This season, Cameron Rupp has finally come to be the Phillies’ primary backup catcher. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft by the Phillies out of the University of Texas, Rupp came with a reputation for having some power, a great arm and the defensive chops to stick in the majors.
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From this scouting report in 2011, you can see that what he has become now is almost exactly what was predicted. There were never expectations that Rupp would develop into an All-Star caliber player, so the fact that he has become the backup shouldn’t be surprising.
Rupp received his first taste of the majors in the 2013 season, but only accumulated 78 plate appearances between that year and 2014. This was primarily due to the fact that he was “blocked” by veteran backups (Wil Nieves and Erik Kratz). None of that should have really mattered, should it? In the grand scheme of things for the Phils, having to choose between Kratz, Nieves and Rupp was never going to change the playoff odds for the team in any significant way.
However, this year, Rupp seems to be growing on me. He’s still not much with the bat (.239/.313/.324 for an OPS+ of 78), and perhaps never will be, but when you’re dealing with backup catchers the offense frequently takes a backseat to their defensive abilities. This is the area of the game where Rupp has shined brightly.
According to Baseball Prospectus’ catching statistics, Rupp hasn’t been the greatest pitch-framer in the world, “adding” -3.5 strikes to the ledger, while accounting for -0.5 framing runs, both of which put him tied for 47th out of 80 MLB catchers. However, a further look down those lists shows that the player who ranks last in both categories is none other than the team’s starter, Carlos Ruiz.
Chooch has never been thought of highly by BP’s advanced catching numbers, but this season he seems to be worse than ever. Remember, this isn’t pitcher dependent; this is the ability of the catcher to get extra strikes for his pitcher. Whether or not the pitchers on the mound are even able to throw strikes is another question, but the evidence clearly shows that Rupp is the superior framer behind the dish.
When it comes to the running game, Rupp also has a large edge on Ruiz. So far, Rupp has thrown out 45% of would-be base stealers (9 out of 20), while Ruiz has only thrown out 20% (7 out of 35). In a season where the offense is almost non-existent, run prevention has become paramount to any success the team might have. Ruiz is not preventing those runs; Rupp is.
Couple this information with the fact that Ruiz’s offense, as discussed here earlier this year, has almost completely evaporated (.231/.302/.269 for a 62 OPS+), and it becomes evident that Ruiz’s playing time should be decreased.
Will it? That is highly doubtful. The pitchers love throwing to Ruiz, particularly Cole Hamels. The ability of calling a game isn’t an exact science (yet), but there does exist some evidence that Ruiz’s vaunted game management is slipping as well.
Let’s not confuse this information with a calling by me for Rupp to become the starter. It’s not. It’s merely a statement that Rupp as a backup isn’t so bad. Should he be entering into a timeshare at the position with Ruiz? Perhaps. After all, Rupp does rank seventh on the team in (0.5) bWAR. That’s more of an indictment on how bad the team is, that the backup catcher is even top ten.
When looking at the last 15 games, Rupp has started 6 of them (40%), as opposed to 16 of the previous 52 (31%). Are skipper Ryne Sandberg and company beginning to see the value of having a superior defender behind the plate? Seems to be the case. However, if the team is going to try to deal Ruiz at some point in the season, the longtimer starter has to keep taking regular turns behind the plate. Otherwise, Chooch turns into yet another sunken cost.
Regardless, having Cameron Rupp on the team is going a lot better than I thought. Like Jeff Francoeur, I wasn’t expecting much from him, but I’m liking what I see , for what that’s worth. Hopefully, there’s a little more there to Rupp, enough that a serious conversation about his being the starter will soon need to be had.