Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp likely out after poor 2018

After a poor season and with other options out there, it’s hard to see catcher Andrew Knapp returning to the Phillies in 2019.

Andrew Knapp opened the 2017 season as the Phillies‘ backup catcher behind Cameron Rupp. Knapp originally made a name for himself in the second half of the 2015 season when he hit 11 home runs and had a 1.050 OPS in 55 games in Reading. After an okay season in Triple-A in 2016, Knapp earned a call-up to the majors last year.

Knapp was close to a league-average hitter last year with a 96 OPS+ and 95 wRC+. He wasn’t good enough to be a starter behind the plate, but he could be a serviceable backup if his numbers held.

Knapp and Jorge Alfaro started the year as the team’s catchers with Knapp starting on Opening Day. Alfaro received almost all the playing time, starting 98 games this year compared to Knapp’s 42 starts.

Let’s take a look at Knapp’s second season in the majors and his outlook for 2019.

Positives

Combing through everything Knapp did this season, I really cannot find something to praise. I even found something nice to say about Scott Kingery.

Negatives

I could just write “everything” and wrap up this article, but that’d be lazy writing.

After a decent offensive season last year, Knapp’s numbers fell off a cliff this season. He had a .198/.294/.316 line with just 0.1 fWAR and -0.3 bWAR. Knapp ranks 18th in OPS (.610) and 19th in wRC+ (68) among National League hitters with 200 or more plate appearances.

A key part of this offensive downturn is a radically different batted ball profile compared to last year. Knapp was an extreme ground-ball hitter last season with a 59.0% ground-ball rate. His average launch angle according to MLB Statcast was 4.6°. It worked for him as he had a .360 batting average on balls in play.

This year, Knapp had a 38.4% ground-ball rate, hitting more line drives and fly balls as his average launch angle increased to 12.5°. Knapp and the coaching staff was hoping for him to generate more power with a fly-ball style swing. It didn’t work as his home run rate stayed the same and his BABIP fell to .303.

Another issue was plate discipline. Knapp swung at 47.3% of the pitches he saw this year, over five percent more than last year. At the same time, his contact rate dropped from 73.5% to 66.8% and his swinging strike rate jumped almost five percent. All this combined for a 34.9% strikeout rate, sixth-highest among NL players with 200+ plate appearances.

Not only was Knapp bad offensively, but he also struggled defensively behind the plate. He made eight errors behind the plate, fifth-most among NL catchers. He caught runners stealing only 18% of the time, 10% below the league average. Knapp struggled with pitch framing as he was worth -3.5 framing runs according to Baseball Prospectus. As a whole, Knapp ranked 16th-worst among all catchers with -5.3 fielding runs above average.

ANDREW KNAPP

Catcher, Philadelphia Phillies

F

Knapp gets a big old F for his performance this season. If I could give a lower grade, I would. There simply was nothing redeeming about his season.

Will he return?

Knapp’s struggles were a large reason the team acquired Wilson Ramos at the trade deadline. When Ramos joined the team, Knapp was demoted to Triple-A. This shows that the team is looking for another catcher better than Knapp behind the plate to pair with Alfaro. The club could opt to bring Ramos back or find someone else in free agency.

The key to a turnaround for Knapp may simply be to revert to his old hitting style. It may not be what the coaching staff wants him to do, but Knapp clearly can’t succeed with a power-oriented swing.

Knapp still has options remaining, so he could spend 2019 in Triple-A as the third catcher on the 40-man roster. He could still return to the majors in September and/or if there is an injury to one of the two in the majors. The team doesn’t have any other great internal options for this third catcher spot, so that’s where Knapp could fit in.

On the other hand, if the Phillies decide to keep only two catchers on the 40-man like they did this year, Knapp would almost certainly be the odd man out. He could be designated for assignment and still sent back to Triple-A, but another team in need of a backup with major-league experience may take a shot on Knapp and claim him off waivers.