Let’s Hear it for Being Average

(Photo by Cheryl Pursell)

Even the best of teams don’t have superstars at every position. One of the key spots on a team is behind the plate. Catchers are involved in every part of the game and having at least a decent set of catchers is a must for any team. While neither Cameron Rupp or Andrew Knapp have set the world on fire, and it’s hard to figure out who’s the starter and who’s the back-up, they’ve actually combined to form a pretty – well, average – duo.

Rupp and Knapp have combined for a slash line of 12-34-.243/.341/.406, putting them right in the middle of the pack compared to catchers around the National League, offensively. Phillies catchers rank fifth in the National League in on-base percentage, eighth in slugging percentage, ninth in home runs and batting average, and 13th in RBI. For the sabermetric folks, they also rank eighth in wins above average with a 0.0 rating; meaning, they’re average.

Defensively, Rupp and Knapp have combined to throw out 31-percent of would-be basestealers this season and have a combined fielding percentage of .992. Both numbers compare favorably to the NL averages of a 28-percent caught stealing rate and a .993 fielding percentage.

Having them achieve average ranking is actually good news for the Phillies, first because they have a lot of other concerns that they have to address, and having a key spot in the lineup at least be average, is acceptable. Secondly, it’s good because there isn’t much help that’s really close to the majors.

At one point, the Phillies seemed to have a bunch of catching prospects in the organization and it seemed to be a strong point. Jorge Alfaro – tabbed as the top prospect in the organization by Philly Baseball Insider coming into the season – has taken a major tumble backward. Offensively, Alfaro looked impressive with Double-A Reading last season, hitting 15-67-.285/.325/.458, with a .993 fielding percentage, a 44-percent caught stealing mark, and seven passed balls all season.

Fast forward to 2017 and Alfaro is struggling with the adjustment to Triple-A, with a line of 6-41-.240/.294/.352. Perhaps of more concern is the slide backward defensively. With Lehigh Valley, Alfaro has a fielding percentage of .997, which is the good news. He also has 10 passed balls to his credit, and the strongest part of his game – catching basestealers – has dropped to just 31-percent. The numbers are still good for the most part, but far too many balls are getting past Alfaro.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Alfaro is now out of options, so the Phillies will need to do something to address that situation. The options are to clear out a spot for him on the major league roster, trade him, or hope that they can sneak him through waivers next Spring to outright him back to Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies also have Logan Moore, who will again be unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft in December, if he is not added to the 40-man roster. In 40 games this season, Moore is showing more value than he has in the past. The soon to be 27-year old is hitting 4-22-.246/.322/.392 with the IronPigs. Moore has a .988 fielding percentage and has thrown out 33-percent of basestealers, while registering three passed balls.

“Logan is one of those guys who you put out there and you know that he’s going to give you a good game,” said Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan. “He calls a good game, he’ll chip in with some timely hits and he commands the game well. He’ll be in the majors, somewhere. You could do much worse than Logan Moore as a back-up catcher at the major league level.”

As a likely number-two, the fact that Moore hits just .138 against left-handers isn’t nearly as damning as it would be if he were tabbed to be an everyday player. Against righties, Moore is hitting .277 this season, with all four of his home runs coming off right-handers.

Reading’s Chace Numata was just placed on the DL with a concussion. Defensively, Numata has tossed out 48-percent of baserunners attempting to steal this season, tops in the organization among starting catchers. His .990 fielding percentage is acceptable. At the plate, Numata is batting just .242 this season after a .308 season with Clearwater last season, which may have been somewhat of a fluke, looking at his career .257 average in the minors.

Deivi Grullon gets his first shot at Double-A ball because of Numata’s injury. ¬†Grullon may be the best combination of offense and defense as far as catchers go in the Phillies organization. He hit .255 with eight home runs at Clearwater this season and has thrown out 37-percent of baserunners, a big improvement over his 28-percent average coming into the year. Grullon still has work to do on blocking pitches, but he’s showing improvement in almost every area of the game, and at 21, has some time to develop.

The lesson here is that while Rupp and Knapp aren’t setting the world on fire, you could do worse than having them serve as your catchers at the major league level. Keep in mind too, that Knapp is in his first season in the majors and he’s gotten better as the season has gone on, and likely will continue to do so.

With all of the heavy lifting to do at other positions, the Phillies can sit tight with catching. The bigger question will come in what to do with the likes of Alfaro and Moore as they face decisions on them for the future.

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