Phillies

This has been MLB's best starter-backup catcher situation in a while

Phillies

The Phillies have played without J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins for a week and gone 4-5. They've won three in a row thanks to strong starts from Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez, slump-busting knocks from Bryce Harper, timely hitting from Alec Bohm and Adam Haseley, and a return to form from David Phelps.

The other huge reason they've been able to stay afloat without two of their best players is the backup catcher, Andrew Knapp.

Knapp had two more hits and a walk Saturday night in the Phillies' 3-1 win over the Blue Jays. He tied the game with their first run by lining a single up the middle in the decisive fifth inning against tough lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Knapp has 70 plate appearances this season. He's hit .321/.443/.482.

"He's been brilliant behind home plate," manager and former catcher Joe Girardi said. "He's had a really, really good season for us. He's always prepared. He has been really big for us this year. J.T. going down this last week, he's stepped up. He's played the last five days in a row.

"You look at your backup catcher and you say he has an on-base percentage of over .400, he's hitting over .300. That doesn't happen a lot. Especially when they're so good defensively."

J.T. Realmuto has hit .267/.357/.527 this season.

Phillies catchers combined have hit .284/.380/.563. That's the highest OPS (.943) in the majors from the catcher position. 

This is an unusual season, 60 games in length. But even if you lower the thresholds in seasons past and look at teams' catching situation in the first half of a season or the second half of a season, .943 is extraordinarily high. The league-leading team catcher OPS hovers around .820 per half.

 

It's been the best starter-backup situation you could ask for from your catchers. What makes it even stronger is that Knapp is one of their longest-tenured players so he knows most of these pitchers better than anyone.

The Phillies need to do everything they can to keep this tandem intact moving forward and that will require meeting the high price Realmuto commands in free agency.

Knapp has played as well defensively this season as he has offensively. He helped the Phillies win a game with a tag at the plate. He's received well. He's thrown out two of the four runners attempting to steal this season and 32% of runners the last two seasons, 5% above the league average.

Knapp is playing by far the best baseball of his career. These two months alone have increased his career batting average from .223 to .233. 

The Phillies were 40 games under .500 in games Knapp appeared his first three seasons, a .407 winning percentage.

This season, with every game carrying the importance of three, the Phillies are 12-15 in his appearances, a .444 winning percentage. 

This is not simply a causal relationship but there is no denying Knapp's vastly increased productivity in 2020.

"This has kind of been what I've been preparing for," Knapp said. "That's why I catch all those bullpens and I'm in the meetings and doing the stuff I'm doing. So that if the unfortunate thing happens where J.T. can't catch, I can step up and fill the spot.

"I'm not trying to be him. He's one of the best in the game. But if I can do a little bit to help the team each day, that's all I can ask for."