2017 Phillies Report Card: Cameron Rupp
I don’t know whether it feels like Cameron Rupp has been around forever or just a little bit of time. the 2017 season marked, Rupp’s 5th in the majors, but he only played a combined 22 games in his first two seasons. What it does mean is that the 29 year old will enter the offseason arbitration eligible for the first time in his career. Rupp has been somewhere between the Phillies starting catcher and leader of a tandem for the past 3 seasons. Over that time he has hit .236/.301/.417 in just over 1000 plate appearances. He has shown good power, and this year nearly doubled his 2016 walk rate. Yet, we enter the offseason with Rupp on the outside look in at two younger catchers taking his job. Why?
We can start with the offense. In 2015 and 2016, Cameron Rupp was a 3 true outcomes catcher with large platoon splits. Things went even more extreme during the 2017 season. Rupp’s walk rate did nearly double from 5.7% to 10.3%, but his strikeout rate also skyrocketed. Among hitters with at least 300 plate appearances, his strikeout rate of 34.4% was 8th highest in the majors. Against right handed pitchers, he struck out at a staggering 36.9% of the time. As for his platoon split, after years of wrecking LHPs (.915 OPS and .993 OPS), he was merely ok against them this season with a .839 OPS. Rupp has never hit righties well, and in addition to the walk strikeout rate, he only hit .195 off of them this season. Put it all together and Rupp’s 88 OPS+ was a big step back from his 2016 season.
Now a 88 OPS+ is very close to league average offense for a catcher, so it hardly seems reason to chuck a player aside. Except that defense exists. In the relatively non-impactful areas of blocking and throwing out runners, Rupp was near league average (-0.1 runs and 0.2 runs respectively). But then there is this observation from 2016 about Rupp’s other defensive quality.
Cameron Rupp frames pitches with the subtlety of a mountain troll.
— Eric Chesterton (@CF_Larue) April 10, 2016
There is nothing graceful or easy about Rupp behind the plate. He stabs at the ball at times, and his whole body moves to just catch pitches at times. As the rest of the league got better at framing, Rupp posted his worse framing season, costing the Phillies 11.9 runs behind the plate on framing alone. Rupp was not alone in being bad at framing among Phillies catchers, but his framing was noticeably worse than Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro. This among other factors is why Aaron Nola ended up with a 2.64 DRA and a 3.54 ERA this season.
Then there is the pitch calling, which Rupp got called out for by the pitching coaches this season. To an outside observer he seemed to just call offspeed pitches repeatedly in two strike counts, pitches almost to the exact same place. Now the pitchers need to execute and are part of the plan, but with a young pitching staff, Rupp was supposed to be their guide.
If we put this all together in Baseball Prospectus’ WARP metric (the only one right now that accounts for framing), Rupp came out at 0.3 wins this season, which is why he may be on the outside. At 29 years old, Rupp is starting to enter his physical decline, and there isn’t much to decline from. Knapp and Alfaro have their flaws, but both are much younger with room for improvement. If the Phillies do let him go, Rupp may catch on as a backup some where, or he may be forced into the up and down life of a AAAA catcher like Erik Kratz.
Rupp was bad this season and got worse in a lot of key places. However, he does get a D for his great work with dogs in Philadelphia, raising money for the Pennsylvania SPCA and being an advocate for adoption in the Philly area.