The shortened 2020 season treated few people better than Andrew Knapp. The Philadelphia Phillies longterm backup catcher, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Knapp in regards to his Philly career prior to last year’s COVID-19 affected campaign. He’d registered an fWAR total of 0.1 through his first three seasons in the major leagues, and routinely struggled to keep his batting average north of .200.
However, completely out of nowhere, Knapp managed to churn out an incredibly productive season as the Phillies #2 catcher in 2020. Over the course of 33 games and 89 plate appearances, Knapp slashed .278/.404/.444 with an fWAR of 0.5. It was by far the best stretch of baseball the switch-hitting catcher had ever produced, which saw him rewarded with a one-year/$1.1 million contract in free agency.
There was some brief talk during the offseason of Knapp potentially being the Phillies starting catcher due to the uncertainty that surrounded J.T. Realmuto‘s future, a scenario that (thankfully) never came true.
Backup catcher has quietly become a major position of need for the Philadelphia Phillies moving forward.
Fast forward to July of 2021, and not only has Knapp come back down to earth in regards to his productivity, but he finds himself ranking towards the bottom of the league in fWAR amongst catchers. Knapp has been one of the worst catchers in baseball this season, to put it rather bluntly:
Knapp is currently slashing .162/.226/.238 across 46 games played and 116 plate appearances, a stat-line that is good for dead last amongst active Phillies hitters. Knapp also has a negative “Def” grade on FanGraphs, a statistic that takes into account Fielding Runs Above Average and defensive adjustment.
Knapp has been brutal at the plate and behind the plate — no wonder his fWAR is -0.6.
In all fairness to Knapp, “backup catcher” is not the deepest of positions in Major League Baseball. Teams are lucky to have one catcher capable of swinging a bat, hence why someone like Realmuto comfortably got paid $100+ million in free agency.
With that said, the Phillies are in the unique position where they really do need someone capable of holding down the catcher position on days where Realmuto needs time off. It’s rare for catchers to be able to play every game in a series, especially a catcher who a franchise is looking to keep around for the next 4.5 years. Even if it’s just someone who can provide a little pop via the occasional homer — it’s something that would extremely benefit Philadelphia moving forward.
As of right now, the team is borderline conceding games that Knapp starts in. The lineup takes a major hit going from Realmuto and his .800+ OPS to Knapp’s .464, and it’s already cost the team a handful of wins.
The Phillies are 19-27 in games where Knapp plays, with Knapp hitting just .091 during said losses.
Backup catcher isn’t a position I expect Dave Dombrowski to upgrade anytime soon (the team has plenty of other holes to worry about at the moment), but it’s a position that needs to be reevaluated during the offseason. Subbing Realmuto out for a .162 hitter every fourth day just isn’t going to cut it if Philadelphia is serious about making the postseason moving forward.