Is Cameron Rupp Sneaking His Way Into Becoming A Top 10 Catcher?

Twice during the course of the season I highlighted Cameron Rupp for his offensive performance.  In May I brought up a concern about Rupp over performing his talent level, since he had a massive and unsustainable leap in exit velocity, but I questioned exactly how much he would regress.  In 2015 he had a relatively low 89mph average EV, and by the end of May he was hitting north of 96mph.  A month later, in late June, I wrote about him again, by this point his EV had setting to around 92mph, and by mid to late June we had seen enough of Rupp to know the changes were real. He had a different spray chart, heat map, higher exit velocities, much more high quality batted balls, and a huge leap in offensive production.

Lets take a step back, though. Upon the conclusion of the 2015 season, the Phillies management told Rupp he needed to dramatically improve his offensive performance during the 2016 season or he could end up losing his job with the team.  Rupp spent the offseason with a batting instructor he has worked with since childhood, Chris Edelstein, and together they refined his swing and approach.  Their work seemed to pay off noticeably from day one this season, with his April production significantly exceeding his 2015 numbers.  After a weak month of May, he went on a tear in June, July, and August where he put up the best numbers of his career.  His season ended on a low note, with a September so underwhelming that it threatens to wash out the success he had during the heart of the season.Rupp had three scorching hot months, one pretty decent month, and two exceedingly weak months.  He finished the season batting .252/.303/.447, with .321 wOBA, 16 HR, 36 R, and 54 RBI.  Among catchers, he ranked 20th in HR, 18th in R, 13th in RBI, 17th in AVG, 27th in OBP, 8th in SLG, and 36th in strike outs.  This may not be especially exciting, but there are some good signs here.

According to xStats he could have hit .281/.327/.448 in 2016.  This type of batting average increase would push Rupp up into the top 10 among catchers in AVG.  I was curious exactly where this predicted batting average boost was coming from in xStats so I pulled up the granular data.  I broke the data down into a few groups based upon how many similarly hit balls resulted in a hit or an error.  Group 1:  80-100%, Group 2: 60-80%, Group 3: 40-60%, Group 4: 20-40%, and group 5: 0-20%.  I’ve counted the number of actual hits and the number of hits predicted by xStats and created the little chart you see below.  

Cameron Rupp Batted Ball Groups
Percent of Similarly Hit Balls That Result in a Hit or Error
80-100% 60-80% 40-60% 20-40% 0-20% Total
BIP in Sample 50 26 41 47 112 276
1B 25 6 14 7 3 55
xStats 1B 22.5 11.3 14.3 9.6 5.6 63.3
2B 10 6 6 3 1 26
xStats 2B 10.4 4.5 3.7 2.1 1.4 22.2
3B 0 1 0 0 0 1
xStats 3B 0.7 0.4 0.7 0.1 0.0 1.9
HR 12 1 1 1 1 16
xStats HR 11.7 2.1 1.8 0.7 0.4 16.7
Total Hits 47 14 21 11 5 98
xStats Hits 45.2 18.4 20.6 12.5 7.4 104.1
Δ Hits 1.8 -4.4 0.4 -1.5 -2.4 -6.1
SOURCE: xstats.org

In total, Cameron Rupp had 276 balls in play recorded by this system, and of the five categories you’ll see here, the second one, where batted balls have between 60 and 80% chance of resulting in a base hit or error, has a relatively large difference (4.4) between actual hits and expected hits. In total, xStats suggests Rupp may have lost out on 6 hits due to poor luck, all singles. I’ve made a table of his highest quality batted balls that became outs.  Take note of the exit velocities for these balls, and remember, for the Horizontal angle, -45 degrees is the left field line, 0 degrees is center field, and 45 degrees is the right field line. He made a lot of hard outs in 2016.  This isn’t abnormal, not every well hit ball is going to be a hit. However not every player makes loud outs like this.  Some players make a lot of very weak outs, others have a lot of mediocre outs.  Rupp’s are loud.  He’s a big guy who punishes the ball when he makes contact.

Rupp’s BIP with Best Chance of Being Hits, But Weren’t
result date V Ang H Ang EV Hit%
Lineout 07/04/16 9.210 -1.674 83.590 95.78%
Flyout 05/11/16 22.640 42.965 99.060 92.59%
Flyout 05/25/16 37.920 39.961 102.790 89.56%
Lineout 08/06/16 3.640 35.348 107.270 75.54%
Groundout 08/18/16 3.300 7.753 110.750 75.29%
Lineout 10/01/16 19.270 -22.817 79.430 74.35%
Flyout 06/22/16 29.860 14.983 72.310 73.87%
Groundout 09/14/16 -6.360 5.132 105.610 71.59%
Lineout 07/29/16 17.900 26.198 104.030 70.78%
Lineout 07/21/16 5.140 -23.009 104.800 69.63%
Flyout 05/25/16 30.670 39.599 95.340 67.46%
Grounded Into DP 08/03/16 4.860 -11.981 108.760 67.21%
Groundout 08/05/16 -0.420 -27.093 103.550 66.54%
Groundout 05/25/16 -8.530 -4.715 102.870 61.90%
Lineout 05/14/16 22.160 -35.766 88.780 61.15%
Lineout 06/22/16 15.490 36.963 94.360 59.18%
Groundout 10/01/16 1.390 -22.505 101.090 57.82%
Groundout 04/22/16 3.200 -10.851 99.830 56.68%
Lineout 06/29/16 14.870 32.239 105.470 54.84%
Groundout 04/08/16 -10.490 -23.025 106.060 54.82%
SOURCE: xstats.org
For Horizontal angle, -45 = Left Field Line, 45 = Right Field Line, 0 = Center Field.

Rupp’s shortened his path to the ball dramatically increased his ability to hit balls on the inside third and upper third of the plate.  Looking at his heat maps below, its clear that his new swing is simply superior to his old one, he controls much more of the plate without making any real sacrifices.  He still controls the bottom part of the zone, but also manages to cover the entire inner third, as opposed to only the bottom half of it, along with the whole top of the zone.   Rupp still struggles with outside pitches, though.  He’s much more of a breaking ball hitter as well, batting significantly better against curve balls and sliders than against fastballs and change-ups.  

rupp2015rupp2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are four smaller points to keep in mind when accessing Rupp’s potential for the 2017 season.

  • He is mashing balls up in the zone, and if this season is any indication, MLB is trying to move the strike zone up from the floor.  Fewer pitches thrown at the knees are being called strikes, and pitchers are being encouraged to throw up the zone due to a higher ceiling on called strikes. I don’t know if this trend will continue, but it does seem to feed into his strength as a batter.  
  • Rupp is a big guy with very high exit velocity.  If he can learn to elevate the ball just a little bit more, especially when playing in Citizen’s Bank Park, he could add a large number of home runs.
  • The Phillies team appears to be on the upswing. Their offense may have already hit rock bottom, and they have a lot of exciting young position players vying for playing time at the moment. They also have a lot of money to spend on free agents, and they could bring in more bats to help bolster the lineup and provide valuable veteran leadership for an otherwise young team.  All of these pieces feed into Rupp’s potential to register runs and RBIs next season.
  • The Phillies have several young catchers working their way through the upper minors, and they could bubble up to the major leagues as early as 2017.  However, as we all likely know at this point, few jobs in MLB are as difficult as being a young catcher, and these younger players will likely go through growing pains to various degrees.  Rupp possesses the ability to split the catching load 50-50 with a young catcher, which could easily translate to 400 plate appearances next season.

You may wonder whether Rupp possesses the ability to play a full season as a starting catcher in the major leagues, especially after his exceptionally poor September this season, and that is a fair question.  I can’t answer that.  I can tell you that he ranked as the 15th most valuable catcher in MLB in 2016, he has room to grow in batting average and on base percentage; his high exit velocity suggests he could add home runs if he learns to elevate the ball; and the other day Brad Johnson rated him the 11th most valuable catcher going into 2017.  With the boost to batting average that xStats suggests, he could sneak his way into becoming a top 10 catcher in 2017. 





Andrew Perpetua is the creator of CitiFieldHR.com and xStats.org, and plays around with Statcast data for fun. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewPerpetua.

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Sam Choung
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Sam Choung

as always, great stuff man!