for a Molina brother back there, but early returns in the big leagues say that he’s adequate back there now with room to grow, as catcher defense tends to mature more slowly than other positions. Calling a game is an entirely different skill that I’m even less well-suited to answer, so I won’t even try.

Offensively, Alfaro is aggressive. He will continue to be aggressive; that’s what he does. I always think it makes sense that players with his skill set never really develop the patience of other players. It’s probably survivorship bias (i.e. if you didn’t have lighting quick hands and a lot of power, you’d never make it to the show without being patient), but imagine 16-year-old Alfaro playing baseball with other 16-year-olds. His prodigious power and quick bat have enabled him to crush anything that came his way for his whole life, and that’s likely shaped the way he sees the game. He never had to try to walk because he would just hit dingers instead. That’s who he is and who he will continue to be. He’s never going to be Chooch at the plate.

That being said, he needs to iron out a few things to reach his superstar potential. For one, aggressive is fine, but a 2.5% walk rate vs a 32.9% strikeout rate isn’t. He isn’t hitting for power at the moment, as his .108 ISO can attest, and his batting line is entirely buoyed by a .457 BABIP that probably isn’t earned, given that his 86.5 exit velocity is middle of the pack at best. In fact, even going back into the minors, he’s never had an ISO over .200, and for a guy with his raw power, that’s concerning. He needs to tap into that in the game to be a valuable player, and the only way to do that is to be more selective at the plate.

Alfaro has swung at 46.8% of pitches outside the strike zone since he got called up. That’s 8th-highest in the MLB among players who have batted at least 50 times, and five of the players ahead of him are pitchers. His 21.1% whiff rate is third among MLB players with 50 plate appearances, and the two people ahead of him are pitchers. I don’t want to put too much stock into 79 PAs, but he’s basically been these three guys, and he needs to improve. I think he can become an above-average hitter in time, and his defensive position and skill will give him plenty of chances to try.

@bxe1234: Seeing options left on catchers, would you option Rupp/Knapp if you can’t move Rupp for anything of value? Carry 3 catchers? #crashbag

I’ll start off by saying I don’t think the Phillies should start next season carrying three catchers under any circumstances. With the short outings the starters regularly turn in, it’s going to be all hands on deck for the bullpen, and I’d actually like to see the Phillies win more games next year.

Anyways, I could be mistaken, but I believe Knapp still has a couple minor league option years. He was added to the 40 man roster after last season, so I think that means he’s eligible to be optioned back to the minors without having to clear waivers next season. In fact, since he didn’t spend any time in the minors this season, the Phillies could option him for the next three years. Quoth the Wikipedia page for MLB Transactions:

Once a player has been placed on a team’s 40-man roster, a team has 3 option years on that player.

  • A player is considered to have used one of those three option years when he spends at least 20 days in the minors in any of those 3 seasons.


The Phillies don’t have any catching prospects behind Alfaro, so I’d probably just option Knapp to the IronPigs and roll with Rupp as the backup catcher, unless Mackanin insists on giving Rupp a ton of at bats. In that case, I’d trade Rupp for a bag of baseballs and an extra large bucket of sunflower seeds, flavor to be named later, and install Knapp as the backup.

If I am mistaken, and Knapp can’t be sent back to Lehigh Valley next year, I think I’d hang on to all three until the end of spring training. Maybe someone gets hurt, and the Phillies can kick the can down the road till he’s healthy. Maybe another team loses their starting catcher and in their desperation, thinks Rupp is the solution. Who knows? Anything could happen.

If no one gets hurt and the Phillies can’t find a trade partner, I’d designate Knapp for assignment (again, unless Mackanin insists on playing Rupp over Alfaro), and roll with Rupp and Alfaro.

@MGoldenpine: Post All-Star, Phils have scored 4.77 runs a game (similar to 2010). In 2018, will they be better, worse, or roughly the same?

This is similar to a question I was asked a couple weeks ago. The conclusion I came to then is that the projections don’t think the Phillies’ rookies can keep this up next season. But I want to look at team-wide statistics to see on the aggregate if there’s anything unsustainable about the team.

In the second half, the Phillies have a 100 wRC+, which places them 10th in the MLB. They’ve got the 18th-highest walk rate at 18.1%; 22nd-lowest strikeout rate at 22.7%; 17th-best ISO at .172; and 3rd-highest BABIP at .324.Their wRC is at 290, compared with 280 actual runs scored. They’re 24th in the MLB in HR/FB% at 12.6%. Everything is firmly middle of the pack or worse except for their BABIP, and they’ve got the 5th-highest infield fly ball rate.

However, the Phillies aso have the 3rd-highest line drive rate and the most bunt hits on the 2nd highest bunt hit rate, which would stand to inflate their BABIP. Williams, Alfaro, Herrera, and Hernandez all have BABIPs over .350. Somehow, though, HOFskins has a 205 wRC+  with a .257 BABIP. That’s insane.

I want to talk myself into the Phillies maintaining their runs scored average from the second half, but all of the Phillies good hitters have unsustainably high BABIPs with the exception of HOFskins, who can’t possibly keep this up, right? Their season average is 4.22 runs per game. I think with regression from their second half, they wind up somewhere in the middle of the two. I’ll say 4.5 runs per game, which would place them in the middle of the pack in the NL.

@MisterZoomer: Would you sign Shohei Otani if he demanded to play LF 4 days a week

Absolutely. I would let him know that he can play left field as much as he wants for as long as he’s healthy and productive. If he’s putting up a Freddy Galvis-esque line, he’s out, but if he’s an above-average hitter, he can play as much as he wants. The highest possible signing bonus he can receive is $10 million plus the $20 million posting fee. That’s chump change for the Phillies. Then he’ll be subject to the same rules as a Phillies’ prospect for his first six years. By all accounts he’s a Major League-ready hitter and pitcher with superstar potential on both sides of the diamond, and he’s only 23 years old.

I would bet against him becoming a great hitter; he’s already a great pitcher, more dominant than Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish were in the NPB, and there’s just too much to learn and practice to be great at both, not to mention fielding. For that reason, maybe he’s interesting in playing for an American League team where he can DH several times a week. But either way, he’s got to be the most valuable commodity on the market right now, and I would do almost anything to get him on the Phillies if I were in the front office.

I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded to play in the field four times per week.

I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded I open up a bunch of sushi restaurants in Citizen’s Bank Park. (That’s actually not a bad idea even if we don’t sign him. I don’t like sushi, but people seem to love it, so I’d probably have shorter lines for whatever I want.)

I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded I change the official name of the club to the Otanidelphia Shoheis.

I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded we give a roster spot to former Phillie So Taguchi to make him feel more comfortable in the locker room.

I would sign Shohei Otani if he demanded I sacrifice my (future) first-born son to the gods of baseball. A future first for a player of his caliber? Absolutely.

@RobertDalton: I see a 2018 contender if 2 SP and 1 RP are added to the young core, can  you see the same?

Well, by the crudest measure I can think of, the Phillies have been a below .500 team at 27-31 since the All-Star break entering Thursday’s game. Yes, there have been injuries to a lot of players, and Rhys HOFskins has only played 33 of those 58 games heading into Thursday, but there will be injuries next year and I don’t think HOFskins can keep up a 200 wRC+ over a full season.

So 27-31: that’s a .466 winning percentage, which is right in line with their Pythagorean winning percentage (.464). So let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, that’s the Phillies true talent. That works out to 75.5 wins over 162 games. Let’s assume you add two starters to replace the replacement level starters the Phillies have trotted out there, and the same with one relief pitcher. Two four-win pitchers and a two-win reliever puts you at 85.5 wins which is certainly within the realm of contention.

Maybe there’s even room for improvement among the current crop of Phillies pitchers as well; the team FIP- in the second half is 98, while the ERA- is 112. That’s the fifth highest differential in the MLB, and Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Nick Pivetta, and Mark Leiter, Jr. are among those with higher ERAs than FIPs on the team. Nola and Eickhoff are sure bets to be in the rotation next year, so it’s possible there is a little more wiggle room for improvement.

I’m certainly not counting on the Phillies acquiring two 4-win pitchers and a relief ace, but if they did, and the team remains relatively healthy, and the young guns keep hitting, and the young pitchers’ results match their peripherals, I could see a contender next year. That’s a lot of ifs, though.

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  1. Romus

    September 15, 2017 10:39 AM

    Think you are correct on Otani…as a hitter.
    Saw a scouting report that had him at power-70, but hit-45.
    But pitching he was plus-plus across the board.

    • Eddie

      September 16, 2017 03:48 AM

      Don’t know why people are downvoting this; it’s entirely accurate. Otani has big power at the plate, but he already strikes out over 25% of the time in Japan.

      • Major Malfunction

        September 17, 2017 01:44 PM

        About the down voting. I’ve noticed the last couple of weeks that even innocuous posts are getting negative votes. As if someone has an axe to grind. And just about anything Romus posts is almost guaranteed to get negative votes even though (in my opinion) are well thought out and usually deep in sabremetrics.

      • Mike Fassano

        September 19, 2017 05:14 AM

        Every time that I suggest that we may have to trade Herrera, Galvis, or Hernandez in order to get an elite pitcher, I get a bunch of down votes.

  2. Chris

    September 15, 2017 01:01 PM

    You would DFA Knapp over Rupp? Really? I’d dump Rupp in a heartbeat and roll with Alfaro and Knapp.

    • E

      September 15, 2017 04:25 PM

      Catcher USA defense first position and requires a lot of thinking. Knapp, of the three is obviously the smart one. His bat is fine and what he lacks in power he makes up for in knowledge about the position. Rupp? Seriously? Alfaro can’t even catch a ball let alone call a game. Why not trade Rupp and Alfaro and bring in a seasoned pro to mentor Knapp?

      • Andrew R.

        September 15, 2017 04:59 PM

        Finally!! Alfaro is a butcher who can’t catch fastballs. He doesn’t walk and strikes out. Remember his hot start in triple-A? He fizzled pretty quickly. Let’s sell high on this one, this time! I’ll take Knapp and his .350 obp and average catching ability all day over the other two.

    • 4ester

      September 15, 2017 05:19 PM

      Yah not sure why we’d that. Keeping options open is a good yhing but they to roll with Knapp and Alfaro. Curious if Alfaro can get some reps in LF and give Knapp more time behind the plate. Seems like a good idea to have Alfaro take more time to work on his approach at the plate since he is liable to be a lost cause behind it.

  3. pamikeydc

    September 15, 2017 01:24 PM

    I enjoyed this article. Thanks Michael

  4. Brad Engler

    September 15, 2017 02:07 PM

    Knack definitely has options. Here’s the thing – I think Rupp has one, too. Maybe I have misread that.

    • Michael Schickling

      September 18, 2017 08:40 AM

      Ah, I just assumed he didn’t have any since he’s been in the Majors on and off since 2013. That changes things. If I’m the Phillies, I’ll just enter spring training with a competition for the backup role. Obviously I want Alfaro starting.

      • Romus

        September 18, 2017 03:37 PM

        MS………does not matter how many options Rupp has now….over three years in the majors means he cannot be sent down like a rookie or 2nd year player with options….he has to go thru ‘optional assignment’ procedures. A player who is optioned to the minors generally must remain on optional assignment for at least ten days.
        Here is the Major League Rule 11 (C):
        LIMITATIONS ON OPTIONAL ASSIGNMENTS. An optional assignment of a player contract shall be permitted for not more than three seasons between Major League Clubs and Minor League Clubs; provided that if the player is optioned for less than a total of 20 days in one season, as determined by the date(s) of the optional assignment(s) and recall(s), respectively, the player shall not be charged with an optional transfer in connection with the foregoing limitation.
        Bottom lime…he could be exposed to the other 29 clubs to claim.

  5. s

    September 15, 2017 02:28 PM

    Knapp has three options left. Rupp has two. It’s been more than three years since Rupp debuted in the majors so he would have to clear Optional Assignment waivers. But no one ever claims from those since they’re revocable.

    Personally, I think it could be Knapp or Rupp that goes down if they keep all three. I would definitely not keep three on the active (25-man) roster and three is about the maximum for a 40-man with as many needs as the Phillies have. But all three guys are known and young so it’s depth and maybe a good year facilitates a trade. I don’t think Rupp is getting anything of value now so I’d hang onto him. He actually has the best defensive numbers of the three and has been pretty solid in some areas (like CS% before this season). I can see a scenario where Knapp surpasses Rupp defensively with more work. Knapp is better than I thought. If they load up on instruction for Alfaro it may benefit Knapp most to stay on the active roster and pick up some of that same instruction/coaching. Tough call. Knapp has looked decent at the plate, and he has that switch hitting and some speed on the base paths for a catcher. I’d like to see more of him.

  6. 4ester

    September 15, 2017 05:19 PM

    Yah not sure why we’d do that. Keeping options open is a good yhing but they to roll with Knapp and Alfaro. Curious if Alfaro can get some reps in LF and give Knapp more time behind the plate. Seems like a good idea to have Alfaro take more time to work on his approach at the plate since he is liable to be a lost cause behind it.

    • 4ester

      September 15, 2017 05:20 PM

      woops. apologies on duplicate post

  7. Kurdt Kobeyn

    September 15, 2017 05:36 PM

    DFA Knapp next year? Wow, i probably overestimated your baseball acumen. Teams normally keep 3 Catchers and Knapp has 2 (if not 3) options left so he can be optioned down in LHV. Knapp is not the weakest link in the 40-man (he’s probably #34/35) and the only scenarios i can see to reasonably DFA Knapp are the following:

    1) serious injury (knock on wood)
    2) phils acquired 5-6 solid MLB players that will push Knapp to be the last man in the 40-man
    3) phils acquired a really good MLB catcher and they need to move one C out (which my bet is Rupp)

    I also want the Phils to start winning but 2018 is still part of the development stage of the next core. I rather want to see Alfaro and Knapp continue their development (if not traded for value) rather than lose them via DFA.

    • Bob D

      September 16, 2017 01:43 PM

      As for catcher I expect the Phillies to go with 3 catchers on the 40 man roster with the outside possibility of carrying 3 of them on active roster, as long as one of them also plays or backs up another position. Knapp and Alfaro will get time to play next year. I think Rupp will be traded as he has decent value for a team looking for some extra offense. I would think the team is ready to add a defensive minded catcher who will be a positive for the pitching staff. Logan Moore in AAA is a possibility if they look within the organization. I would expect a veteran catcher the more likely option. If it is a veteran who makes the team then Knapp is likely to start in minors at AAA as the team still has options on him and Alfaro does not. The other possibility is to have a catching coach who can instruct and train these guys (Alfaro & Knapp) to improve that facet of the game. Maybe even call the game from dugout. The primary job for a catcher is to help the pitchers with good defense, pitch framing, helping to hold runners, calling the pitches and location, and throwing out runners. If the team can gain this to be at least league average or better then any offense is to be considered a bonus.

    • PhAninjapan

      September 19, 2017 12:02 AM

      Yeah you definitely must have overestimated his baseball IQ.

  8. Eddie

    September 16, 2017 04:22 AM

    “For that reason, maybe he’s interesting in playing for an American League team where he can DH several times a week. ”

    I keep hearing people talk as if Otani hits every day he isn’t on the mound, but that isn’t the case, and never has been. Japanese teams play a fixed six-game-a-week schedule, and pitchers start one game a week in a six-man rotation. Otani has had six days in-between starts, and he usually plays DH in 2-3 of those games. Last year was the heaviest workload of his career (104 games out of 144 scheduled), and his weekly schedule was usually: SP, off day, DH, DH, DH, rest, rest, then back to the start. Three full days of rest per start, with his DHing made possible by the fact that he only pitched every seventh day. And it’s worth noting that after that workload, he was injured most of this season. People talk as if he DHs every game he doesn’t start, but that’s never been the case.

    I suppose it’s possible that some MLB team wants to completely make over their pitching staff into a a six-or-seven man deal to accommodate him and let him stay on his seven-day schedule (which would be fascinating to see), but more likely they’re gonna want him on a five-day pitching rotation like everyone else. And if that’s the case, if he keeps to a three-day-of-rest-per-start schedule, he’d only be available to DH about once every 5 games.

    That’s why I wouldn’t be shocked to see Otani sign with an NL club. If the choice is DH once every five days in the AL, or hit for himself once every five days in the NL, that isn’t much of a difference. He would get ~80 AB a season as a pitcher in the NL; throw in the occasional midweek OF game, a couple interleague DH games, and the increased pinch-hitting opportunities in the NL, and he could get 200 PA a year, which is the same as he’d get as a 1-2 game a week DH in the AL.

    • Eddie

      September 16, 2017 04:30 AM

      To add: He also has to know that if he’s with an AL team and struggling in one way or the other, they’re going to want to DH him less, whereas with an NL team those 80 AB are essentially a guaranteed minimum.

    • E

      September 16, 2017 03:42 PM

      Although I don’t think they will sign Otani – something I wish they would do since I live in Japan and I’d get to see all the Phillies games on national TV – he is really good. Having seen him play live though I would have some concerns as to how he would make the adjustment to MLB hitting and pitching. It might take a year or two for him to find his feet so to speak. At any rate if they make a play for him I am sure it would be a decent signing and not too expensive.

    • Major Malfunction

      September 17, 2017 03:45 PM

      For the amount of $$$$ a team would have to spend too get him and then pay him, I’d be shocked of anyone wants to sink money into a pitching investment that doesn’t get rested enough plus could get hurt in the field. Then add in a grinding 162 day schedule.

      If he plays MLB, I would expect he’ll have to make a choice to one career path. It’s all business these days.

      • N

        September 17, 2017 04:55 PM

        Not sure that it makes bad business snese to sign him. It would be likely the same as the Darvish contract – 20 million to the team plus whatever the yearly salary works out being (8-10 per year?). Even if he doesn’t make it as a pure 2 way player it is worth the money to have a good pitcher for a couple of years. Since baseball is a business the Phillies should bring in someone like this so the fans see the management actually cares about filling the seats with someone exciting and young. BTW, he is definitely coming to MLB next year. The Nippon Ham Fighters even admitted to this.

      • E

        September 17, 2017 06:16 PM

        Glad you don’t run my business. It’s a 20 mil posting and a contract that is under signing restrictions based on the labor agreement. Basically 3.5 mil per year is what he’s looking at. A pittance when you consider his valuation is closer to 20 mil and the Phillies have so much money to burn and the alternatives options available.

    • Michael Schickling

      September 18, 2017 09:49 AM

      Eddie- This is good information. I was unaware of the differences between rotation pitcher usage in the two leagues. Perhaps he won’t need to bat quite as much as the hype would indicate.

      Health is obviously the biggest concern here, and the in the question (but not necessarily in real life) Otani demanded to play 4 times a week. I think I’d give him that with the stipulation that he has to produce and stay healthy. In my mind, that’s a small sacrifice to get a pitcher who could really move the needle for your team, especially one as pitching-starved as the Phillies.

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