2017 Phillies Report Card: Andrew Knapp
2017 was the season of the rookie for the Phillies. The late season headlines were dominated by top prospects like Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford, and Nick Williams, but the first prospect up was forced into major league action by roster need. It is well documented that the Phillies had a roster crunch that forced them to have more prospects than could be sent to the minors. Enter Andrew Knapp, backup catcher.
Knapp was the Phillies’ 2nd round pick in the 2013 draft. He struggled at times, but burst on to the scene with a breakout second half in Reading during the 2015 season. A down year in AAA in 2016, caused him to lose some shine, but Knapp was widely expected to be a major leaguer. It just happened sooner than expected.
With the Phillies in need of prospects to open the year on the major league roster, Knapp started as the backup to Cameron Rupp. By the middle of the season, Knapp had become the primary catcher in the time share. However, a hand injury caused Knapp to miss a month and a half, and he received only limited playing time when he returned.
It is not a stretch to say that rookies are not the baseball player they will become, but Knapp seemed to take every part of this to the extreme:
For the season, Knapp batted .257/.368/.368. The first thing that stands out his on base percentage, which was driven by a walk rate of 15.2%. If that number feels high, it is because it is. Among major league batters with at least 200 plate appearances this year (349 qualifiers), 15.2% was the 12th highest rate in baseball. Among catchers with at least 200 PAs, his .368 OBP was 6th. He was able to accomplish this feat in the obvious way:
|Out of Zone Swing %||Swing %|
Knapp did swing a bit more in the strike zone than the other 3, but he was able to not swing enough to earn himself a lot of free trips to first base.
It is easy to see the discrepancy in walk rate and OBP and jump quickly to Knapp’s batting average and see room for improvement. The only problem is that Knapp had a .360 BABIP this season. Now Knapp moves well for a catcher, but he isn’t a burner. What does turn out to be true is that he hits a ton of ground balls, specifically he hits a ground ball 59.0% of the time. The only Phillies to do it more than him were the pitchers. It isn’t uncommon to see a ground ball fueled BABIP, as Howie Kendrick, Cesar Hernandez, and Jorge Alfaro all accomplished that in 2017.
If Knapp has a .360 BABIP, how does he have a .257 batting average? Let’s add two more columns to our earlier table:
|Out of Zone Swing %||Swing %||Zone Contact %||Contact %|
It turns out that Knapp is not good at making contact when he does swing. His out of zone contact numbers are similarly bad when compared to the selectivity of his peers. When it comes to zone contact, Knapp is in the same area as Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, both players who lack selectivity in any zone. He is also near Aaron Altherr. Altherr is an interesting comparison, because he actually swings at rates similar to Knapp (Altherr does expand the zone a bit more and walks less as a consequence).
This brings us to the big difference in that pair. Aaron Altherr has a isolated power of .245, and Andrew Knapp has an isolated power of .111. So while Altherr is missing at a similar rate, he is making much harder contact when he is hitting the ball. Knapp has never been a big power guy outside of his time in Reading, and he is more of a doubles hitter than a home run threat. He should hit for more power in the future, but a .140 ISO is probably the high mark here.
The extremes don’t end here, as Knapp is a switch hitter. He hit .269/.379/.388 as a left handed hitter and .216/.326/.297 batting right handed. Knapp has historically hit better left handed, but he started to show in the upper minors the ability to hit from both sides. He did show similar plate discipline from both sides, which was encouraging.
All of these ups and downs make Knapp a near league average hitter, which is fine from a non-starting catcher, except for his defense.
Whereas Knapp is a player of high and low extremes on offense, he is a player of negative extremes on defense. Knapp had Tommy John surgery after his first season and has only had average arm strength since returning. This has lead to base runners going 33 of 41 on stolen base attempts this year. He also has struggled to block balls in the dirt and is a bit stiff both in his fielding and his movements to try and block errant pitches. Those two factors contribute some to Knapp’s negative value, but the real drag on his value is his framing.
Among catchers with at least 2000 framing chances, Knapp is the second worst in baseball at getting called strikes (Cameron Rupp is 8th worst). Knapp lacks soft hands and does not naturally present the ball as strikes. By Baseball Prospectus’ metrics Knapp’s inability to frame has cost the Phillies over 11 runs in relation to an average catcher.
Knapp’s combination of average offense and terrible defense lead to him being below replacement level in 2017 according to WARP. However, we have to grade his season on a bit of a curve. Knapp was a rookie catcher making his major league debut while trying to learn a brand new pitching staff and maintaining two different swings. Knapp has a list of things to work on to be a long term major league contributor for the Phillies, but he wasn’t a flop to begin his career.